Why you should get involved in specialty coffee
Join JOSIAH LEE as he explores the distinctiveness of specialty coffee and its comforting yet energy-boosting nature.
Hype Issue #57
September 4, 2023
To many people, coffee stands as a mere tool, a stimulant to get them awake and ready for the day, or an elixir to wake them up from a post-lunch coma. Nevertheless, for individuals like me, specialty coffee can be weirdly calming and relaxing, even though it may cause some jitters.
Specialty coffee establishments differ from regular coffee chains due to their meticulous focus on coffee bean origin and cultivation conditions that define its distinct flavour. Specialty coffee establishments also typically pay a more fair price to growers than what is generally expected of large coffee corporations.
A bag of specialty coffee beans would typically display more information such as origin and tasting notes than you will see on a similar bag of commercial coffee. Photo by Josiah Lee
Specialty coffee cafe menus are also typically simpler and less cluttered than those of their corporate cousins. A menu at a specialty coffee cafe might have as few as eight items, featuring a range of coffees from various origins, each displaying characteristics of the particular soil, climate, or altitude at which the coffee was cultivated. In contrast, chains like Starbucks boast as many offerings in only the frappuccino section of their menus.
You might be wondering: why should I go out of my way looking for specialty coffee? The answer might unsettle you: those Dark Mocha Frappuccinos you look forward to are a dessert masquerading as coffee. They are a delightful indulgence indeed, yet in reality they can only be loosely referred to as coffee.
The speciality coffee experience wins every time, here’s why:
1. Specialty coffee cafes are like a home away from home.
Many speciality coffee cafes I step into evoke a sense of comfort and openness, even with the varying interior decorations across different cafes. This is a far cry from the hectic vibe of the typical coffee chain cafe.
Junior Lim, the 29-year-old founder of Rookie’s Coffee Shop, attributes this comforting and welcoming feeling to its people.
“The people create the vibe of the cafe. They help regulars and new guests feel a sense of belonging,” Lim said.
No matter how much you know about coffee flavours from around the world, you’re always welcome at a speciality coffee bar, which is comforting.
I can attest to this. The first time I stepped into his little speciality coffee cafe it felt familiar. Oddly enough, it felt like I was “home”. The soft music, Junior’s friendly nature, and the way guests walked in and chatted as if they were a family all just felt perfect.
Rookie’s Coffee Shop in Bukit Merah has an intimate and inviting atmosphere, reminiscent of a bedroom adorned with posters. Photos by Josiah Lee.
“The options and varieties (of coffee) have become a lot more accessible,” Ethan Ng Hao Yuan, the 27-year-old founder of Zero Coffee, a Singaporean coffee roastery selling affordable specialty coffee said.
So, if you ever need to take some time off for yourself to clear your mind, go to your nearest specialty coffee cafe. Who knows – you might just find a source of enjoyment and perhaps even forge new friendships along the way.
2. You never know what you’ll get
Every specialty coffee cafe has a different ethos and a different service style.
For example, the first time I visited Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee, a long-established specialty coffee brand in Singapore, I felt that the service style and ethos was very unique compared to other cafes I had been to at the time. This was also partly due to the fact that the outlet I visited was located in a Fairprice Finest, not exactly a place you would expect to have a unique coffee experience.
Once the coffee was ground, the barista handed me the grinds, allowing me to smell the coffee before it was brewed. Once brewed, my coffee was served to me in a carafe (I had ordered pour-over coffee), along with a small cup on a hefty metal tray. It was a completely unique experience that I enjoyed very much.
The coffee served at Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee. As this was one of my first experiences with specialty coffee, it is one that has stuck with me since. Photo by Josiah Lee.
This experience differs from my experience at Kohi Coffee Bar, located in an alleyway along Joo Chiat Road. Kohi operates out of a small window lined with luscious long vines that go around the shop’s exterior. Just walk up to the man in the window and order your drink, and he’ll hand it to you through the same window. It’s a cute experience that differs very much from other cafes.
Kohi Coffee Bar is a small hole-in-the-wall “cafe” along Joo Chiat Road that serves specialty coffee and is one of the many cafes with a unique service style. Photo by Josiah Lee.
Should curiosity beckon, go cafe-hopping one day! Compare how each specialty coffee cafe’s service differs from one another. It’ll be an interesting experience for sure.
Despite coffee being a legal psychostimulant that undoubtedly wakes you up and energises you, it’s also able to provide comfort and familiarity. Personally, I find solace in my morning ritual of brewing pour-over coffee, an experience I liken to a meditative journey due to its calming nature.
Essentially, my words boil down to this simple message: get involved in the world of specialty coffee, or even just get involved in coffee. Who knows? You might just uncover a newfound source of enjoyment.