Translated by WINNIE CHOOI
Sin Chew Daily
PENANG -- After Penang has been inscribed as a Unesco heritage site, people have become increasingly enthusiastic in pursuing anything that is old and vernacular, among which the old taste of Penang Hainanese coffee has made a decisive comeback.
A sip of the old taste of Penang energises the spirit and mind, and people would inevitably make comparisons of the coffees they have savoured at different coffee houses or stalls.
"A good coffee maker would first warm up the cup with hot water before brewing the coffee so that it would enhance the mellow coffee aroma."
The coffee powder used at Hainanese coffee shops has been specially prepared with secret recipe. Founder of Kun Kee Food Industries, Datuk Seri Choot Ching Khoon, is the "Coffee King" supplying Hainanese coffee powder to many local coffee shops.
86-year-old Choot has been delivering coffee since he was 22 years old. In other words, Salute Brand Penang white coffee has been in the market for more than six decades now.
A diligent young man, Choot would ferry 150kg of coffee powder on his old bicycle and peddled his stuff not only within the town centre but also in places as far as Balik Pulau.
"I used to take my bicycle and the coffee with me onboard the bus, and rode my bicycle after reaching Balik Pulau," said Choot.
The success and achievements of Penang Hainanese Coffee King has been derived from the unrelenting effort and ingenuity of the young entrepreneur. Today, the old bicycle is preserved inside the warehouse of Penang Hang Kee Jun head office to bear witness to Choot's struggle from scratch.
Education the primary focus
Choot came from a village near Wanning on China's Hainan island. He was the second child among five siblings in an impoverished family making a living by working a piece of rented farmland from the landlord, and they often went without food when the harvests were poor.
Choot had to give up his study since young to look after the cows and goats. When Choot turned 11, he started to look for a job in Penang. To make up for his regrets in dropping out of school very young, Choot attended Chung Cheng Night School on Maxwell Road after work.
That was part of the reason Choot has valued the importance of education and established a primary school in his native village of Wanning, China called Qing Kun.
Before settling down in Penang, Choot had worked at a coffee shop in Alor Setar and was paid three dollars a month. That was when Choot started to learn how to brew the coffee.
Choot moved to Bukit Mertajam two years later and his monthly salary increased to seven dollars. However, as his employer often deferred paying his salary, Choot had to change his job and worked at a hawker stall on Macalister Road for nine dollars a month.
Choot was unlucky to have met several employers who loved gambling and held back his salary, from a coffee powder factory to a noodle seller and roadside rice pedlar at the Prangin Road market.
Out of frustration, Choot decided to quit working and acquired a four-wheeled cart to start selling chai tau kueh along the streets. As the business was good, he later bought a motorbike and rode from Penang to Simpang Ampat to open up the lands during the Japanese occupation. After the Japanese surrendered in 1945, he loaded a big sack of sweet potato and rode from Simpang Ampat to Butterworth. With the money he earned from selling the sweet potato, Choot bought a sampan ticket to come back to Penang.
After returning to Penang, Choot had no choice but to go back to his working life. He worked as a coffee machine operator for a monthly salary of 30 dollars, considered quite well paid during that time.
To keep him from going to other companies, his boss offered him some shares in the factory. However, the accounts were handled by other major shareholders and Choot had no say in company finances.
The "partnership" came to an end finally as Choot felt he had not been treated fairly. He only managed to get back his shares after numerous attempts.
Having learned the lesson, Choot decided to start his own business by importing coffee beans personally.
Choot has succeeded in his business because of his hard work and willingness to market his product around the places. He spent a lot of time and effort trying to remember the taste buds of individual customers, and his Salute brand original Penang Hainanese coffee has been an outcome of his recognition of his customers' preferred flavours.