Coffee powder industry going strong due to gourmet blends

WHILE there are many places to have a cup of coffee, there are thought to be fewer than five shops left that roast and grind beans into powder for sale.

Back in the 1950s, such shops were a common sight. Most of the remaining outlets are still family-run but owners said their children are unlikely to take over.

Yet despite the often gruelling work, business prospects are good. Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory, established in the 1950s in Upper Paya Lebar Road, has seen business grow by 20 per cent a year.

"Customers are sick of instant coffee and learning to appreciate real coffee," said second generation owner Dominic Chua, 50.

The shop sells seven types of ground coffee which can be mixed to yield more than 100 blends. Every week, he and his wife roast 450kg of beans imported from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Colombia.

Others have seen business improve after offering gourmet coffee which generally refers to high-quality Arabica or Robusta beans roasted in small batches.

Mr Tan Peck Hoe, 40, owner of Lam Yeo Coffee Powder in Balestier Road, said business has expanded by 10 per cent every year after he imported better beans from Africa and Central America.

"Customers are more discerning and prepared to pay more for better coffee," he added.

He sells around 2,000kg of ground coffee a month to individuals, coffee shops, offices and cafes. About half are gourmet blends. Unlike gourmet coffee whose beans are roasted plain, traditional coffee beans are roasted with sugar and margarine.

One kilogram of traditional coffee powder from Indonesia costs about $13 while the same amount of a gourmet type from Brazil is $32. Owners said business was most brisk in the 1960s with demand from countries such as Brunei and Malaysia. It dipped in the 1970s when instant coffee's convenience took hold, and again when Western-style coffee became popular.

The coffee powder industry now faces rising operational costs and competition from coffee machines. The National Heritage Board will produce a short video to promote the trade.

Mr Lee Khong Lam, 71, owner of Lee Khong Lam Trading Co in Sims Avenue, remains optimistic, saying: "There will always be coffee drinkers around."

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