More Espressos, Lattes and Chemex Brews in Singapore
Happened upon a clutch of new coffee places the last few days. When asked by the barista at the first and third if the visits would be on a blog, i thought the photos would merely be available to a Facebook audience and said so. But coming upon 5 places all at once was too noteworthy not to, erm, note.
Smitten Coffee and Tea Bar
60 Robertson Quay, #01-11 The Quayside
Industrial chic* design with white brick walls, hanging light bulbs, concrete laminates for the tables facing the bar, wooden laminates on benches, unique antique-referencing wood-and-wire basket for coffee condiments and an overhead storage space that created cozy seating nook underneath. Well-designed logo. The owners are Darren and Hongyuan but the man behind the counter that day was Vic (Vignesh s/o Surandran) who’d worked at Oriole Cafe and Bar for 4 years and was placed 5th in the Singapore National Barista Championship in 2010.
On Tuesdays, they roast in-house on a Giesen roaster that stands next to the entrance.
Behind the counter, a beautiful shiny three-group Mirage Veloce.
In the hoppers, the in-house Thumper espresso blend and Brazil Cup of Excellence Sitio A. Santos do Altemir, leaving the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Bolivian Familia Mamani Mamani Organic for the Chemex.
But back to the coffee: latte art was lovely to behold and well-defined. But the Thumper blend was harsh and caught at the back of the throat. Am not discerning enough to tell if beans were over-roasted or over-extracted. Having had many a Yirg, I wasn’t sure whether the lack of complexity and fragrance was just the Chemex doing its thing. But even with the calming effect of the Chemex filter, the brew was again harsh with bitter aftertaste. Perhaps roasting too dark might have masked any subtle flavours?
They’re probably still de-gassing from their opening a month ago so will return for another taste.
Happened to be passing by and am glad the caffeine antennae were working enough that I did a double-take and went to investigate. Minimalist design. The man on the Vibiemme was Teo Hui Kiat (Kiat). Highlander‘s Supremo Espresso Blend in the latte and Costa Rican Strictly Hard Bean on Chemex.
The Costa Rican was smooth but not terribly interesting. The latte, though lacking the nice microfoam etching we have come to expect, was an explosion of intense flavours and acidity; the milk was well-done so produced a pleasant round mouthfeel when combined with the coffee. This was just like how Phil (not the younger barista who now does weak ones during lunch hour) pulled it back in Highlander Coffee. Delicious. When asked about the lack of publicity about the place, Kiat said that they wanted to ensure consistency and quality before calling in the crowds. Good thinking.
The Orange Thimble
Blk 56, 01-68, Eng Hoon Street, Tiong Bahru
Was on the way to rendezvous with the rojak of my dreams when I saw this:
Befitting the whole yuppie-expat retro chic* of Tiong Bahru (where old flats with only 3 – 4 decades left to their land lease go for more than S$1,000,000), the raw concrete floor was complemented by the folding door and grills (preserved even though those things are a pain to open and close), an eclectic collection of chairs and stools, old timey crockery, Coca Cola in glass bottles, retro-looking cakes and prominently, on the shopfront table, Homespun‘s Taxi Lamp,
The Orange Thimble is certainly not an artisanal coffee joint (“What beans do you use?” “Uh, beans? Oh, Brazil.”) and does not market itself as such. Instead, opened by the same folk from White Canvas Gallery nearby, they say The Orange Thimble is where “art meets cafe”:
A corner for creativity fuelled by passion and espressos. It’s a slot between the walls for thinkers, believers, individuals, travellers and neighbours. It’s simple earnest food created by those people who grew up running and ducking through these very streets and alleys of Tiong Bahru. A place dedicated to ideals of honest neighbourhood living supporting the creative community.
Other than the art hanging on the wall, not sure what they have planned for the creativity side of things. (If indeed the designation of spaces for creativity is not antithetical to the concept of creativity.)
But food is certainly well done there – at least the spinach and tomato quiche and (no not the hyped-to-death red velvet) the Rasphody (raspberry and cream cheese) cake. Overheard several orders for the BBC (bacon brie cranberry).
For a cafe that isn’t enthusiastic on discussing coffee, it does a very well-balanced cup indeed. Lattes are single shot unless you ask for a double. You can eyeball the three-group La Marzocco GB/5 and Mazzer Elettronico when ordering at the counter.
Jimmy Monkey Café & Bar
9 One-North Gateway, #01-51 One-North Residences, Singapore 138643
When asked, cautiously, if the lattes would have two shots in it, owner/barista Michael Ryan exclaimed,”Of course!” and said to trust him to do good coffee because he was from Melbourne and knew about good coffee. The marketing literature went along the same line describing the cafe as “arguably Singapore’s coolest third wave coffee destination. Come for the ultimate coffee experience.” Did The Slayer deliver?
The house blend was roasted in situ on a Giesen and intriguingly comprised solely of Central American beans: 20% Costa Rica, 80% blend of Guatemala Antigua and Guatemala Las Minas – reminiscent of Square Mile’s Summer Espresso, though not entirely alike of course.
In the espresso, sweet, citrus, almost bracingly lively (that’s the Antigua, said Mike) yet rich, velvety. Unexpectedly enjoyable in milk as well – testament to the skill of the barista for getting it just right. Jimmy Monkey’s chief employee can be counted on for a coffee conversation even if he looks really tired. Has cunning plans for a brew bar.
62 Collyer Quay #02-11, Singapore, Singapore 049325
Double shots of Papa P’s Terra Firma blend delicious with inhouse lemon raspberry friands and slices of their best ever banana bread.
It’s fantastic that indie espresso fix-me-ups are blooming, and that the analogue coffee brewing scene in Singapore is certainly on the boil. Just last year, there wasn’t a Chemex to be had in Singapore and i had to have one specially imported via a coffee crack dealer. A few months later, there are suddenly loads more people to talk to about pulling and brewing and all sorts of coffee geekery.
None were quite as evangelistic as Mel and Chloe from The Steeping Room. But whereas TSR was about educating people about coffee, perhaps cafes have different aims. Still, the inability to observe the process of coffee filtered through a Chemex really deprives the customer a great chunk of the experience.
In the pipeline is 93 degreesC Coffee at 16 Morse Road No. 207 (edit: and also Toby’s Estate in Robertson Quay, says Business Times).
Consistently enjoyed the coffee at these places:
Highlander Coffee (if Phil is pulling)
Papa Palheta / Loysel’s Toy
Oriole Cafe & Bar – competition cups are very interesting indeed, especially Citrus Sin
The Plain – Graffeo beans
Viking Coffee – low profile but consistently good cuppa from the La Cimbali
The Pigeonhole – suspect it’s the novelty of a brown latte made with chocolate milk. Anyway, it’s more interested in being a “dynamic arts space”.
Espressoul – competition judge Danny Pang’s place
Found the following not quite to taste**:
Black (both the Hitachi and TripleOne branches) – apparently they get their beans from Highlander but since I’ve had good espressos from Highlander blends, the bitterness suggests something didn’t work out in the process. Fairly similar reviews on beanhunter.
EDIT: this chap at TripleOne does a very decent cup. But this isn’t his normal gig.
Joe & Dough –
the one at Hitachi is usually underextracted but Terence at Suntec does a good cup
EDIT: this guy at Hitachi Tower also produced a very balanced cup indeed (and i’m not talking about the lovely triple rosetta pour art) with what tastes like Highlander’s blend
Forty Hands – the cups i’ve had there were bitter and harsh but they weren’t pulled by Harry Grover. Reviews on beanhunter suggest inconsistency.
The House of Robert Timms – weekend afternoon: flat, bitter, harsh
Dimbulah – lunchtime rush hour: harsh
Cuppachoice – weekday lunchtime: harsh and barely lukewarm. Not pulled by Suhaimie though.
Kith Café – bitter, harsh but very friendly folk
*on the assumption that if one tags on “chic” to the end of every string of adjectives, one might be able to communicate some sort of pandering to contemporary concept of fashion, which in the present means Old School neo-traditionalism and raw-ness
**hey, that’s just my personal preference and experience. Maybe my poison is your meat. Maybe it is, as one barista did,”Harsh? That’s just how coffee tastes, you know.”
Here is my beef with the infiltration of postmodern thought into daily life: Is it really solely a matter of personal subjective taste? Is there no such thing as good and bad coffee?
Ignoring the different visions of cafe operators (and hence their relative friendliness and enthusiasm for beans) and concentrating solely on the taste of the coffee, and assuming the sort of coffee one gets from a particular place is always consistent (it is not but that is irrelevant to this part of the exercise), the presence of concurring reviews suggest that there is some common experience of how coffee molecules are perceived by the tongue. If the vast majority of the population would consider bitter and harsh stuff to be unpleasant (distinguishable from coffee that is pleasurably strong or intense; meaning bitterness in a way that is a burnt bitter as opposed to natural bitterness; harshness similar to the nastiness of a smoke made of improperly cured tobacco not in a general manner of “heatiness”), and if certain actions in roasting, grinding, tamping and pulling produce a cup that tastes like that to most people, then:
- there can be such concepts as over-roasting or over-extracting,
- there can be such a thing as good and bad coffee
- there can be objective standards of right and wrong ways of preparing coffee
There is such a thing as truth.