“To put it in a more qualitative context, we describe coffee in the way the value chain is handled, so this includes how farmers process the coffee, down to buyers, coffee roasters, baristas and lastly, the end consumer. In short, nobody should mess up whatever process they are supposed to handle,” he explained.
Admittedly, most Singaporeans aren’t fastidiously tracing their coffee’s journey from bean to cup, but Tan does encounter customers who request for fair trade coffee. “There are people who are concerned about whether farmers are getting paid properly, and if the coffee is from a sustainable source,” he shared.
Such considerations are intrinsic to the third-wave coffee movement, a distinct departure from big chain brands largely characterised by bold, indelible marketing, well-burnished bar counters and dark-roasted blends. Tan wants to “act as a bridge leading people from second- to third-wave coffee,” which Tiong Hoe does by toning down their coffee’s acidic profile while maintaining its unique flavours. The company proffers beans of up to 30 origins, covering regions such as Ethiopia, Peru, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Tan himself is something of a coffee devotee. He’s part of a coterie of aficionados including his staff, customers, coffee suppliers as well as competitors, who get together to cycle on weekends. It’s an opportunity to carry out caffeine-fuelled shop talk within a tightly-knit community that, for the most part, thrives on collaboration. “The millennials who are coming into the business are more open to sharing resources,”he said. For instance, the roasters may divvy pallets of coffee among themselves, so shipping costs aren’t prohibitive.