KOTA KINABALU: Tenom is a small town by most Malaysian standards, though it is considered a rather important hub in this isolated part of Sabah.
While the view of rolling hills and lush greenery is a sight to behold, it’s easy to sniff out the real thrill of Tenom – its coffee!
Being an agricultural town, Tenom is the centre of Sabah’s coffee industry. In fact, one of the oldest coffee factories has been operating here for over 60 years now.
Yit Foh is a name most people living in and around Tenom recognise at first mention; not surprising given that locals here often enjoy a good brew in the morning.
While Yit Foh is one of three big coffee producers in Sabah, the company remains the oldest and arguably the biggest.
And if you’re a visitor to this part of Sabah, why not pay a visit to Yit Foh Coffee & Park, a unique spot consisting of a café, an entertainment venue as well as chalets should you wish to stay the night.
If you’re lucky, you might just bump into Alex Yong, Yit Foh’s current owner, who would be happy to show you around.
Alex has a personal connection to both the place and the business, with his father, Yong Loong Vun, having founded the business back in 1960.
Apparently, Loong Vun took over the business from a retiring Hainanese roaster, and established Yit Foh which soon became a household name.
When his father died, Alex stepped up to take his place, with his 11 other siblings happy to let him run the family business.
And since then, Yit Foh has been steadily growing, with a café and chalets introduced in 2017.
Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, Alex said that the name Yit Foh has an auspicious meaning. “’Yit’ means goodness and ‘Foh’ means peaceful,” he said, adding that his father specifically chose that name because he believed his brand of coffee was good for his customers’ health.
But what exactly makes Yit Foh’s coffee different or better from other brands? Well, that would be their unique roasting process.
At Yit Foh, the coffee beans are roasted using only the wood of rubber trees as fuel. In its early days, the decision to use rubber wood was mostly a matter of practicality, considering the many rubber plantations in the region.
Luckily for Malaysian coffee lovers, it is the very same rubber wood which gives the coffee its distinct, strong and smoky aroma.
In addition to the wood, the coffee is produced using the traditional wood fire drum technique, which results in perfectly roasted beans, fundamental to any good brand of coffee.
On a daily basis, 300 boxes consisting of 30 packets each, are processed, packaged and shipped out from the Tenom factory to other parts in Malaysia, and exported to Singapore and Brunei.
The array of products Yit Foh offers has certainly increased since its early days, with customers now being able to enjoy options such as the Yit Foh Musang King Durian White Coffee.
Yet, their two most popular products are Yit Foh Kopi “O” and Yit Foh Serbuk Kopi; the latter packed in bags emblazoned with a red aeroplane.
This FMT Lifestyle writer had a sip of the Kopi “O” and it was an excellent brew, with the bitterness just right and the aroma pleasant.
Alex is hopeful that Yit Foh will eventually reach its centenary. But until then, he said: “We are looking to diversify as coffee culture is changing. We want to keep Yit Foh going, as it is a uniquely Malaysian coffee. Otherwise, it will be lost to time.”
Yit Foh Coffee Factory & Park
3 Km, Jalan Tenom-Sapong
Kampung Chinta Mata
Park & Café: 016-2437337