Singapore Specialty Coffee: A Catch-22 situation!


Just minutes  before embarking into this post, I wrapped up the monthly planning of Coffee Calender for Dutch Colony. (which usually follows with a mini blog post, covering in details of the range of coffees introduced within the month)
Then I told myself that there are now 12 posts to read and reminisce from for work year 2016. In my horror too, I realised that the same cannot be said for my personal coffee blog. I have only written ONE this year and that is definitely one too little.

So I browse through my daily diary (yes i am a pen and paper type of guy) and flipped through pages, searching for any coffee quotes of the day that I may have scribbled. There was plenty but nothing close that sets the mood to write in length about until this caught my eyes...
'How to convince cafe owners to pay more for quality?' Scribbled and/or doodled in one of the coffee strategy meetings we had as a company, this shall be the topic to spark a writing comeback.

Quality and Prices (or rather Prices then Quality)

We are all born economist. In context to this article, cafe owners/purchasers/decision makers/head barista thinks they have studied and analysed the  subject so well that they understand customer attitudes and take advantage of the market trends. (Some really understand it well but some does not represent all!)

The formula is made simple too. Buy and have it available, what the consumers market trending are and sell it a dollar cheaper then your closest rival in that area. The rival follow suits and goes a dollar lower too and this continues at the expense of not their profit margin but that of the supplier. (and in this case coffee roasters) While all these are happening, the same economist does not agree too on the flavour of this flavour trending.

Let me put this as an example:

It is the season for Africas and everyone goes out gun blazing, making available delicious Ethiopians in their grinder hopper. We speak traceability, limited availability, farm processing experiments, flavour R&D and what have you but Cafe Owners come back to ask if these coffees can be priced the same as their current blends. When we say no, they reply the 'other cafe' is serving a Ethiopian coffee already and their supplier is charging them $30/kg. 

Cut the story short, when we come to a middle point and agrees on the selling and buying, they come back a week later to say the Ethiopian is sour and does not taste like coffee in milk! It again become the fault of the coffee roaster and we have yet even discuss the thin margin this roasters get for selling a grade 1 fully washed Yirgacheffe for $30

Understanding the Market

Every coffee roasters out there love to buy, roast and sell great quality coffee and in the ideal world, we like to have cafe owners who love buying and serving them and understand how these wonderful coffees come at a slight premium. If this scenario happens, a difference will be made in Singapore local specialty coffee culture.

Enough have been said about our traditional local kopi culture but their existence is never a bane to our specialty industry, selling generic Ethiopian, commercial grade ones and passing them off as specialty is the true clown in the box. They bring out the ugly of our economist cafe owners who are taste blind.

This result in highest quality specialty grade coffees only to be made available in cafe business that really care and economies that can pay while the rest either get lucky with roasters offering the same grade coffee for less or majority settle for commercial grade ethiopians and serve it anyway. Consumers following the trends drink them anyways but not necessarily appreciating them for what they truly are. 

Catch - 22 Situation

This is the same catch-22 situation found throughout specialty coffee market across the region, to be able to truly serve high quality specialty grade coffee, local roasters need to be competitive on roasting quality and flavour profile , and not selling them at the same price as blends. (or even $30 and less) When roasters sing the same tune, cafe owners see the same economy and trends, consumers pays for delicious coffee consistently.

Have I conclude what I started? The answer lies not on one shoulder but the whole industry. Let's just pray it happen fast enough.

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