Why speciality coffee costs more than traditional kopi

While modern cafes offer a diverse array of coffee experiences, the concept of cafes traces its roots back to the 16th century.

Originating from France, the word “cafe” directly translates to “coffee,” indicating that cafes were initially establishments primarily serving coffee.

However, the coffee served in cafes differed significantly from the traditional kopi that locals are familiar with and commonly consume, as it is speciality coffee.

Speciality coffee comes from arabica beans cultivated in high-altitude plantations with cooler climates.

Liquid Lab Coffee Bar founder Eric Vooi Khang Hern, 35, explained that arabica beans were scarcer and more demanding in terms of growing, harvesting and transport.

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Conversely, robusta beans commonly used in traditional kopi require less time, money and effort to grow.

“Speciality coffee typically boasts a sweeter and smoother flavour profile, which appeals to coffee lovers, whereas traditional kopi tends to be more bitter and robust,” said Vooi, a professional barista certified by Specialty Coffee Association.

Furthermore, the roasting process differs between robusta and arabica beans.

Robusta beans are roasted until they become dark and glistening, resulting in a bitter, sour-charcoal flavour.

Ingredients such as margarine, sugar and sesame are often added during the roasting process to enhance its aroma while reducing taste intensity.Vooi says speciality coffee typically boasts a smoother flavour profile.Vooi says speciality coffee typically boasts a smoother flavour profile.

In contrast, arabica beans are roasted for 15 to 20 minutes, as the aim is to preserve and extract maximum flavour from the beans.

The roasting process typically ranges from light to medium-dark to maintain the beans’ inherent flavours.

Brewing methods for robusta and arabica beans also vary.

Vooi said, “Robusta beans can be brewed using common equipment such as a long snout pot, a stainless-steel mug and a sieve-sock filled with coarse coffee grounds.

“Arabica beans, on the other hand, require more specialised equipment, including espresso machines for cafe-style beverages and various filter coffee apparatuses for different brewing profiles,” he added.

All these factors contribute to the higher price of speciality coffee compared to traditional kopi.

From the scarcity and labour-intensive cultivation of arabica beans to the intricate roasting and brewing processes, speciality coffee is tailored to appeal to enthusiasts seeking a unique coffee experience.

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