Ever think of an absolutely brilliant idea after a late-night bar crawl, only to discover it wasn’t quite so earth-shattering in the cold light of day?
Not Lorin Winata.
“Growing up in Singapore, going out and socialising over drinks was the hallmark of my youth,” says the ebullient Winata, who went on to a successful banking career filled with its fair share of late-night entertaining. The accompanying brain fogs, however, didn’t suit the go-getter.
“I wanted to make my 7am gym appointment, hit the office at 830am and then power through to my work dinner,” says Winata. Apart from her full-time job, she’s also the foodstagrammer behind @sheeatsshecooks, which details a formidable array of restaurant- and home-cooked dishes. Now she can add entrepreneur to her title.
It all started with a visit to Winata’s ancestral farmland in Jatiluwih, Bali, a few years ago. Gradually the idea coalesced that the botanicals she’d consumed all her life could be reformatted into a non-alcoholic drink for modern consumers, with health benefits to boot. “I was so ambitious,” says Winata, laughing. “I originally wanted to make the ultimate health tonic using 60 ingredients and thought I could get it out in a year.”
Happily, she consulted with experts—an Ayurvedic specialist, a food scientist and several bartenders—and two years later, Melati was born. Named for the white jasmine (Indonesia’s national flower), Melati debuted late last year with the Classic, a Ribena-hued, zero-ABV (no alcohol) drink. Winata’s original laundry list of 60 has been pared down to 26 healing botanicals chosen for their mood-boosting and detoxifying qualities, including goji berry, hibiscus, raw cacao, star anise, cinnamon, red kampot pepper and ginger. Each ingredient is individually treated using cold extraction for up to six weeks to maximise benefits, before being hand-blended right here in Singapore. Just 500 bottles of Melati Classic are made each time to ensure quality and freshness and a serving is only 12 calories.
On first sniff, its aroma is deceptively sweet, redolent of blackcurrants and berries. Sipping it reveals greater complexity, with berries, flowers, warmth from the ginger and pepper and a touch of bitterness reminiscent of Italian Amaro liqueurs. And wellness acolytes will love that it contains trendy superfoods like the blueberry-like aronia, hailed as one of nature’s most potent sources of cancer-fighting antioxidants.
Here, Winata shares some key learnings from starting her own drinks brand.
Build your product based on a gap in the market
I observed that more bartenders, and people hosting at home, were looking for non-alcoholic options that would offer the same experience as “regular” alcoholic drinks. I learned so many new things while talking to F&B people. Like how many fine-dining restaurants, such as Odette, for example, have very limited bar service because they just don’t have the capacity to mix drinks.
So I’m providing a solution where they can just pour Melati into a wine glass and top it off with a bit of tonic and serve it to guests, in addition to the usual champagne or juice. It’s really rewarding if I can make someone’s life a little bit easier.
The Cicheti Group makes a No-groni, which is a non-alcoholic negroni. Chico Loco does it as a margarita, while Fleur de Sel does it as a Kir Royale with champagne. Thomas, Straits Clan’s bartender, makes our signature serve—a super refreshing Spritz. He combined Melati with ice, a bit of muddled organic ginger, cherry syrup and finished it with lime zest. It tasted so incredible I couldn’t believe it didn’t have alcohol.
Surprise your customer
When you smell it, it’s very fruity and floral and smells a lot sweeter than it actually is. We’re wired to like this kind of soothing berry smell—it’s very comforting for many people because it reminds them of their childhood.
But when you drink it, it’s not sweet. It tastes like the spices that we know well, like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom. It has a lovely mouthfeel, with some raw cacao to round it out. And then it finishes with a nice bitterness, which comes from the bitter orange peel of Indonesian dimpled oranges. It’s really clean and calming—you can drink it all day.
“We want everyone to be able to drink it, and drink it the way they like—it’s about giving people a very inclusive option”
Harness the wellness movement
People are more concerned about their health and nobody wants to fall ill, especially now. Our products have a wellness element, but they’re not just for people who “only eat healthy.” We want everyone to be able to drink it, and drink it the way they like—it’s about giving people a very inclusive option. We see Melati as a value-add. It’s pure flavour and we’ve seen it used as a flavour modifier in cocktails. If you want to mix it with alcohol, it makes a great “detox retox”.
I have a customer who loves her vodka, which she usually drinks with soda water to keep calories low. But now she drinks Melati and vodka in a “Melatini”. And I love a Melati with soda water, because I’m sugar conscious.
Ultimately it’s about giving people the option to just choose a bit better in one small thing in their day and just live a bit better.
Take time to really get to know your market
We spoke to so many people—sommeliers, bartenders, food scientists. We tested it out at bars and really listened to what bartenders and their customers had to say. Our early versions, with ingredients like ashwagandha, had some sediment and were a bit cloudy. That’s when I learned that customers really don’t like a cloudy drink. We had to strike a good balance between the drink’s natural sediment and keeping it highly functional.
Walk before you run
I was a little naive, I thought that I could get it out within the year. But it was actually more important to take that time to build a stronger brand identity online.
We have a direct-to-consumer website and have been super excited to see international sales come in from all over the world, from the US to Europe, Dubai and Australia. It’s quite exciting to see, as a super young brand. We’re now working on a second flavour.
I think it’s really a case of learning to walk before we run. I’d love to create so many things but I want to build Melati slowly and deliberately. Right now, our company is teeny tiny, with just three people, including me. It’s important to stay true to our values because people today know when something is genuine.
Setbacks are part of the journey
Having worked briefly in F&B myself (Winata managed operations for Unlisted Collection for a year), I really support the local hospitality industry and was really sad to see how some people struggled. Because of COVID-19, we launched a lot later than planned. And the bottling company we were planning to work with here shut down. We had to figure out which new partners we could work with, find new connections.
No-alc doesn’t mean no standards
The average customer may not know what a no-alc is, or how that category is defined. It’s such a new category that there are no set rules—everyone interprets it differently. For me, how I define the product is that it’s a sophisticated adult drink. It’s not about ABV content. It’s about the quality of the ingredients, the craftsmanship that goes into it, its heritage and the story behind it. I want to know how it was produced—was it as labour intensive and as painstakingly made as the world’s finest wines? I think that’s what people increasingly will care more about—flavour over ABV content.