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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

What's brewing at indie joints

From manual brewing to using single-origin beans, coffee shops are out to woo with bespoke java
The Straits Times - August 14, 2011
By: Eunice Quek
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What's brewing at indie joints -- PHOTO: BUSINESS TIMES FILE

Indie coffee joints are springing up and priding themselves on lovingly sourced beans, an in-house roasting system and painstaking brewing processes for that perfect cuppa.

They are a growing band of alternatives to established chains such as Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and The Connossieur Concerto (TCC), and even the traditional kopitiam, adding an artisanal touch to Singapore's coffee culture.

The latest of this new, independent brew-crew include Smitten in Robertson Quay, Jewel Coffee in Shenton Way, Yahava Koffeeworks off Upper Thomson Road and Jimmy Monkey in One-North Residences (see other story).

Older indie outlets include Papa Palheta in Bukit Timah, which opened in 2009. The same management also opened cafe Loysel's Toy in Kampong Bugis earlier this year.

Some fancy gadgets for coffee geeks include a ceramic dripper V-60 by Japanese manufacturer Hario, the Chemex - an hourglass-shaped glass vessel that comes with a wood collar which serves as an insulator - and the Mypressi, which is a handheld espresso-making device.

Also, cold coffee no longer involves conveniently pouring hot coffee over ice, like at a kopitiam.

Brewing the coffee can take up to 24 hours, where the coffee grounds are left to steep in cold water in a fridge. The result is a coffee concentrate that can be served with milk.

If you fancy a caffeine fix at these outlets, expect to wait up to 10 minutes for a perfect brew that either drips through special filter paper or is manually brewed by a barista to create the optimum balance of acidity, body and flavour.

Manual brewing requires baristas themselves to adjust the bar pressure and temperature when making coffee. Many espresso machines at other commercial coffee outlets have the system calibrated to set cup sizes for quick drink preparation.

Players in this coffee community have been largely influenced by the coffee culture in the United States and Australia, which have moved into using nifty coffee gadgets and special brews.

For former corporate banker Adrian Khong, who runs Jewel Coffee, a two-month-old gem in the heart of the central business district, these gadgets are equivalent to the birth of the 'coffee geek'.

The 42-year-old spent months in the US learning the ropes of being a barista.

At Jewel Coffee, each brew is like a science experiment. Customers watch barista Cheng Shin Hao, 34, serve up their coffee either with the Chemex pour-over or the Syphon, which brews coffee through vacuum pressure via two Pyrex vessels.

Mr Khong says: 'We do not take any short cuts here. It's all about manual brewing that showcases the ability of the barista.'

Over at cafe Yahava Koffeeworks in Jalan Gelenggang, baristas also educate customers through free coffee-appreciation services.

Raw green beans are roasted on site by manager Sin Tsai Siang, 36, in a €30,000 (S$52,000) roaster from Portugal.

The process includes a 12- to 20-minute roast followed by cooling in a pan and a 'de-stoning' filtration to remove any stones or glass bits that may be in the beans.

Of the time-consuming process, Mr Sin says: 'It's all about getting people enthusiastic about their coffee. By showing the whole journey from raw bean to their cup, customers can understand more about what they are drinking.'

At coffee boutique Smitten, the husband-and-wife duo who run it help customers better understand coffee culture by offering a coffee-tasting espresso palette of both single-origin and house-blend.

Single origin means that the beans are from one location rather than a blend of different beans sourced from many countries.

Mr Darren Chang, 31, a former major in the Singapore Navy, and his wife Li Hong Yuan, 30, a former speech therapist, roast their coffee beans in-house.

They use a Giesen roaster from Holland and serve Ethiopian and Bolivian single- origin coffees with their Chemex pour- over.

Says Mr Chang: 'We will keep changing the blends and single-origin beans that we bring in. This will broaden the taste profiles of our customers.'

As for month-old cafe Jimmy Monkey in One-North Residences, Australian owner Michael Ryan, 33, hopes the wave of stand-alone joints will add more value to the cafe culture in Singapore.

He says: 'I love the local kopitiam environment, which is a great authentic coffee culture. However, the culture skipped over having indie cafes and moved straight into franchises.'

Since its opening last month, he has been perfecting the art of using his rare Slayer espresso machine, of which he is also the sole distributor in Singapore. The cafe also has a Giesen coffee roaster.

He will be introducing the Chemex pour-over, French Press and Syphon at a later date.

Coffee connoisseurs can also look forward to another Australian brand, Toby's Estate, which will be opening next month in Rodyk Street in Robertson Quay.

Accountant Jeff Lim, 35, stopped drinking coffee in Singapore after encountering the coffee culture in Australia during a recent trip.

He says: 'After drinking great coffee overseas, I realise that our local coffee, especially those that are sold in franchises, taste very diluted. If I have to drink coffee, I would buy those from the hawker centres.

'Now, with these new outlets, I can finally start drinking real coffee again, made by people who are really passionate about what they do.'


What: Artisanal-brewed coffee comes in three forms: Filtered drip ($5.20), Chemex ($5.60) or Syphon ($12). Prices for other coffees start from $4.20 for an espresso or macchiato. Tea starts from $4.80. Pasta, salads, sandwiches and cakes are available. Coffee-brewing apparatus from the United States and Japan are also sold at the outlet.

Where: 1 Shenton Way, 01-07

Open: 7am to 9pm (weekdays), 8am to 5pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays

Info: Call 6636-9452


What: Espresso-based coffee starts from $4, while brewed coffee include Chemex pour-over ($8) and cold drip coffee ($6). Single origin or single estate whole-leaf teas start from $9 for a pot of Darjeeling Black Tea to $13 for a pot of Sichuan Artisan Jasmine Green Tea. Coffee and tea tasting palettes are also available for $7.50 each.

Where: 60 Robertson Quay, The Quayside, 01-11

Open: 10am to 10pm (weekdays, closed on Tuesdays), 9am to 11pm (weekends)

Info: Call 9876-2347


What: Espresso-based coffees ($4 without milk, $5 with milk) made by the Slayer espresso machine. The coffee beans, a Central American blend of Guatemalan and Costa Rican beans, are also for sale ($15 for 250g). The food menu includes sandwiches, lasagne and fish and chips. Chemex pour-over, French press and Syphon coffees will be introduced soon.

Where: 9 One-North Gateway, 01-51 One-North Residences

Open: 8.30am to 8.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 8.30am till late (Fridays & Saturdays), closed on Mondays

Info: Call 6777-8470 or go to


What: Free coffee-tasting is available - the barista will let you sample three types of coffee (light, medium and strong). Sixteen varieties of coffee are on sale, both single-origin and blends, starting from $14 for 250g. Other merchandise such as coffee cups and T-shirts are available. To spice up your brew, buy the Hazelnut, Caramel, Irish Cream or French Vanilla essences for $16.90 (375ml).

Where: 4 Jalan Gelenggang (off Upper Thomson Road)

Open: 9am to 6pm daily

Info: Call 6554-7080


What: Freshly ground coffee beans from Africa, the Americas and Asia are for sale (from $13.50 to $16 for 250g). Coffee sets (from $7 to $10) include Drip Drop Drink with two filtered coffees and Brewed Otherwise, which serves single-origin coffee brewed with both French Press and Syphon. Sandwiches, salads and cakes are available. Coffee-brewing gadgets are also on sale.

Where: 66 Kampong Bugis, Ture Building, 01-01

Open: 9am to 6pm (Tuesdays to Fridays), 9am to 7.30pm (weekends)

Info: Call 9451-0236 or go to



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