Gourmet brews among HDB blocks

Gourmet brews among HDB blocks
PHOTO: Gourmet brews among HDB blocks

At the end of a row of shuttered shops in Block 612, Clementi West Street 1, is a small cafe, The Tiny Roaster, with the scent of roasted coffee wafting from it.

Its owner, Miss Tiffany Chan, 29, chose to open her cafe in the heartland because of the relatively low rent, even though it is in a quiet location.

When The New Paper on Sunday visited The Tiny Roaster last Tuesday morning, most of the shops nearby appeared to have closed down.

Miss Chan saw the location as a plus because she initially wanted a space to conduct coffee appreciation workshops, and a quiet place was more suitable.

But when customers started asking for coffee to drink at the workshops, she decided to open a full-fledged cafe.

She admits: "Low human traffic is one of the problems we face. We don't get very large crowds here."

Also, when she conducts the weekly workshops, she is forced to close because there's no space for walk-in customers to sit down.

But Miss Chan is a true aficionado - she wants to break Singaporeans away from the espresso culture of drinking espresso-based beverages like lattes and mochas. She says: "Brew coffee should be appreciated like wine!"

Food pairings

To make her point, she offers gourmet cheese to go with the coffee. For instance, she pairs the Panama single origin brew with a Hereford Hop cheese - saying the coffee takes on a creamy cheesecake flavour.

The only food she sells is gourmet cheese and chocolate tarts - which are meant to be paired with the coffee.

She even travels to coffee plantations overseas and works closely with suppliers to ensure she uses only the best beans - importing and roasting them herself to "craft a specific flavour profile".

Pump petrol, pick up fresh scones

Going past the Caltex petrol station along Braddell Road, you'd be forgiven for completely missing Slap a Scone.

This little bakery, which sells only scones, is not visible from the road since it sits snugly inside the station's minimart.

Only when you open the glass doors does the smell of fresh scones hit you.

Opened in January this year, Slap a Scone sells scones in nine flavours, including dark chocolate, latte macchiato, rum and raisin, and macadamia.

The bakery has no seats but they will heat up the baked goodies if you plan to eat them on the go.

Pastry chef Chen Yi Wei, 28, who owns the bakery with his brother Han Rong, 30, arrives at the bakery every day by 8am to make the scones.

Each batch is made fresh.

As for their unusual choice of location, Han Rong says he was drawn by the reasonable rental - which can be almost half of that in a shopping mall - and the prospect of steady human traffic from drivers stopping for fuel.

The pair decided to start a brick and mortar business after their online venture selling scones flourished.

But they had doubts at first.

Even though there is constant human traffic, "not everyone buys", says Han Rong. "Many tend to just pay for their petrol and leave without getting anything else."

Tight space

Yi Wei says space is also limited, and his staff find it difficult to move around when they are busy.

He says: "We have sufficient space for now, but if we want to expand then it may be a problem for us."

What they are happy about with their set-up is being able to surprise people in a good way.

He jokes: "Sometimes when people come in to pay for their petrol, they think they are in the wrong place."

'Bandits' offer fresh cuppa on the go

Like other cafes, Coffee Bandits serves sandwiches, muffins, pastries, gelato and a variety of coffee, except that it's at different locations on different days.

Its owners, Mrs Jessica Chow and Mrs Cheryl Ong, both in their 30s, say their use of a food truck has its advantages.

Mrs Chow says: "Being mobile lets us go places where it's hard to find cafes. It allows us to reach out to as many people as possible."

Mrs Ong jokes: "We call ourselves bandits because we pull shots and run."

The idea behind their business came about two years ago when they were "looking for a new life after being corporate lemmings".

Every day, the duo prepare the raw ingredients at an industrial kitchen at Crawford Lane before loading everything onto their food truck.

Everything is fresh. Their coffee beans are ground and the espresso shots pulled only when customers order it.

In addition to getting a licence from the National Environment Agency, food trucks must apply for venue permits for each location they set up shop in.

Mrs Chow tells us it took about eight months to get through all the red tape before starting their business in 2013.

Many locations

In the locations they go to - Ayer Rajah on Tuesdays, Genting Lane on alternate Wednesdays, Thomson Road on Thursdays, Fusionpolis on Fridays, and the Singapore Cricket Club on Saturdays - they report good business.

They set up shop in the morning around 8am and pack up around 3pm when they finish selling their food.

Mrs Ong says: "Especially around the offices, we find customers waiting to buy their morning coffee from us at 7.45am when we arrive."

She adds that they have plans to expand the business by moving to more locations, or even buying another truck.

This article was first published on June 7, 2015.
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