Coffee Coffee drinking is a popular pastime in Hong Kong, but few of us are aware of the complex processes that bring the quality brew to our tables. While millions enjoy their cup, merchandisers and purchasers are searching high and low around the world to find the perfect bean. Thomas Hahn, general manager of Starbucks Hong Kong, said the process of sourcing and purchasing coffee started with selecting the right beans. Starbucks sources only Arabica beans, which are usually cultivated by small coffee farmers at high altitudes where crops are less susceptible to bad weather. Clean air and high altitudes yield a better quality bean, which is naturally more expensive. 'Our success as a coffee company really depends on the success of the coffee farmers,' Mr Hahn said. 'It is in our interest that they make a living and continue to grow Arabica beans.' Paying premium prices, supporting community projects, investing in hospitals and clinics, facilitating clean water supplies, providing affordable credit and creating support centres for coffee farmers are all initiatives the company has implemented to further develop these relationships and maintain sustainability. Sourcing is therefore inextricably linked with the relationship the company builds with the farmers and the community in different coffee-growing regions around the world. 'This integrated approach of sourcing ensures that we have a continuous supply of the best quality, certified, organic coffee beans,' Mr Hahn said. Ultimately, it is the buyers who come into direct contact with the coffee farmers. The Starbucks buying and research centre is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. A team of experts travels to leading coffee-growing regions in the world to source the best beans. These experts often spend more than 100 days a year on the road, travelling through the jungles of Sumatra or the Amazon rainforest, climbing the slopes of the Andes and the highlands of Ethiopia and Kenya. 'Our experts may sample as many as 500 cups of coffee a day,' Mr Hahn said. The number adds up to about 150,000 cups of coffee sampled in a year. Once the buyers are satisfied with the beans and checked all criteria, they conclude the purchase. The green coffee beans are dispatched to one of the four major, strategically located, roasting plants in the world. Long weeks spent sourcing and sampling coffee would be wasted without the proper roast. Expert roasters must determine the right degree of heat necessary to unlock the full flavour potential of the green beans arriving at the plant. While most of the products are researched and developed at the Seattle research and development centre, the roasting process is standardised throughout the world. New and innovative products emerge based on feedback received from different markets. For example, the Green Tea Frappuccino was developed outside of the home base and was first introduced to the Asian market. But it soon became so popular that it spread to other regions, Mr Hahn said. Now it is sold in every Starbucks around the world. 'Coffee expertise plays an essential role at our company, and not only at the buyer's level. Our partners form one of the cornerstones of our success. It is through them that we engage our customers every day. 'Like in karate, different colours signify different levels of expertise. Through rigorous learning and testing that encompasses blind tasting, partners wearing green aprons can ultimately become black apron coffee masters or district coffee masters. At the top of the hierarchy, presiding over a whole market, is the brown apron coffee ambassador.' At the Starbucks signature coffee shop in Central, a coffee master is on hand to introduce customers to the art of coffee tasting. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that her name tag reads 'Mekka'.