Story by KRISTIE THONG

Southeast Asia’s booming tea and coffee culture sees its first trade exhibition held in Singapore last month.

There’s no better time to tap into Asia’s coffee and tea culture than now. For starters, four of the top 10 markets that produce Robusta coffee beans are right here in Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand; Sri Lanka, China and India also make up almost half of the world’s tea exports. The import of coffee beans in Singapore alone has increased from S$1.1 billion (US$880 million) in 2008 to S$1.4 billion in 2011, in line with the growing group of brunch enthusiasts who have collectively decided that coffee consumption alone is insufficient unless appreciated as a craft.
Hence the first-ever exhibition organised for the coffee and tea industry was held at the heart of Southeast Asia. Parked at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore from March 14-16, 2013, Café Asia 2013 saw 95 exhibitors from 22 countries displaying a fine range of Arabica and Robusta flavours as well as various tea blends, alongside cafeteria and supplies. This was held concurrently with the International Coffee and Tea (ICT) Industry Expo 2013, which focused on the upstream sector of the coffee and tea industry.

These two exhibitions, jointly-organised by Conference & Exhibition Management Services (CEMS) and EXPORUM, and hosted by Singapore Coffee Association, attracted an estimated 7000-8000 trade and public visitors in three days.
According to CEMS managing director Edward Liu, the objective of the event was to provide industry players with the hands-on knowledge and technical expertise necessary to cater to increasing demands.
“The skillset of an industry is tied to the demands of the market. As the consumers develop more diverse and sophisticated needs, so too will the skillsets evolve. Events like this offer vast entrepreneurial opportunities for trade visitors to network and take their businesses to a higher level,” he said.
Sustainable practices in the coffee industry were a key highlight. Industry experts such as W.C. Hay Coffee Consulting’s Willard Dub Hay, EDE Consulting’s Dave D’Haeze, Columbian Coffee Growers Federation’s Santiago Pardo and ASEAN Coffee Federation & Singapore Coffee’s Victor Mah shared their expertise on the subject during educational component Asia Coffee Summit.

“We wanted to highlight the challenging working and financial conditions coffee workers face and examine ways the industry can work with organisations such as NGOs to educate the coffee farmers and improve their living conditions,” Mr Mah said.
World-class roasters Stephen Diedrich and Daniela Nowitzki conducted workshops and labs on how to brew and roast a perfect cup of coffee. Neuhaus Neotec, a visionary who started to translate creative ideas into new solutions for coffee processing 35 years ago, was also on-site conducting workshops that taught participants the differences in existing roasting technologies and how greater results could be achieved by changing roasting parameters.

Interested non-trade visitors were welcome to experience the boom of the coffee and tea trade on the second day. Along with tasting sessions much sought after, another Favourite was the Singapore National Barista Championships held on-site giving local coffee masters recognition.

The event sent a clear message: The industry may be fervently working to improve its Skillset, but coffee and tea lovers are just as eager to see the results.