Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Flat Whites (and Some Caps) of Singapore and The Failed Humans of the World

On the way to lunch, the newly-minted owner of a naff Nespresso from Nestlé and I were drawn into a cafe by fresh coffee smells and a fire-engine red roaster in the window. A short discussion and rush of related questions commencing with "But why...?" led to the witch's cottage in the deep dark woods. And I forgot to leave a bread crumb trail.

But for once, instead of being a fussy old drag unreasonably picky about perfectly decent chicken ("What do you mean it tastes like dead chicken? It's dead!") and clear sanitary water ("What do you mean it tastes like dead water? Water doesn't live!"), what has now been termed a "sensitive palate" (though one ought not be too optimistic since "tastes like the fag end of a wet bad cigarette" doesn't a coffee cognoscenti make) actually contributes to interesting conversation with neighbouring coffee enthusiasts.

Aerin's
Cappuccinos at Aerin's
The modern coffee enthusiast neighbour seems to be all about coffee use that is open platform, lo-fi, Coffee Common at TED, collaboration not competition, slow-food, third wave, similar non-homogenuity, commodities de-commodified, artisanal world barista championship wins; he is origin and terroir-obsessed and geekily discerning. He supports sustainable direct trade, and is enthusiastic about traceable microlot coffee micro-roasted then precisely ground and exactingly brewed to individual order by a tattooed barista. Simple pleasures fetished into luxuries.

(Coffee as traded commodity is still very current. And it still features in those macro-economics exam questions.

And of course, allegations of climate change and global warming cannot be too far away: Columbia, Costa Rica)

Barracks, Dempsey
Cappuccinos at Barracks Cafe, Dempsey House
The days of coffee as chair-and-wifi rental (and so imbibed with more than a few spoonfuls of sugar and cream to help the bad espresso-based bitterness go down) have been swept away, not by attention to consumption alone, but by the eye-widening focus on quality in the cup, specific origins, production methods, roasting and preparation styles.

Experimenting with old Papa Palheta's Terra Firma Blend Coffee via Hario V60 Pour-over, helped along by Hario Buono Drip Kettle
The newest arrival to the party in Singapore appears to be the pour-over. Previously as welcome as the comb-over, the pour-over has already done a tour of New York, with Hario of Japan* supplying the gadgetry of choice to the design-conscious - lovely ribbed V60s (though some swear by the Coava's stainless steel kone used with a Chemex as profiled in The Kitchn), and delicate swan+beehive-like Buono drip kettles. George Howell Terroir Coffee Company has Hario dripper brewing instructions here, as has Barismo amongst others, or ask a coffee-loving Japanese friend (if you have none, take solace in yume2coffee's video here and Cafe Iko's video here); Rob from Antwerp Barista shares Jaime van Schyndel's bloom diagram here; La Terza helps with the mathematics of brew volume, coffee dosage, presaturation percentage and time.

Aerobie Aeropress + Hario Skerton grinder + Highlander Supremo Blend beans + Hario Buono drip kettle
The Hario entourage came to the party accompanied by the Aeropress (designed by the maker of my first frisbee, the Aerobie® Superdisc™, which was sadly cold-shouldered by real frisbee-playing friends), an undefinable device that produces a stronger cup that is just as clean as the pour-over. (Best used with stainless steel Coava disk filters say some forummers.) Something like my previous coffee + syringe + hot water experiments but obviously miles better. Aeropress World Championship recipes here; CoffeeGeek discussion on the device here and on the brewing parameters here.

chart from here
To be really in on the scientific action, grind your home-roasted green beans with a Porlex stainless steel Japanese ceramic burr grinder (weighed out with a Salter scale), take the temperature of the liquids with a neat espresso/milk thermometer, measure total dissolved solids (TDS) and make notes about the brix readings of your brew on your refractometer in a bid to find that perfect cup.

Unscientifically, pour-overs (or trickle-downs) and the Aeropress are nice because the coffee has breathing space to display more of a profile than when it's squished up in an espresso shot.

Espresso probably started proliferating in Singapore to accessorise the power-suit of the late 1980s but it was mostly bitter stuff, badly made. Starbucks (but look what Howard D Schultz is doing now) and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf et al brought ang moh kopi to the masses in the early noughties. The late noughties saw a few places up their game, though it was still mostly consumption-focused, eg. as part of the cafe menu at Huggs Coffee (with its Pret A Manger-invoking star); with cakes and sandwiches for weekend shoppers at the popular Caffe Beviamo at Tanglin Mall; on the drinks list at Boomerang restaurant (La Marzocco machine, beans roasted by Dragon Coffee) and at Jules Cafe Bar (Julian Nuttall, Grinders beans);

Cappuccino, Room with a View
with carrot cake at Room With A View cafe;

shots cafe
as double entrende at shots. cafe - also a photo studio;

Flat White, Leo's Cafe and Bar
to accompany ICC World Cup Cricket watching at Leo's Cafe and Bar.

Cappuccino, Kith Cafe
When space (in a crit theory sort of way) became important, Kith (Jane Hia, Ahmad Hiydayat, house blend of robusta and arabica beans from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia and Sumatra)

Black Coffee Dessert Bar, Hitachi Tower
and black coffee dessert bar added a bit of theatre to coffee drinking: riverside view + hjgher interior for Kith and retro-chic for black. Their brews taste fairly "Italian"(?) (though not like Illy or Segafredo Zanetti).
Segafredo, Chevron House

Flat White, The Plain, Craig Road Flat White at The Plain
The Plain's Genovese coffee, poached eggs and vegemite soldiers and waitresses in stripes and denim shorts referencing Melbourne cafes. The barista noticed I'd let my first cup go cold while engrossed in a (the) good book and replaced it without charge saying he just wanted his customers to enjoy themselves.

Bankers and other business suits in the CBD with no time for atmosphere can get themselves served by folks serious about their joe at:

Flat White at Dimbulah, Chevron House
Dimbulah (Queensland beans apparently);

Flat White, Joe & Dough, Suntec
Joe & Dough (beans used up to 2 weeks from roasting, ground on demand);

Viking Coffee
Viking Coffee (Lynden Vikingur, La Cimbali, Meiji milk)

"Flat White" at Espressoul, EFG Building
Elsewhere, Danny Pang (only barista trainer in Singapore authorised by Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) aims to set high standards at Espressoul with their house blend + a La Pavoni. (This "flat white" was by the sole barista at lunch-time on a weekday, who was stressed about refrigerator problems.)

Jamaican Pork Sandwich + Flat White, Forty Hands
Flat White, Forty Hands Forty Hands - Flat White and Chocolate Tart
Majoring on sustainability, Forty Hands (Harry Grover x Spa Esprit Group, Synesso Cyncra) say they ensure their beans come from skilled roasters who have established strong relationships with coffee growers and pay a fair price for their produce. And their coffees are still fairly yummy (though some customers have complained of harshness of roast).

A little upstream from cafes, Graffeo has been roasting the beans served at places like Canelé Pâtisserie and it seems that Toby's Estate (currently served at 1 Caramel) has engaged Deaton Pigot to set up a roastery in Singapore.

Cappuccino, Highlander Coffee Highlander Coffee
If personal attention to the production line is key to the artisanal push, then unpretentious down-to-earth brothers Phil and Cedric Ho of Highlander Coffee are often cited as the early adopters of more holistic control over their cup - bringing in green beans, roasting on-site (even on demand), grinding on demand, brewing to perfection. They serve up the best cup of flat white I've had in Singapore thus far.

(Unfortunately for the diversity of the local coffee scene, Anton Wismann's Wiener Kaffeehaus Viennese Coffee House & Roastery up the street from Highlander, along Neil Road didn't last past the late noughties. Nor did the siphon + Blue Mountain Kohi Ten at Cuppage Terrace.)

IMG_1697 Citrus Sin, Oriole Cafe
Oriole Coffee is known not just for sourcing sustainables, a 75% Colombia and 25% Guatamela house blend, roasting on a Diedrich called "Ella", grinding on demand, brewing on their 3 group La Marzocco etc, their baristas John Ryan Ting and Keith Loh are also known for winning the Singapore National Barista Championships. You can sample their competition cups - the Citrus Sin is especially nice, at the cafe.

"Abstract Art", Flat White, Cuppachoice Flat White, Cuppachoice
Also placed in a past SNBC is Suhaimie Sukiman from Cuppachoice (Has Garanti roaster) - a company that also seeks to do a quality brew. (The art on these flat whites were not made by him but a young chap who confessed he was still learning the tricks. The first flat white on the left was the cold side of lukewarm and therefore not conducive for latte art, but he kindly made another.)

Papa Palheta
Papa Palheta (Leon Foo, Dennis Tang, Diedrich, Probat, Synesso Cyncra 3 group)

Flat White, Loysel's Toy
and its retail outlet, Loysel's Toy (interior by Fuur Associates, lovely textured web design by Foreign Policy Design Group), not only brings raw sustainable personally-sourced coffee beans to the point of fulfilment, your vintage clothes and spectacles will also complement the space at the tasting bar and cafe. Terra Firma blend does well in milk.

"Flat White", Soho7 Cafe
Soho 7 Café & Bistro (Swee Sim, Hans Garanti roaster, roasted beans not more than 3 days old) opened a month ago - delicious burgers, current National Heritage blend of beans from Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, India, Brazil was better cold, definition of antipodean "Flat White" unusual, add to enjoyment with visit to Peek!, also at 36/38 Armenian Street.

Some of these cafes also offer pour-overs, but no niche brewed coffee shops for the filter trendies yet and no visuals on a Chemex, Clover (only in Starbucks i guess) or Clever Coffee Dripper (except on display at Highlander Coffee) either.

Yes, it won't be long before cool kids clutching the "right" gear mushroom up in refurbished shophouses and abandoned warehouses, more for the excitement of owning and running a third wave java joint than loving the coffee.

But hey, whatever, the more the merrier. Exciting times! Far more questions about the whys and whatfors than there are answers.

What a great marvel this God-made world is, that we may never understand all there is about even one of millions of seeds on this earth. And even if we did manage to write a definitive encyclopaedia on all varietals of the beverage-friendly species of the coffea plant, we'd never pin down the perfect way of producing and making a drink from the beans to account for the postmodern array of opinions as to what constitutes "good coffee". We can't even agree on the vocabulary to describe taste sometimes.

Cappuccino, JAMS Cafe, Prologue Bookshop, ION Orchard
Cappuccino, JAMS Cafe, {Prologue} Bookshop, ION Orchard

God's direction for the world, thankfully, is far more clear-cut. Unfortunately, this clarity hasn't helped humans live their lives in the best way:
Pharaoh of Egypt saw that whatever Moses said God would do, he did: all your water will turn to blood? - it did and the people went thirsty and the fish died; frogs will swarm the land? they did; gnats will cover man and beast? they did...and on and on until the deaths of the firstborn of all living things in the land. It wasn't that Pharaoh didn't have enough evidence that God wouldn't do as he promised, and it wasn't that he didn't have half the brain to understand who was doing all this (he admitted as much to Moses when he asked him to relay the message to God that he was sorry not to believe him and to please take away the plagues). He just didn't want to believe that God was in charge of the world (including Egypt) and not him. (Details in Exodus 7-11.)

God's own people, the descendants of Jacob/Israel, were no better. They'd seen the wonders that God had done in Egypt and how he fulfilled his promises of destruction if the Pharaoh did not obey him, yet, once he had brought them out of Egypt, they accused God of being untrustworthy and wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt. Talk about extreme thickness. (Details in Exodus 15:22-17:7, 32-33.) Since they refused to go into the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, they wandered the desert for forty years.

And when their descendants finally entered the Promised Land, they refused to destroy all the inhabitants even though God had promised to give them victory as he had given them victory over all previous battles. So their enemies became a snare to the people of Israel and they were led to worshipping other gods, abandoning the God who had saved them from Egypt. And so God gave their enemies victory over them instead, as he had already said he would. (Judges 1-2. Listen to David Jackman give an introduction to Judges at St. Helen's Bishopsgate here.)

A few hundred years later, after the whole nation of Israel had been deported by the Babylonians and Assyrians, God had mercy on the Israelites and appointed Cyrus, king of Persia to allow them to return and rebuild the temple in their land. But still!, even the priests who were to mediate between people and God were unfaithful to God. (See Ezra, Nehemiah.)

What impossibly stiff-necked people. Yet, we modern people are no better than any who have come before us. Our sophistication and progressiveness cannot mask the fact that we still worship false gods easily and naturally.

What hope is there? Nothing that can be found inside ourselves so that we can by sheer discipline and willpower live rightly and worship the true God. Which is why Jesus is, literally, a Godsend. Only because he has paid the penalty for our refusal to acknowledge or obey God, and only because he has sent his Spirit to completely overhaul our minds and hearts, can we actually have a relationship with God, so that he will even hear our prayers.

________________________________________________________

*easily obtained in Singapore from Tangs Orchard, Takashimaya in Ngee Ann City, Isetan Scotts, BHG at Bugis.

**
Highlander's Supremo Blend beans ground by Hario Skerton grinder
This grind causes overextraction of Highlander's Supremo blend beans in the Aeropress.

Highlander's Supremo Blend beans ground by Hario Skerton grinder
This grind is better - gives a cup with pleasant acidity and body. The tastebuds vote for this blend from an Aeropress or in a flat white than as an espresso, even though crowd wisdom has crowned single origins kings of the filter, french press and Aeropress.

***
Cupping coffee
The coffee academies at these places will help you to talk single origins, terroir, varietals, blends, roasts, grinds, drips, until you're all jittery (or for some of us, reduced to a state of somnolence) from all that cupped caffeine:
Highlander Coffee
Cuppachoice
Graffeo Coffee Roasting Co.
Être Bon by Boncafe
Baristo

(Note to self:when checking out fragrance during cupping, try not to exhale too forcefully while the snorting snozzer is still in the bowl...)


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3 Comments:

At March 19, 2011 9:59 pm , Blogger sarah said...

hahaha...i like this post! :) thanks! It was a good read for me! Feel like drinking coffee now...

 
At March 27, 2011 12:23 am , Blogger shadow said...

;-)

 
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