Duo programme Malaysia’s first smart vanilla farm

TANJUNG BUNGAH: Even if it isn’t your thing, it might interest you to learn about the unique origins of vanilla flavouring. However, you might start panicking over all the vanilla ice creams you’ve had in your lifetime. Why?

Artificial vanilla flavouring once came from the fluffy cheeks of a beaver’s bum.

With the help of an AI system, Ezra Tan, Jason Ooi, Jay Tan and Joseph Chan (left to right) plant premium quality vanilla in Bukit Mertajam. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

Castoreum, the chemical compound found in artificial vanilla flavouring, has long been used to replicate the taste and scent of natural vanilla, as the cultivation of vanilla beans is too costly and a luxury that not everyone can afford.

The Vanilla Cafe’s Vanilla Latte is 100% made of natural vanilla beans, far away from beaver butts. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

Taking the appearance of a brown and sticky substance, castoruem is produced in the castor sac found at a beaver’s anal glands. In fact, the furry creatures use this brown substance to mark their territory.

Due to the beaver’s leafy diet which consists of tree bark and leaves, castoreum has the familiar fragrance of a vanilla bean.

Everyday at 8am the Kairos team checks all the modules. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

Rest assured though, that Kairos Agriculture has never harmed a single beaver or violated its nether regions.

As one of the five vanilla farms in Malaysia, Kairos’ Penang farm is the smartest one yet, having been crowned Malaysia’s First Smart Vanilla Farm by The Malaysia Book of Records on Oct 5 2020.

Interestingly, their Artificial Intelligence (AI) system wasn’t programmed by an engineer or a coder, but by an aspiring pastor and a marine technologist. Shockingly, prior to coding the AI system, the duo knew nothing about coding.

“Both of us aren’t from science backgrounds, so our teachers were Google and YouTube,” quipped Ezra Tan, the 34-year-old once aspiring pastor. While Tan graduated with a theology degree, his partner in crime, Joseph Chan, worked in the marine technology industry.

“Joseph worked in sea ports and ship designs while I graduated with a theology degree and was on my way to become a pastor in a church, but I didn’t pursue it further,” Tan said, who added that he joined Kairos Agriculture three years ago.

The sensor shows the temperature and the humidity of the greenhouse. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

The shady greenhouse is a breath of cool fresh air and Tan explained that their conservatory’s humidity and ambience are all controlled by their AI system.

“Vanilla is like an orchid and its surrounding temperature cannot exceed 32 degrees. So, whenever it goes over 32 degrees or when the humidity is too low, our AI system automatically mists it with water pipes that are attached above our greenhouse,” explained Tan.

Their farm in Bukit Mertajam stretches across six acres of land. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

If AI farming wasn’t enough, the duo are currently collaborating with Universiti Sains Malaysia to further enhance the quality of their vanilla beans.

“We are researching ways to pick the best species out of a group of vanilla plants and what sort of conditions will make the vanilla grow faster,” Tan said, adding that they were looking into ways of growing longer vanilla pods whilst increasing the vanilla content in each pod.

This would be a game-changer for Tan and his team as vanilla farming is a lot slower than regular farming and requires patience. The first harvest of vanilla beans comes after three long years of the initial growing stage.

Vanilla heaven is a spoonful away with their Premium Vanilla Smoothie, Tiramisu and signature Latte. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

Luckily, everyone else doesn’t have to wait three long years to savour their exotic vanilla beans, as Kairos has recently opened a cozy cafe on its farmsite.

Featuring dishes that star their freshly grown vanilla beans, The Vanilla Cafe is a dreamy cafe that’s been attracting crowds not just for its aromatic offerings, but also the mesmerising views of Bukit Mertajam’s rolling hills.

Another beverage is their signature Premium Vanilla Latte. It’s not your average cup of joe as it comes fragrant in warm vanilla and comes with a useful tasting guide.

You’ll be scraping the sides of the cup long after you’ve finished as the creamy latte is rich with aromatic vanilla. It’s definitely a whole new experience for coffee lovers.

Besides vanilla, they even grow the freshest brazillian spinach that’s served alongside crispy beancurd skin and their secret rojak sauce. ( Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle )

For the main course, treat your tastebuds to the cafe’s novelty combo of chicken chop or fish and chips, which are both served with a surprising and quirky side of vanilla sauce.

The fragrant blend and sweetness of the vanilla sauce balances out the saltiness of the freshly fried batter and gifts a totally different spin to two timeless dishes.

To end the night with a bang, make sure to indulge in their luscious, creamy tiramisu, as a single spoonful of this decadent dessert will have you craving for more.

Drop by their cafe and farm for a memorable escape from the bustle of city life. (Tsen Ee Lin @ FMT Lifestyle)

The Vanilla Cafe
Lot 2, Permatang Pauh Agropark,
Jalan Ara Kuda, 14400 Kubang Semang,
Penang, Malaysia

Operating hours:
3pm – 9pm (Wednesday to Friday)
11am – 9pm (Saturday and Sunday)

By : Tsen Ee Lin – FMT Lifestyle

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