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Continuing a coffee love affair in Singapore

Diane Leow

Wed Nov 23 2011

Singapore’s cafes

SELF-CONFESSED coffee addict Diane Leow knows all the best cafes in Melbourne, but back home in Singapore she has had to settle for bad brews…until now.

When I first left for Melbourne to further my studies, I had no concept of what “good coffee” meant.

My coffee vocabulary was limited to “with/without milk” and “with/without sugar”. I had absolutely no idea that the roasting of the beans, together with the maturity of the roast, was vital to achieving that perfect cup of coffee.

To me, an espresso shot was an overpriced indulgence. And, thanks to Starbucks, I thought a macchiato was a milky coffee drink drizzled with golden caramel sauce. Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After spending a few years in Melbourne, I learned to appreciate the finesse involved in making a good cup of coffee. After all, we live in Australia’s coffee capital. What better way to understand the city than to go around sampling the great coffee?

And so my coffee obsession was born.

But this craving for quality coffee would almost always be met with disappointment whenever I returned to Singapore.

The cafes I went to back home never managed to satisfy my coffee palette – the espresso shot would either be burned or simply too acidic. The milk was not silky smooth and the espresso-to-milk proportion was often out of whack.

The dire lack of good coffee in Singapore would eventually drive me to count the days until I returned to Melbourne. When I arrived, my first task would be to grab a regular latte with no sugars from the nearest coffee shop.

But this time around, I was greeted in Singapore by friends who insisted they had, low and behold, found great coffee! To be honest, this was met with skepticism. Sure, the standard of coffee in Singapore could have gone up, but won’t the beans be stale? Plus, the milk in Singapore isn’t as good as the milk in Melbourne.

Surprisingly, I was wrong, on both counts. But gladly so, because the cafes I discovered this time around were absolutely delightful. I could totally imagine them in some alleyway in the Melbourne CBD, crammed with aspiring writers, playwrights or city-slickers simply wanting to relax.

In these Singaporean cafes, I found what I missed about Melbourne – a great coffee, a light lunch and a little peace and quiet. The latter is probably what draws me to coffee anyway, knowing that with the bittersweet aftertaste of each mouthful lies a few minutes where I can think about nothing at all.

S0 here are my two new favourite cafes in Singapore, both of which are good enough to line any street in Melbourne:

First up, SOHO Coffee.

I chanced upon this little cafe while rushing for an appointment and made a mental note to check it out when I was done. SOHO Coffee is tucked in a little corner in Singapore’s CBD. They serve up coffees, of course, as well as hearty cafe food like burgers, pastas and the quintessential Aussie fish and chips.

On this rainy, gloomy day, I ordered a latte to start with, followed by a smoked duck salad with hoisin balsamic dressing.

First up, the latte. I was most impressed by the latte art. The cafe manager and barista Ian Consulta is self-taught and practices his craft daily. Service is prompt and smiley too, which is a change from what I’m used to – harried, impersonal – albeit efficient – service staff.

My latte was excellent. The milk was silky smooth and steamed to the right temperature. The espresso shot was properly pulled and the elaborate latte art a testament to the crema (or foam) – that is, only shots with a great layer of crema can produce beautiful latte art and this cup of coffee put a smile on my face.

Then my smoked duck salad arrived. The salad leaves were extremely fresh and the hoisin balsamic dressing went so well with the smoky saltiness of the duck.

My mum, who I was dining with, ordered a bacon and mushroom aglio olio and was very pleased. The pasta was cooked al dente and the amount of garlic used was not overpowering. Plus the chef took extra care to crisp up the bits of bacon, which provided the dish with texture.

I dropped by SOHO Coffee on a lazy afternoon and it was not particularly crowded, although I would imagine it would be teeming with people in the early morning and during lunch. It’s one of those casual yet gorgeous places where you can lounge around reading a book or to grab a quick lunch and pick-me-up. Needless to say, it’s one of my favourite haunts in Singapore now.

SOHO Cafe is located at 36 Armenian Street, #01-08 Singapore. It’s open Monday to Friday, 8am to 9pm, and Sunday 9am to 6pm.

Jimmy Monkey Cafe and Bar

Nestled between buildings in the one-north district, Jimmy Monkey Cafe and Bar is a little out of the way, but so worth the trip. Its interior is reminiscent of Melbourne’s industrial-chic cafes Proud Mary and Three Bags Full with pipes snaking around the ceiling and thick slabs of wood for tables.

The owners, originally from Melbourne, started Jimmy Monkey after they moved to Singapore and were plagued by cravings for a good old-fashioned Melbournian coffee. They’ve done a great job recreating a the Melbourne vibe– there are books and games in a corner for patrons to borrow, and their coffee is close enough to Melbourne standards to warrant a return visit.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to try their food, but this place will be worth taking a special trip down to one-north for next time I’m heading out for lunch.

Jimmy Monkey Cafe and Bar is located at 9 one-north Gateway, #01-51 one-north residences, Singapore. It’s open Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8.30am to 8.30pm, and Friday and Saturday from 8.30am to midnight.

Be Disloyal

Both Jimmy Monkey and SOHO Coffee are part of the Be Disloyal movement in Singapore. Instead of introducing loyalty cards, a number of coffee establishments have come together to encourage Singaporeans to “be disloyal” and patronise as many participating coffee spots as they wish.

Once they’ve visited all eight cafes, patrons are entitled to a free coffee at the cafe where they first picked it up the card. I’ve only managed to try two places so far, but can’t wait to see where else is next.

You can pick up a Be Disloyal card from SOHO Coffee; Jimmy Monkey; The Broers Cafe; Forty Hands; Jewel Coffee; Loysel’s Toy; Oriole Cafe and Bar; Oriole Espresso and Brew Bar; and, Smitten Coffee and Tea Bar.

Are there other good coffee places you’ve discovered in Singapore? Share with us in the comments box below!