November 18, 2019
WHEN IN TAIWAN, TEA OR COFFEE?
It used to be that when we went to Taipei or Tokyo, we would ask for hot tea. On a recent trip to Taipei and visiting the Taiwan Coffee Show, my idea about coffee consumption in this city changed. The place was teeming with coffee drinkers—tasting coffee, buying equipment, and asking about green beans from different countries. I literally had to wade through the crowds in Nangang Exhibition Center where a whole floor of coffee geekery and coffee supplies were on display.
I have been and always am at Café Asia in Singapore and the Thai Food Expo (Thaifex) in Bangkok held every year. Taipei is different. The people walking the exhibits were way serious and really looking for a specific gadget or tool for making coffee, tasting, and tasting every kind of coffee on display.
It may be because Taiwan is also the place to have things made. And by this, I mean roasters, complex equipment, pulpers, sorters and even latte art pens (yes, there is such a tool). You get to talk to the manufacturers who have designed their own versions of famous coffee roasting machines which used to be found only in Turkey, Germany, and the Netherlands. These Taiwan versions are well-designed, affordable, and world-class.
The show also had its share of public draws like a World Coffee Roasting Championship, Barista demos, and star baristas on hand to sign autographs and pose for Instagram shots. These brewing experts are the new rockstars.
I had a share of “fangirling” myself when we met Willem Boot, a famous coffee teacher whose cupping forms are used for the cupping classes we hold for Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) and Philippine Coffee Board Inc (PCBI). I saw some Panama Geisha coffee packs being sold which said “Roasted by Willem Boot” and I was pleasantly surprised he was making the coffee for us.
We patiently waited as he ground some Panama Geisha coffee (the most expensive lots these days) in a hand grinder, weighed the grounds, used a new contraption called a “Gina” pour-over ceramic cone, weighed the water while pouring it over the cone, and as the liquid was dripping, we could almost taste the brew already. He was game to take photos with us—a souvenir I could not even have at the bigger “coffee only” shows of the Specialty Coffee Association.
As Panama Geisha coffee is now the “Jamaican Blue Mountain” of the 80s, each 40-gram pack (which is good for 2-3 cups) sells for TWD888 or the equivalent of USD 30 or P1500. It’s a very expensive habit if you must brew 1-3 cups a day. The Panama booth featured about 10-12 farms, and I even chanced upon the very famous Finca Esmeralda, which made Geisha a legend. The farms take turns brewing, and over the four days, you could just hang out and just drink Geisha. What a treat!
The coffee show occupied one big hall on the fourth level and it was big enough to have coffee-producing countries present with national booths. There was Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, Brasil and also Indonesia from our part of the world.
Even the Robusta variety had a field day showing off good lots from Asia, Indonesia in particular. Our good friend from Thailand also had a humble booth shared with her Taiwanese dealers. Myanmar and Thailand both had a presence in other people’s booths—Myanmar in a Japanese roaster’s booth as well as in Liz Chen’s Thai stand. Indonesia had a country booth featuring many farmers and also showcasing Luwak or Civet coffee.
This is one coffee show you must have on your list. Even if you are merely looking for a good sample of coffee or looking for major equipment to start a roaster or café, this is the show to go to. Take a rollaway bag as samples are many and gadgets are easy to buy. They also are on special prices because it seems Taipei just wants to support our coffee habits.
It’s very different from the other international shows I have been to in the past 20 years, as Taiwan as we know is also a manufacturing center where you can have every gadget made or have it custom-built for your needs. Imagine, they had on everything display—machines that pulp coffee at the farm to espresso machines of the latest models. That’s farm to cup, indeed.
I was wondering why we cannot also have Philippine coffee in shows like this one, or maybe take our farmers to see how coffee is sold to the world. Taipei has a “no visa” requirement for Filipinos and surely our farmers will be inspired by Taiwan’s small production but going specialty. The most expensive coffee in the show, next to Panama Geisha, was Taiwan’s Alishan coffee.
They even have a pavilion just for ALISHAN highland coffee—similar to how we could promote Cordillera, or in particular, Benguet. Taiwan’s coffee production is not so big, like ours, but they have showcased it to be one of the best coffees of the world.
Philippines, let’s go and learn from Taiwan.
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