Let’s Talk Sustainability through a responsible coffee chain > Explore Audi Stories > Audi Singapore | Luxury sedans, SUVs, convertibles, electric vehicles

19 Nov 2021

Let’s Talk: Sustainability through a responsible coffee chain

The magic of coffee lies in the ecosystem that’s behind the humble bean. Leon Foo, founder of PPP Coffee, walks us through what’s beyond your daily brew.

For Audi, sustainability has always been a core belief. Guided by Audi’s Living Progress principle, the brand is constantly applying sustainable practices to work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2025 in production and at Audi sites around the world.

As Audi and Leon Foo, founder of PPP Coffee and co-founder of Morning, prove, sustainability can be applied to everything — even coffee.

In 2020, Singapore’s food and beverage services sector was worth approximately SGD4.4 billion, of which, the coffee industry is valued at SGD270 million and is projected to continue growing. When it comes to the local scene, no one knows it better than Leon. He established PPP Coffee (formerly known as Papa Palheta) in 2009 when he set off to answer one key question, Why are people so obsessed with coffee? His quest to find answers led him to learn how to source, roast, brew, serve, enjoy and experience it. Before he knew it, he was doing all of that with his specialty coffee boutique at Chye Seng Huat Hardware. Recently, he ventured into the coffee capsule business with the Morning Coffee Machine he developed with his like-minded business partner.

But even with the success of PPP Coffee and Morning, one thing that has remained constant is Leon’s continued commitment to sustainable practices, much like Audi’s ethos of Living Progress through sustainability.

He gives his insights into the coffee industry and how to be “greener”.


What is sustainable coffee and what does it entail?

Sustainable coffee extends beyond just being traceable and transparent about the source. Ethical and sustainable sourcing is something many roasters should focus on, including social and environmental aspects during production. We need to pay more attention to minimum wage, farming practices, farm waste management and environmental effects of the whole value chain, all the way to how coffee is being consumed at home or at the café. Even how it is roasted or packaged is part of it.

What are some of the common challenges that come with it?

Most consumers find that sustainable coffee costs more and they cannot tell the difference between what is sustainable and what is not. The biggest challenge for businesses is profit. On top of that, quality and taste do not necessarily mean sustainable. I also don’t understand why “green” has to be more expensive.


How does PPP Coffee practise sustainability?

We have been practising sustainable sourcing since 2009. We have audited and built relationships with 95% to 100% of the farms that we buy from — we look into farming practices, waste management and even minimum wage.

For example, we check what they do with the water after they have washed the coffee beans and if they filter and treat it before releasing it, what kind of fertilisers they use, do they advocate crop diversity, and do they treat their workers well.

Lastly, continuity in buying from these farms in good times and bad helps ensure that they make ends meet. A sustainable price is always more important than the lowest or highest price.

At a company level, we always strive to practise the 3 ‘R’s as much as possible by reducing, reusing, and adopting recyclable packaging. Some examples would be reusing our milk carton boxes as delivery boxes and switching to compostable poly mailer bags for online orders. We also have incentive schemes for consumers who buy beans using reusable coffee canisters. We encourage this by giving them 20% more coffee on each repeat purchase of coffee beans.

Any advice on how consumers can make better decisions when sourcing for sustainable and ethically-sourced coffee?

Try not to buy coffee solely based on how the café or packaging looks. Look deeper into the company’s beliefs and how they source their coffee beans. The easiest way to find out if a roaster is using sustainable beans is to ask them directly. Don’t settle with, “Yes, our coffee is sustainable”. Many people don’t even know what is happening at the farm level.


What made you venture into the capsule business with Morning?

I felt that the home brewing coffee scene had so much more that I could make a difference in. Capsules provided a format where quality and convenience can co-exist, so I set out to deliver a very unique connected coffee experience using technology and innovative solutions.

What trends are you noticing lately?

The home coffee scene has never been bigger with so many people working from home. Cafes and roasters are trying to expand their brand and café experience to coffee drinkers in new formats and engaging them in different ways.

What’s the local coffee scene like compared to the rest of the world?

People can dine in more than groups of two outside of Singapore!* But jokes aside, our local coffee scene is very vibrant with many good cafes in our tiny little city. The standard is also very high. I would say, we would be one of the leading coffee cultures in South East Asia.


Is there any more room for innovation in the coffee industry? What are your future plans?

Coffee goes through several innovation cycles and with the rise of specialty coffee in the last decade, I think we may be embarking on a new cycle. What I see in the future is having a connected coffee experience. I’m already embarking on this journey, for example — a metaverse of a café.

What do you find most rewarding about what you do?

Making a difference in small to big ways to people’s lives through coffee. It can range from engaging with a farmer in Costa Rica, the music community at the café level in Chye Seng Huat Hardware, the cycling community with PPP Coffee, to something as simple as serving coffee over the coffee bar.

What is “Living Progress” to you?

It means that the only progress for the world is to be greener.

*At time of photoshoot, local COVID-19 dine-in regulations only allowed a group size of two vaccinated individuals either from the same household or from different households.