What is it about coffee that excites most people? After all, it is the most popular drink in the world after water – so there’s gotta be something there, right?
Is it the invigorating aroma that first hits your nose, the airy foam that touches your lips and then dissipating on your tongue, the velvety smoothness of the milk, the many tones of bitterness hitting your tastebuds… or the after-effects of it, bringing you to a heightened awareness and alertness of your surroundings?
Wake up and smell the coffee, they say. But to me, I say, wake up, smell the coffee and greet the world!
Yes, I can’t do without my coffee, especially my morning cuppa.
To me, the espresso coffee is a very Melbourne thing. Just hit up any Melbourne cafe and you can get a good latte for about AUD3-4, all thanks to the Italian migrants who brought their wonderful coffee-making skills with them. So whenever I leave Melbourne, I always miss my coffee fix.
And after hearing about the many cafes sprouting out in my hometown island of Singapore, I was curious to find out about the standards of cafes there – how good is the coffee scene in Singapore?
So with my coffee buddy, Ms Slim*, we set off to find the coffee hits of Singapore!
First stop: Nylon Coffee Roasters
Firstly, the location of this place struck me – a Western cafe in the middle of the Singapore heartlands?
The typical Singapore heartlander area has the local coffeeshop, or kopitiam, as the locals call it, where the local coffee is served. Looking at this cafe I wondered, is the espresso coffee slowly replacing the kopi? Singapore always had the mix of Western & Asian influences, but it is after all, an Asian society. So were the Asian roots of the Singaporean identity giving way to the Western influences, more than it should it be?
Anyway! What was the verdict of our 1st coffee stop?
I had high expectations of this place due to the good online reviews. However, to my surprise, the coffee didn’t turn out as strong as I wanted. It lacked the full-bodied flavour and it tasted thin overall. It could be the quality of the milk or the blend was not as bold as I liked.
Overall, it was a good coffee but the punch of the espresso was kind of lacking. Anyway, it was a unique experience sipping coffee at the void deck of a HDB flat – will this be the kopitiam of the future generation?
Second stop: Dutch Colony Coffee Co.
Next up, we took a drive into Turf City to check out a gourmet market, which also housed this nice little coffee stand.
The ambience here was a little different from Nylon – with the many food stalls selling fresh produce and meats surrounding the stand, and with the many Aussie food magazines piled on the tables of the cafe, I felt like I was transported back to a market in Australia like the South Melbourne Market. And as I sipped my latte, it even made the experience seemed more surreal.
So needless to say, this was a good cuppa. It hit all the right tones of boldness and creaminess at the same time. There was a hint of fruitiness in the blend as well which I enjoyed a lot.
The coffees here are little pricey and the place is a little inaccessible but if you’re looking for a good coffee hit around the Bukit Timah area, this would be the place to go!
Third stop: Forty Hands
Again, the location of this cafe struck me. This cafe is set in Tiong Bahru which to me holds the older memories of Singapore, especially it being the neighbourhood where my parents grew up. But recently, the area has been revamped, with many hipster cafes opening up, and a much youthful crowd flocking to the area. So it did seem a little displacing to find a hip cafe in the midst of the old buildings of Tiong Bahru. A little displacing, but mostly, pretty cool 😉
I found that I liked how these new cafe joints were breathing in new life to this old neighbourhood. And that, to me, is really the essence of the Singaporean identity – always keeping up with the trends and putting in the local touch at the same time!
Anyway, on to the coffee!
I heard that this cafe was opened by a Melburnian so all the more the bar was set. And indeed, the coffees did not disappoint – with the right texture of milk and strong dark chocolate tones of the coffee.
We saw that they used the Meiji brand of milk and that was a big tick on my box. The milk in Singapore cannot be compared to ones produced in Australia and Meiji milk is probably one of the better brands in Singapore, albeit more expensive. So kudos to Forty Hands for using the best ingredients!
However, I did find the coffee abit too bitter for my liking and that could be just my personal preference of the blend. Ms Slim, on the other hand, enjoyed her coffee very much.
And remember that I said that Singaporeans will not forget to put in the local touch? Well, here it is!
Haha I was a little hungry so we decided to try this one out, a local dish of Kung Ba Pao. Surprisingly, it was good! The braised pork had the right taste of Chinese spices and the buns were fluffy. Impressive!
So there we were, sipping our espresso coffees and pinching on the kung ba paos – how’s that for a Singaporean experience!
Final stop: Chye Seng Huat Hardware
And yes, we saved the best for the last. I had really high expectations of this place as many reviews seem to point to this place as the best cafe in Singapore.
Again, the localised flavour can be seen in the establishment itself. I mean, just look at it!
I thought that this cafe cleverly retained the shophouse facade, with the entrance to the modern cafe set round the corner. This gave an overall rustic but modern feel to the place – how cool does that feel yo?! (Okay maybe that wasn’t too cool.)
But is the coffee as cool as the facade?
Yes, I must say that the coffee at Chye Seng Huat has met up to the high reviews. This was definitely my best coffee hit that I’ve had in Singapore. This blend was smooth, so smooth with a slightly nutty flavour. The fruitiness of the blend also cut through the bitterness of the drink, making it a very pleasant cup to drink.
There was also an array of cold drips that we did not manage to try. All I can say is, these guys at Chye Seng Huat know their coffee, and are doing a good job at it!
My only gripe would possibly be the queue-for-your-own-order system – in my opinion, part of the cafe experience is having the service staff going around, like how the host would entertain the guests. But anyway, service aside, this is one powerhouse for coffee in Singapore!
So overall, I was impressed by my cafe-hopping around Singapore and I’m happy to find that I can always get my coffee hit when I’m back in my homeland.
And I was also impressed with how the Singaporean flavour has not been lost in the process, making it a vibrant and mostly, a local experience. So yes, the Singaporean identity may be giving way to these Western influences, but it certainly is localising them at the same time – so for the coffee lovers who drop by Singapore, do give these cafes a go for a Singaporean cafe experience!
*credits to Ms Slim for her photos and groundwork in looking up these places!