Home Insider Expat Insider Interview with Jason Brown, Director of Sawbwa Coffee (SBC)

Interview with Jason Brown, Director of Sawbwa Coffee (SBC)

What’s the original of SBC?

Seven to eight years ago, there was a US Aid program in Myanmar, to help elevate the processing of  Myanmar’s coffee. Myanmar coffee is fantastic in itself but the processing was not up to speciality grade. So, they are able to elevate the processing of the quality of the final product. Most of that coffee was exported as speciality grade coffee, which mean it scores over 80 out of 100. It has to be without defects, has some uniqueness in its flavour and there are extra steps that the farms have to go through to reach that level of quality.

SBC started roasting some of that coffee three to four years ago, with the intent to keep it in the country. So they have the highest quality, the best Myanmar coffee, roasted, packed and sold within Myanmar.

How different is it from the coffee we are currently drinking right now?

The main difference with SBC is that most of what we roast and sell is of speciality grade. Speciality means the flavour profile has to have something different and something unique about it. The coffee itself is a fruit, essentially a red cherry. When you take off the fruit, you will see the bean inside. The difference in flavour, if we take the highest grade, is that you retained more of the fruitiness of the natural product. We roast the coffee lighter also. You can see in our gold range specifically very light roasted coffee, which really highlight some of the fruity, floral flavours. We try to also bring out the sweetness of the coffee, which is meant to be drunk primarily as black coffee. It is supposed to be brewed in a certain way which just uses gravity and you drink it be pouring coffee into a glass.

Now-a-days as the market is developing, we are also trying to appeal to more different ways of drinking coffee, while trying to retain the quality level that SBC is known for. We are bringing the quality that we are known for into everyday drinking coffee, where you might add sugar, milk, etc. You might have fine ground coffee in Myanmar style and we are trying to elevate the quality of that style of coffee.

How do you practice fair trade?

In speciality coffee, there does not need to be such thing specifically as fair trade. The coffee, because of the quality level, it achieves approximately three times the standard price of commercial coffee. So the farmers are getting a much better deal. In order to get the quality level up to the standard, they lose some of the crop. They have to pick specific cherry and some of them do not make it into the final product. On average, they lose around 20% of their crop. But achieves three times the price. So its way above what would be considered as officially a fair trade price. And it’s way more supportive than even the fair trade for the farmers. The farmers are now shifting more and more of their crop into speciality grade. They will sell as much as they can into speciality trade, because of the higher price. We also buy directly from them. There is no middleman. So the price that we pay is exactly what they get.

What is your target market segment?

Our target market segment has always been the top end, i.e., the premium level. That part of the market now is a bit harder to grow. It not necessarily growing as much as it was before. So, we are trying to now bring the quality level down to the middle and lower parts of the market. We are launching a new product very soon, called the Morning Blend. This is specifically designed for bringing the quality and everything that SBC represents; the roasting level, the roasting quality and the product quality to the mass market.

How do you intend to compete?

SBC unique selling point comes all the way from sourcing the best coffees. Every year we go all the way to the Shan State and we source and taste all of the coffee available in Myanmar. Then we meticulously roast the coffee. We pay a lot of attention to our roasting process. None of it is automated. It is all hand roasted. We watch the temperature change throughout the roast and we are constantly adjusting the temperatures as we move through the roast, which gives you the best possible flavours from the coffee.

SBC compete all the way through from the sourcing of coffee. When we go up to the Shan State, we select and taste every single available coffee and choose the ones that fit the profiles that we want to bring to the customers as the best. Every second along the roast, we are watching and monitoring. This allows us to create the quality product that we become known for. We are now looking to move more into the mass market.

We are a life style brand. People engage with our product and learn about coffee through drinking SBC.

SBC future plans?

SBC today focuses on two different directions. We want to retain our speciality coffee offerings. We also want to reach out to a wider audience. So we are launching a new product which will be available to a bigger market, at a lower price point, yet still retains the quality that people have come to expect from us.

We are also looking to go a bit more into the processing and farming side of coffee. So far, we have always sourced directly from the farms that already exist and we will continue to do so. We are looking to take another step in supporting those farms with some of their processing and then, possibly doing some farming ourselves, on the specific varieties that fit the profiles of what we are looking for in our coffees.

The international market for Myanmar coffee is growing and Myanmar is more and more known for its high quality coffee. The export market is already in existence and continues to grow. In fact, this year, there was not enough supply of speciality coffee in Myanmar, to satisfy the market demand across the world. We think that we can add to that part of the process. Up until now, we have just been a roaster and that would be a new venture for us.

How would you rate the potential of coffee industry in MM?

The potential of the coffee industry in Myanmar is huge. I could tell you that the demand for Myanmar coffee around the world is growing every year. This year Nespresso bought five containers in Shan State. Other famous importers of coffee such as Blue Bottle, NKGL, etc., are also  getting involved in purchasing some Myanmar coffee each year.

These are then spread out to roasters across Europe, the US, Japan, Korea, etc., and as more people taste the quality and uniqueness of Myanmar coffee, the demand continues to increase. The coffee market around the world is getting more and more challenging because the price is being pushed up and because of environmental change. Myanmar is uniquely positioned, a little further away from the equator to be part of the future of coffee growing and less effected by the climate change.