Sinagpore Coffee Scene

Having been effectively marooned in Sinagpore the last month (baby was unexpectedly born here), I have had a very good opporunity to look at the coffee scene in the Island state.

Essentially coffee can be seperated into 3 distinct groupings-
1/. Local coffee: Kopi Tiams and coffee shops catering to the local market
2/. International Coffee chains: The big r biggish names that have set up here
3/. Local Specialty chains:

1/. Local Coffee: Kopi or coffee for most older people in Singapore is enjoyed in "coffee shops" and "Kopi Tiames". The word "coffee shop" is a bit meaning as they sell coffee during the day and a variety of beer products at night. The coffee sold here is nearly always strong robusta, made using the traditional "sock and watering can" methoh of brewing. Coffee is ground fine and placed in a large mesh sock, then dripped into a watering can. Coffee is poured direct from the can into cups. The coffee is strong, even stronger than the Indonesian "kopi Tubruk" that I am normally used to. The Robusta of course gives you a kick, but as I drink mainly arabica I have found the kick and the of course the tar-like taste and consistency in the cup is not to everyone (read 'my') liking. The local places are everywhere in Sngapore and include such gamous names as "Kaya Toast" In these local places coffee is eneviatably enjoyed with runny poached eggs and slices of toast smothered in butter.

2/. International Chains: Starbucks, Dome, Port City Java, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, McCafe, Spinelli's and the like are all well represented in Singapore. Spinelli roast there own here on the island, and the master roaster does a good job in presenting a coffee that drinks well as an espresso or cappaccino. The other brands I think import their coffee. Service is highly variable. I have had the absolutley worse service experienced anywhere in the world (no kidding) at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf store at Raffles Hospital. Conversely I have had excellent and knowledgeable service from their store on sentosa... Overall Spinelli's staff take 1st prize for knowldege about coffee and preperation techniques- probably has something to do with Master-roaster Ross being a WBC judge I would think :wink:

3/. Local Specialty Coffee chains: The biggest of these is TCC (the Coffee Connoissiur). Other big local names are the Coffee Club, Highland coffee and an increasing number of small opperators. TCC has 25 stores and growing. This rivals spinelli for size. Unfortately someone at sometime decided to go with Superautos to compliment the funky post modern design of the stores. As a result the quality of the espresso and EBD's is not what it should be. The chain is also incredibly expensive compared to even the international brands.

What I like about Singapore cafe scene>
- Standard free WIFI
- Well airconditioned stores make drinking hot beverages feel almost the norm even though its 98f outside!
- Cleanliness of the places
- The coffee quality in the top places is excellent and compares well with specialty coffee in Australia/NZ.

However-
- There is also a general lack of training and enthusiasm in some opperators places. This generally refers to the chains. Most of the local Kopi Tiams have staff who may have been making coffee for decades and still love doing it!
- Service. Singapore has a very high employment level. As a result the quality of those entering the service industry is variable. I have seen some of the best barista here (attention to detail) and worse (8 second shots, steaming milk to almost 90 degrees c)... then throwing the cup accross the counter.[/u]
 

Davec

New member
Oct 18, 2006
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Old England (UK)
Hmm, my wife is Chinese and had family in Singapore, it's somewhere we go often and for long periods. Over the years the quality of coffee has gone down in all the large chains and many of the coffee bars.

A few years ago some of the best places to get coffee was in one of the local libraries, many of which had La Marzocco 3 group machines and well trained baristas.

Now that coffee is becoming more popular, many companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are suppying coffee machines/beans/training in ever greater competition. This means that many places have moved their contracts to the cheapest and receive poor training as a result. Trouble with the Singaporean mentality is "I have been trained....so I am doing it right". The reality is the training is substandard in many places. This means now we have specialist coffee bars where 6 second "gushers" and "marshmallow" milk is the norm, with bored and disinterested "trained" operators.

There used to be a little Cafe near the orchards hotel, where the chap made some great coffee and did some nice "latte art", sadly that was 4 or 5 years ago and it doesn't happen now.

I am sure there are still some good places, but not as many as there used to be.
 
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Would certainly agree. I think the challenges in Singapore are compounded by the fact that there are very few Indies here, and specialty coffee is perhaps not yet seen as being a career path based on developing knowledge and skills and then innovating. As mentioned, I was impressed with Spinelli- from coffee through to service. All the other major chains presented very poor service- and very variable quality of coffee. With the proximity to the highly vivacious coffee markets of NZ and Australia you would expect over time some of those working down there to head to Singapore. It has happened in the food industry equating to fusion foods...hopefully it will also happen with coffee. :grin:
 

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