Foreword Coffee curates specialty coffee in Asia, promoting sustainable coffee consumption from cherry to cup. We import green coffee directly from the producers and roast them locally in small batches, serving customers only the freshest coffee roasted within the week. At the same time, we empower differently-abled persons through skills and service training, providing opportunities for employment in the coffee industry.
Seated with a green tea latte on the left and my phone charging on the right (guess where am I?), I’m taking advantage of my layover in Bangkok to do some reflections on how Foreword has become over the past year. We’ve ended our 11-day coffee origins trip which brought us to far-flung places in Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar. This trip has been absolutely amazing and I’m grateful for crossing paths with the people we met during this journey — more to be shared in upcoming posts!
Here’s our cafe at 8 College Ave East!
One year ago during this period, I made my first coffee origin trip to Yunnan, in the county of Menglian, as an eager student volunteer (I was still an undergraduate then) to learn everything I could about processing coffee from cherry to cup. Tim Heinze, owner of Hani Coffee Co., was generous with his sharing on coffee knowledge and the way he runs his company. Being an urban-dweller, every experience in the farm was a new experience to me and I diligently soaked up everything which formed the foundation of my knowledge in coffee growing and processing.
Village kids eyeing on the fresh coffee cherries in Yunnan, China.
Like many people, I didn’t know that China grows coffee! I saw that the future of coffee lies in Asia, seeing how coffee consumption in China is growing fast and great coffees have been discovered in countries such as Laos and Myanmar, which were unheard of a few years ago; it helps also that I’m an avid fan of Perfect Daily Grind, which posts up-to-date articles about coffee industries across the world.
Most coffee traders, however, do not have an extensive selection of Asian specialty coffee (they usually only have Sumatran beans) and it was up to us to source and import directly from the coffee producers themselves. I chanced upon Yuni Coffee Co. on Perfect Daily Grind when googling for Laos coffee, and decided to ask for some samples which Steve and Tyler, Directors of Yuni Coffee, responded. Having tried the samples, we imported some Xaysomboun (Laos) and Yunnan (China) coffees and featured them for the first time during the Singapore Coffee Festival held in August!
Perhaps the only coffee company featuring Asian specialty coffee at the Singapore Coffee Fest 2017!
Public cupping session featuring coffees from Asia.
Moving forward, we will maintain our relationship with Yuni Coffee and Hani Coffee, while establishing new relationships with our coffee partners in Thailand and Myanmar, as well as Indonesia and the Philippines, to be a coffee company that truly stands for Asia.
Beyond the obsession for coffee, Foreword Coffee strives to empower persons with special needs, in particular, persons with autism, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities. We are a social enterprise member of raiSE, the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises, with a mission to breakdown the social stigma which society has towards persons with disabilities. This “dual identity” gave me a dilemma: being a young startup, how should I portray Foreword Coffee to the eyes of our customers, partners, and other players in the same industry?
Foreword Coffee at the SG Enable Career Fair for persons with disabilities
Like many life’s greatest questions, there was no right or wrong to the approach; we chose to first focus our effort into crafting great coffees for consumers. We believe a sustainable social enterprise model should have a great product which meets the needs of customers (and beneficiaries). If our coffee sucks, no customer will visit us again despite knowing that we support a social cause. Concurrently, we were actively seeking ways to validate our barista training programme for persons with special needs and conducted a 5-part workshop for the youths in the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN) Tanglin School, between July and September. This experience gave us the confidence that coffee skills can be a fun thing for the youths to learn and a medium for which the youths can leverage to learn how to communicate with people.
Students trying their hands on the pourover method of coffee brewing.
Foreword Coffee was also awarded with a training grant administered by SG Enable for our train-and-hire programme, “Service and Skills Training for Specialty Coffee Companies”. Through raiSE’s directory, several Special Education (SPED) schools have contacted us to establish connections to create work opportunities for their senior students. We are also actively seeking for collaborations and we have worked with a few non-profit and governmental organizations such as People’s Association (PA), National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC), and Social Innovation Park (SIP), to name a few.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have supported Foreword Coffee in one way or another — friends who give words of encouragement every now and then, mentors (hello Debra and Ryan, from Society Staples!) who gave us advice in the most dire situations and opportunities for us to grow, ex-bosses (Larry from UNFRAMED and Huijia from Skillseed) who still remember their ex-intern and giving Foreword Coffee opportunities to shine, friends in the coffee industry who shared experiences and skills (you know who you are!), and my family and extended family for their encouragement and support which means a lot to me.
2017 has been a good year and we look Foreword to a better 2018!
Team dinner at Timbre+!
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!