Brewing Coffee Culture Brings Cafe Expo to Phnom Penh

In a nod to the percolating market for upscale cafes and trendy coffee shops in Cambodia, more than 75 companies from 18 countries have turned out for the country’s first international cafe and bakery conference.

Cafe Cambodia, a three-day public trade show running through Saturday at the Koh Pich Convention Center, brings under one roof the employees, equipment and, of course, the coffee behind the cafe business.

A barista from Cambodian coffee shop Kofi shows off his skills during a performance at the Cafe Cambodia exhibition on Thursday in Phnom Penh. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

The gathering of global brands aims to bring more successful cafe chains and equipment companies to Cambodia’s thirsty cafe scene, while aiding local coffee vendors, said Lim Chivv Ho, chairwoman of CamGlobe Business & Investment Consultancy, in her opening day speech.

“The massive growth of the global coffee industry, as well as a flourishing local coffee shop culture, would offer a golden opportunity for local coffee growers to expand production,” she said.

Amid a barista competition and flowing coffee samples to sate Phnom Penh’s caffeine and pastry fans, the conference also offers franchise and licensing exhibits to stimulate Cambodian entrepreneurs’ interest in international companies.

Cham Prasidh, head of the Industry and Handicraft Ministry, said the cafe industry’s growth could indicate an expanding middle class, which will dole out dollars for a fine grind or a special cafe experience. And the international companies that enter the country have shown they’re willing to fit into Cambodia’s coffee scene, he said.

“A large majority of multinational [brands] have chosen to cooperate with local companies when entering the Cambodian market, due to cultural reasons and the importance of establishing connections with local distributors,” he said.

Cham Prasidh, industry and handicraft minister, gazes at a popsicle during the Cafe Cambodia exhibition for cafe and bakery vendors. (Emil Kastrup/The Cambodia Daily)

A recent study found that Cambodia’s youth are pushing the market to provide high-end consumer goods, part of an increasing desire to enjoy the trappings of success.

Though the minister encouraged the growing coffee culture, some of Cambodia’s established vendors fear an overflowing market.

“Honestly, the industry is oversaturated, and it is being worsened by foreign franchises who have a predatory practice of taking over every corner to prevent independent businesses from developing,” said Dana Langlois, owner of Java Cafe, a Phnom Penh restaurant serving the city since 2000.

No matter the competition, industry experts believe the best brewers will float above the rest like foam on a latte, whether they’re international or homegrown.

Among the 50 or more cups of coffee exhibition organizer Edward Liu drank during his visits to Cambodia, popular local brand Brown Coffee came out above the rest, he said.

“I would go to Brown Coffee very often,” he said. “The coffee that they serve, and the food that they serve, is very good.”

The exhibition is run by Conference and Exhibitions Management Services, a Singaporean company that has previously hosted similar events in hubs of trendy eateries like Singapore and Malaysia.

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