Made-in-Asean kopi goes under the hammer in first-ever Singapore coffee auction

Coffee buyers smell the dry aroma of coffees during the cupping session of the first Asean Coffee Federation Specialty Coffee Auction. — TODAY pic
Coffee buyers smell the dry aroma of coffees during the cupping session of the first Asean Coffee Federation Specialty Coffee Auction. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, March 24 — White bid placards in hand, over 40 people gathered in a hall at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Friday for an auction with an aromatic twist.

Instead of antiques or art, what was on offer was 36 different types of coffee beans from around the world — including South-east Asia — made available for bidding at Singapore’s inaugural coffee auction.

The coffee representatives from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) nations also got to sample 108 mugs of coffee made from the beans on auction. The produce was from nine countries, including Indonesia and Myanmar.

The first-ever coffee auction organised by the Asean Coffee Federation is aimed at promoting Asean specialty coffee, said its president Victor Mah.

Mah, 72, who also heads the Singapore Coffee Association, added that coffee from South-east Asia is underrated when compared to similar-grade coffee beans from regions such as South America.

“We want to help the farmers in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar, give them a place to showcase what they have,” said Mah, who hopes to host the auction annually.

The minimum bids for the auction were set by the farmers and they were given a choice to negotiate and lower their asking price if no bids were raised for their produce.

Two-thirds of the coffee beans featured in the auction were grown in South-east Asia and showcased at some of the 232 exhibition booths at food and beverage trade fair Cafe Asia and Restaurant Asia 2019.

On Friday, Darma Santoso, 50, managing director of Indonesian food and beverage company My Kopi-O! Group, successfully bidded for coffee beans from a variety of countries, including Columbia, Indonesia and Myanmar.

His purchase of Myanmar beans cost US$1,560 (RM6,341) for 240 kg.

“This is unique. It tastes like cognac, different compared to other Indonesian coffee,” said Santoso. However, he noted that coffee beans from South-east Asia lack consistency in terms of yield and quality, which is something coffee buyers are concerned about.

Agreeing, Glen Ho, owner of Singaporean cafe Prodigal Roasters, said that producers in the region have to “up their game to be valued”.

The 32-year-old had bid fiercely for a 70kg batch of Columbian coffee of the Geisha variety — a specialty coffee which has grown in demand in recent years — before winning with a bid that was US$385 above the starting bid of US$700.

He felt that the coffee from South-east Asia did not do that well in the taste test. “For the price they were asking for, it was hard to commit.”

What’s brewing

Of the 24 types of coffee beans from South-east Asia on offer at the auction, only nine received bids on Friday. In contrast, 75 per cent of the beans from the more established coffee-producing countries such as Columbia, Ethiopia and Guatemala received bids.

Mah admitted that it is still a challenge for coffee in South-east Asia to match up with the more established regions. But he added that it is crucial to actively promote the coffee within the region as some buyers feel that produce from the Americas and Europe is better.

“Most people are more familiar with Central Americans, with Columbia, Guatemala (coffee)... It’s been marketed for a longer time.”

David Dai, a representative from Mellower Coffee, said the specialty coffee company had also experienced that same mentality when it brought in beans from Yunnan, China, nearly 10 years ago as customers felt they were of a lower quality as compared to the West.

He added that it took about five years to improve the production process and increase the coffee’s valuation and Yunnan coffee beans are commonly used in its blends today.

However, Mah said it would only take two to three years for the region’s coffee to achieve this and the farmers would be given inputs and pointers on how to improve logistics and product quality. — TODAY

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