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Kean Guan Tea Merchant, Tea Heritage in Jalan Petaling

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Having taken over the business started by his grandfather 77 years ago, KC Koh represent the third generation linage, which is not common, considering the Chinese saying that a thriving business usually does not survive past the second generation. 

Indeed, Koh had different ideas for a career, spending eleven years in Singapore in international shipping. It was a ‘hectic’ life until he decided to spend more time with his family and tried out the tea business, which at the time was run by his father. He picked up knowledge of the tea business from scratch, knowing little about tea before then. It was 2012 when he started and learned from tea blending to roasting, and to selling it.

The  shophouse was 100 years old, and his grandfather initially rented this place and then decided to possess the property from the owner, in cash for a ‘big’ sum of money. He remembers it as a long and hollow space, a basic skeleton of a place. It subsequently underwent a few renovations so that a comprehensive tea process could be done on site, including roasting and packaging, whereas the tea storage was on the first floor.

Initially, the tea was mainly Oolong, due to his grandfather’s connection with the Fujian district which was strong in Oolong tea production. When he stepped into the business, he introduced more varieties, catering to changing tastes in tea. He suggests that tea is really about preferential taste: “It may not be your cup of tea but it could be many other people's cup of tea”. With the adaptation, sales improved, and the company supplies tea throughout Peninsular Malaysia.

Koh sees it as his duty is to keep the business alive, and to sustain it for the next generation. “When you hold a crucial role in business and are a decision-maker, you would think of the business's survival, especially in this challenging time. As we have been carrying our own blend of Oolong tea, and it carries certain standards, aside from maintaining the standard, it has to suit the people now and be ‘future proof’ too for the upcoming generation. We are constantly emphasizing our role as distributors and wholesalers, and branding is crucial nowadays and I wish to advance it in the future, in order to be competitive. Also, I plan to promote the benefit of tea drinking to be more accessible to the public via education”.

Koh suggests that packing is crucial, “in the digital area everyone is buying things based on appearance and first impression; the content becomes secondary. I have been thinking to change the packing design but it’s not an easy task as our main customers are from restaurants and hotels, and their packaging demand is quite different from the regular walk-in customers. However, I’m looking forward to having retail space handling smaller packaging to get more customers to know about our tea instead of big boxes of tea”.

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