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A stalwart in Malaysia’s F&B scene serving classic local foods, OldTown White Coffee might not be a business you’d consider a pioneer in this day and age.

But you’d be wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed the celebration of Malaysia’s first large-scale cage-free aviary at a conference called the Wings of Progress for Better Welfare, organised by Humane Society International.

One of the speakers was Dawn Liew, the general manager at OldTown White Coffee. Amidst her sharing about the chain’s commitment to using cage-free chicken and eggs, she mentioned something that caught my attention—a new and exclusive outlet called the Earthcare Café.

A rendering by A3 Projects, an architecture firm / Image Credit: A3 Projects

Launched mere days ago (on March 30) within OldTown’s new Heritage Centre in Ipoh, this farm-to-table cafe is dedicated to, as its name suggests, caring for the earth.

Chatting with Dawn to learn more about this cafe, we learnt that the idea for this concept is something that’s been years in the making.

It all started in 2022, when American-Dutch beverage-centric company JDE Peet’s rolled out its Global Animal Welfare Policy, affecting all of its companies.

And if you’re wondering what that has to do with OldTown… JDE Peet’s is the company that bought the Ipoh-born chain for RM1.47 billion in 2018.

Due to this policy, OldTown began looking into ways to ensure products used in their stores serve not just consumers but also the environment and the welfare of animals.

“There is actually a balance where you can serve very good food which is delicious, but also good for your customers, and good for the environment as well,” Dawn said. “One doesn’t have to give way to the other.”

OldTown, new ways

For the past two years, OldTown has been working with Beacon Chicken, a Malaysian brand whose chickens are fed specially formulated seaweed-based feed that took 10 years to R&D.

These chickens are cage-free and thus experience better welfare compared to most poultry in the market.

Dawn revealed that OldTown’s chicken stock is mainly made using chicken supplied by Beacon Chicken. But they haven’t been able to exclusively source from Beacon Chicken for all chicken dishes.

“In order for Beacon to get the level where they can fully supply us, they need a bit of time,” she explained. This is as chicken is the main protein served by the chain, so the volume needed is huge.

Image Credit: OldTown White Coffee

But even before JDE Peet’s, OldTown had already made efforts to be green. Back when the business was listed in 2011, they had one department that was called, serendipitously, Earth Care.

Driven to make environmentally friendly progress, this department would look at things like waste, water, and electricity management, leading to the switch to solar panels for their Ipoh factory.  

But now, it’s time for the business to take their initiatives one step further by translating it to their dining side of things.

Leaves a good taste in your mouth

The newly opened OldTown Heritage Centre on Jalan Pang Lima is actually located on a UNESCO heritage site. This means that the architecture of the building needed to be of a certain standard not to take away from the area.

Inside the centre, there is a cultural and historical museum detailing the history of OldTown. There are also retail stores that sell the coffee brand’s products, as well as a vertical hydroponic farm.

But of course, a starred feature of this place is the Earthcare Café.

Image Credit: Dawn Liew

Here, the whole menu is centred around being environmentally friendly and promoting better welfare. All dishes here use cage-free chicken and cage-free eggs.

Highlighting some of the outlet’s unique offerings, Dawn said that instead of the iconic kaya and butter toast, they have a kurma and butter toast, which is lower in calories and offers a naturally sweetened flavour.

Dawn also said that seven dishes on the menu have received something called the Coolfood status. Coolfood is an initiative by the World Resources Institute (WRI), an independent US-based organisation, to help food providers sell dishes with smaller climate footprints.

Image Credit: Devon Sanchez

Dishes that with the Coolfood status emit at least 38% less carbon. But beyond carbon emissions, the recipes should also have high nutritional value, and the food should still be delicious, Dawn said.

Something else that’s unique to the outlet is that it serves four waves of coffee. Dawn explained the waves of coffee as such:

  1. First wave: Instant premix, which was popularised during the world wars, and is how OldTown White Coffee started.
  2. Second wave: Pulled, kopitiam-style coffee, usually using coffee roasted with sugar and margarine.
  3. Third wave: Espresso-based coffee. For Earthcare Café’s third-wave coffee, they use an Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica blend—something that is hardly seen in normal coffee shops, which typically only use the former two kinds of beans.
  4. Fourth wave: Filter coffee, typically hand-poured and using specialty blends of coffee beans.
Image Credit: Dawn Liew

Breaking the silence

But you might be wondering, “Why haven’t I heard anything about OldTown’s green efforts?”

Well, that’s because the team has been intentionally holding back on publicising their moves externally.

“We need to be very certain that all our stores are practising what they need to be practising,” Dawn explained. “And then we will start saying it out loud. We don’t want it to be greenwashing.”

Image Credit: Dawn Liew

Rather, their focus has been turned inward, educating their own staff about climate change and why it matters.

“Our own people, our associates, our staffs, must understand why. The education internally has been huge,” Dawn said. “Once they have this [knowledge] at their fingertips, it becomes easier for them to communicate them outwards.”

Communicating this to franchisees is necessary too. Dawn said that the goal for them ultimately boils down to profitability, so the HQ must ensure that the cost of their changes is never overly taxing on the franchisees.

In any case, OldTown has been making these positive changes in small increments over the years. But as time goes by, the small steps will all add up to one big leap.  

And the Earthcare Café is one culmination of all those efforts, giving us a taste of what OldTown White Coffee has in store for the future.

  • Learn more about OldTown White Coffee here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Featured Image Credit: OldTown White Coffee / A3 Projects

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)