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Hawker kopi goes hip at Coffee Break at Amoy Street Food Centre, and more

Coffee with flavours such as sea salt mint, as well as gula melaka tea are being sold at hawker centre drinks stalls and drinks kiosks

You are craving a sea salt caramel latte. But do not head to the nearest hipster cafe.

Run instead to the hawker centre.

Yes, the hawker centre. A new wave of hawker centre drinks stalls is jazzing up kopi and teh with syrups, spices and ice cream, serving brews such as sea salt mint and butter pecan coffee.

One of the first hawker centre stalls to serve these unusual brews is Coffee Break at Amoy Street Food Centre. Besides the usual kopi and tea, it also offers latte, mocha and red tea in more than 20 flavours ranging from caramel rum and butter pecan to honeydew mint.

The popular stall is run by third-generation hawkerpreneurs, Mr Jack Sai, 32, and his twin sisters Faye and Anna, both 29.

The university graduates took over the 15-year-old stall from their father James, 64, five years ago. They expanded the drinks menu beyond the almond and peppermint-flavoured coffee their father started brewing in the early noughties.

The Sai siblings (above, from left) - Anna, Faye and Jack - at their hawker centre drinks stall, Coffee Break; and Mr Syed Asyraf (below), founder of Blue Collar Collaborative. Local Coffee People's gula melaka tea (above).
Local Coffee People's gula melaka tea (above). PHOTO: LOCAL COFFEE PEOPLE

Some of the flavours are inspired by their travels. The pumpkin spice one was incorporated from a coffee they tasted in France and their sea salt mint coffee was inspired by doogh, a yogurt mint drink that Mr Jack Sai enjoyed during a holiday to Iran. The menu changes every three months.

The Sais sell more than 500 drinks daily, served in custom-designed takeaway cups. Their flavoured brews cost $3 to $3.80.

A regular cup of kopi or tea at a hawker centre costs about $1.30 to $1.50, while a cup of flavoured coffee at a cafe costs more than $5.

Ms Faye Sai, a former barista, says the siblings use a "sock-brewed espresso" as a base for coffee drinks. Instead of pulling shots in a machine, they steep and aggressively stir the coffee in a cloth filter to produce stronger flavours.

She adds that the blend of Robusta and Arabica beans from Sumatra and East Africa, plus warm evaporated milk, produces a thicker and more bitter coffee than that of cafes which use Arabica beans mixed with fresh milk. The bitterness helps to balance the sweet syrups they use.

Mr Jack Sai hopes that modernising the flavours of kopi can "continue an important part of Singapore's heritage".

It helps that their customers from nearby offices are open to new flavours and do not mind paying about three times more for a cup of something different.

Response to their new-style kopi has been so encouraging that the Sai siblings are opening a drinks kiosk in Ascent building in Science Park Drive in October.


Mr Syed Asyraf, founder of Blue Collar Collaborative. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

  • Where to go

    LOCAL COFFEE PEOPLE

    Where: International Plaza, 10 Anson Road, 01-55; and Chevron House, 30 Raffles Place, B1-K3

    Open: 7.30am to 5.30pm (weekday), closed on weekend

    Info: www.localcoffeepeople.com

    Price: From $1.30 for flavoured drinks such as Honey Tea O

    Signature drink: Gula melaka tea (from $1.60)

    COFFEE BREAK

    Where: Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Road, 02-78

    Open: 7.30am to 2.30pm (weekday), closed on weekend

    Info: Call 9230-3052 or go to www.facebook.com/coffeebreakamoystreet

    Price: From $2.80 for red tea in flavours such as cinnamon apple and rosehip blackcurrant

    Signature drink: Sea salt caramel latte ($3.80)

    LA KOPI

    Where: Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Road, 02-124

    Open: 6am to 4pm (weekday), 9am to 3pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday

    Info: www.facebook.com/La.Kopi.at.Amoy

    Price: $1.20 to $1.50 for flavoured drinks such as almond milk tea and honey lemon tea

    Signature drink: White coffee with grass jelly ($1.50)

    OLD TEA HUT

    Where: Three outlets including Marina Bay Link Mall, 8A Marina Boulevard, B2-70

    Open: Various opening hours, go to www.oldteahut.com

    Price: From $1.40 for almond tea

    Signature drink: Gula melaka coffee (from $1.60)

    BLUE COLLAR COLLABORATIVE

    Where: Timbre+, 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent, JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, 01-28

    Open: 9am to 9pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday

    Info: bluecollarcollaborative.com

    Price: From $4 for an espresso, add $1 for flavouring.

    Signature drink: Iced raspberry latte ($5.50)

 

A third outlet in Raffles Place will open early next year. It will also serve food such as bento sets and wafer- thin toast with spreads such as black sesame and Earl Grey creme.

Though the flavoured coffee there costs more than regular kopi, it is half the price compared with those served at cafes such as Starbucks. The drinks also have a denser coffee flavour.

SOFTWARE RESEARCHER FITRINA LIM on the funky coffee flavours at Coffee Break

And if you want something else to chew on with your coffee, drinks stall La Kopi, also in Amoy Street Food Centre, will add grass jelly for free to iced coffee drinks.

The stall also offers more than 50 types of drinks, including almond milk, honey lemon tea and nutmeg tea.

Some foodcourt stalls and drinks kiosks are also getting in on the act.

At Blue Collar Collaborative, a three-month-old coffee kiosk at Timbre+ in Ayer Rajah Crescent, customers can add housemade vanilla, hazelnut and raspberry syrups to more than 15 coffee beverages, from macchiato to latte.

Founder Syed Asyraf, 28, chose these flavours to accentuate similar notes in his self-designed coffee blend, made up of Arabica beans from Colombia, Brazil and Ethiopia.

He says that coffee-drinkers are looking for more creative flavours, adding that his "fun, dessert-like drinks" are a hit with female customers.

The kiosk shares a unit with Damian D'Silva, a food stall named after its chef which serves dishes such as sambal buah keluak and nasi lemak.

To complement the Singapore dishes the stall serves, Blue Collar Collaborative has been offering affogato - a dessert of ice cream topped with espresso - with ice cream flavours such as pandan.

At drinks kiosk Local Coffee People in International Plaza and Chevron House, best-selling drinks include gula melaka tea and coffee, as well as almond tea. These drinks make up 30 per cent of about 3,500 cups of drinks sold at the two takeaway kiosks daily.

Owner Mark Ng, 34, attributes the popularity of these drinks to the bubble tea craze here. He says: "It has changed the coffee culture here. People have been exposed to different flavours, such as taro and honey in a cup, and are more inclined to try them."

Customers are enjoying the wider range of choices. When software researcher Fitrina Lim, 27, went to Coffee Break, she was surprised by the "unique and funky" coffee flavours such as sea salt caramel.

She says: "Though the flavoured coffee there costs more than regular kopi, it is half the price compared with those served at cafes such as Starbucks. The drinks there also have a denser coffee flavour."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Kopi oh so hip'. Print Edition | Subscribe