A REVOLUTION is brewing in the coffee market, restaurateur and coffee maker Anton Wiesmann believes, and he's right in the forefront of it in Singapore. His weapon? A high-tech coffee roaster made in Korea. His ammunition? Auction-house coffee beans.
And that is the crux of this 'war' - the supply of coffee beans, and whether you are getting the beans as close to their source and as freshly roasted as possible.
Mr Wiesmann's command room is now innocuously housed in a little, charming Austrian-style coffee counter at Carrefour at Suntec City, next to the bakery section. The Wiener Kaffeehaus corner is like a coffee bar, with dark wood panelling, and has the various coffees for sale chalked cursively across blackboards behind the counter. In an adjacent counter, there's the shiny roaster which roasts beans on the spot.
'It's really more than just another coffee joint. What I'm doing is really quite a jolt to the entire coffee supply chain,' declares Mr Wiesmann, who started Wiener Kaffeehaus in Chinatown a few years ago.
What he's doing is buying green beans directly from auction houses via the Internet, cutting out the middlemen. He explains: 'When you buy the coffee you drink from a big, international coffee chain, what you're doing is paying middlemen and shipping costs. On top of that, you don't even get fresh coffee because it's important to consume it soon after roasting.'
For big brand names, he reckons it takes four months before the roasted beans get filtered into the consumer's coffee cup.
So he buys from auction houses in Hamburg, Germany, which is the centre of the coffee-bean trade, at commodity prices. 'We get high-quality gourmet coffee beans and make them very affordable, and because we roast them here, they're also at their freshest,' says Mr Wiesmann.
That is quite a change for the coffee-drinking public, he believes. 'The green beans themselves can last for years - that's not the issue. The issue is that after roasting, especially in Singapore, they get stale quite quickly because of the humidity.'
Also, one shouldn't freeze the roasted beans, but put them in an airtight container at room temperature. 'The problem is the air,' he says.
Wiener Kaffeehaus at Carrefour has varieties such as organic decaffeinated Bolivian beans; then Colombian, Costa Rican, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Guatemalan and some Sumatran beans which retail from $4.90 to $9.90 for 200gm. 'No one can sell gourmet coffee at that price unless you cut out the middlemen,' he says.
Mr Wiesmann has been selling these coffees from his restaurant, but now, by setting up shop in Carrefour, he's taking retail sales up another level.
In December, he's also getting in some of the most expensive coffees in the world: coffee luwak (that's the beans that go through the digestive tracts of a civet cat), Blue Mountain and Hawaii Kona coffee beans, which will retail for at least $35 for 100gm.
Meanwhile, the roaster that he uses is one he co-designed with a Korean inventor. It is fully automated so that human guesswork can be taken out of the complex roasting of the beans. 'With this, there'll be consistency in the roasting and makes it much more controlled. I programme it the way I want it,' Mr Wiesmann says. The Korean company has since received an order of 100 units from a US company for the roaster.
A roaster like this will also change the way people drink coffee, Mr Wiesmann believes, as fresh roasted coffee is available on site.
Coffee has been a passion of his since he was a teenager helping out at his mother's cafe, he says. Now, he's going against the grain to make sure others can share his passion, at an affordable price.