Hook Coffee, a coffee subscription and delivery service, takes you on a journey from the farmers’ hands to yours. Their freshly roasted coffee drip bags are featured in Made Real's upcoming Chinese New Year special.
We had a short chat with founders Faye and Ernest, long-time best friends and high school sweethearts, to give you the ins and outs of their lives as first-time entrepreneurs.
Roslyn: You two are fresh out of university, with Faye graduating with a master's from University College London and Ernest from the London School of Economics. Did you two ever envision yourselves starting businesses?
Ernest: Actually, I only began thinking of starting a business when I was studying in university, about two to three years ago.
Faye: Same for me, I only considered it seriously one year ago.
E: (laughs) I dragged her in. It was my idea, but once I convinced her to come on board, we started speaking about it everyday. She got really excited about Hook Coffee too. That was January 2015. We spent four months working on it end-2015, and finally launched on 4th January this year.
That’s an impressive amount of work in a short span of time.
E: We pushed everyone until they were sick and tired. We had a web development team overseas which complained about working overtime every day. Once they finished our site, they told us "We can’t do this anymore,” and quit. Now we’re down to one tech guy.
What other fields did you consider going into?
F: Banking and consulting.
E: Probably the same. I initially wanted to start a cafe, but realised it was not very feasible. So I wanted to do something else along this line. While studying in London, I took inspiration from the subscription coffee services there, like Pact Coffee. I also realised that coffee drinking was immensely popular in Singapore, and that there was a gap in the market.
Now that you two are back in Singapore for good, and are starting afresh, I imagine your lifestyles have changed? What do your friends and family think?
E: Yes, it’s changed a lot. Now it's more stressful than before. We have no breaks, no nothing, but we run on adrenalin.
F: There are two camps of people - Those who wonder why we’re always so busy, and those who understand that we’re really busy, but think that the coffee can keep us awake. (laughs) But we are so immune because we were drinking five cups a day in December!
E: Only Chinese tea works now.
What attitudes do both your parents take towards your venture?
F: His parents are a bit more open, but my parents trust me more.
E: They were pushing us to find jobs in the beginning, but now it's fine - They’ve got nothing to say now!
I imagine that working together as business partners and as a couple must be really challenging. How do you deal with it?
F: It’s very difficult to keep work and personal feelings separate. I think communication is important, whether you’re business partners or a couple.
E: We usually just argue it out. Work is work, we've gotta get shit done.
Why should a coffee-lover choose Hook Coffee?
F: We want to bring fresh and ethical coffee to everyone. We are heavily involved in the sourcing process and make it a point to have personal ties with our farmers. If we don’t go down to the farms personally, we go through a merchant that does it on our behalf. For instance, I went down to one of our coffee farms in Indonesia, and my friend’s dad is a coffee farmer in Colombia. Traceability and transparency are our core values.
E: The biggest challenge in the coffee industry is to make it sustainable. Demand far outstrips supply. Farmers are finding it difficult to get the same the yield with the same land, and need new innovative ways to increase yield. Yet, they don’t have the capital to do so, and have to wait around for investors. The direct trade model is very important. Instead of going through 10 middle men, we bring the coffee direct to consumers. The farmers are no longer undercut. They get up to 25 per cent of final retail value, instead of one to five per cent. We are paying them for a price that rewards them accordingly for their hard work, so they can implement sustainable practices.
What book would you recommend to someone who would like to learn more about sustainable coffee?
E: I would recommend 'The World Atlas of Coffee’ by James Hoffmann or 'God in a Cup’ by Michaele Weissman.
F: The Specialty Coffee Association of America has some great articles - They are pushing very hard for sustainable coffee.
What are your favourite coffees and brew methods?
F: La Dulce Vida. I used to be more of a tea lover, so I prefer more floral and fruity notes. I like the AeroPress. Like me, it works well under pressure.
E: I love coffees from Brazil, those with very chocolatey flavours. They are very balanced and are perfect in espresso form.