Reading the changes in Asia’s new coffee culture

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock
Coffee culture in Asia has been brewing a storm and growing in popularity in recent years, with most major cities now being awash with coffee shops not just in city centres but also gaining momentum in outlining areas.

Though the Asian hot drinks market has traditionally been dominated by tea consumption, especially in China and India, the coffee market has increasingly become the focus of the world coffee industry. 

Since 1990, Asia has experienced the most dynamic growth in coffee consumption in the world according to a 2014 report by the International Coffee Organisation, growing by an average rate of 4% per annum, increasing to 4.9% since 2000. 

As such, the region is of increasing interest to the coffee sector, both for producers and consumers, and represents a significant potential market for the coffee industry.

Kammie Hui, Training Manager at 18 Grams, a premier espresso café in Hong Kong and chief judge at a barista challenge at the Food & Hotel Asia 2016 trade show in Singapore next month, gives her take on how the market has been evolving.

How has the retail coffee business been changing?

Drinking coffee is more like a lifestyle these days, where consumers have greater access to the beverage from almost every corner of where they are located, be it an independent establishment, or a global chain coffee shop. 

With consumers’ growing appreciation for the beverage and the coffee culture, we are in turn motivated to reinvent ourselves, by learning at a faster rate, to surpass in quality and creativity for the beverages we concoct, and in the service we render to our customers.

How are those in the industry assessing the changing tastes of consumers, especially in places where there is a traditional coffee culture?

I still enjoy drinking coffee in some local cafes in Hong Kong and elsewhere. In fact, it's a great opportunity to understand the differences between all types of consumers: those who seek out local establishments and others who prefer the large coffee chains. 

It is also a way to develop your palate, from root to maturity. Personally, I truly appreciate that we still have very successful traditional coffee chains in Hong Kong. It serves as a great reminder of your roots, of where home is.

In some Asian countries, like China or Japan, tea takes prominence over coffee. Are there still opportunities for the coffee business?

In my opinion, tea and coffee are individual beverages but in essence they are no different, where both possess a long history and have a strong influence in shaping ancient and modern culture. 

I would say that instead of being in competition, they actually complement each other. Businesses should use this to offer more options to their customers. 

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