Foodie Confidential

Latte lover

E-commerce coffee platform co-founder Eugene Chen knows a good cup of coffee and what goes into it

While a cup of artisanal coffee may look no different from an average cup of joe, it is not a simple beverage.

That was the lesson learnt by Mr Eugene Chen, co-founder and chief technology officer of speciality coffee bean e-commerce platform Cafebond, when he embarked on his coffee journey.

The 31-year-old says: "It's such a long process - from sourcing the beans to preparing the coffee. As a consumer, when we see the end product, we just think all coffee is the same. But it's a lot of hard work and sweat till the end."

Cafebond (cafebond.com), launched in June, allows customers to buy beans from acclaimed cafes in Australia such as Seven Seeds, Market Lane and Industry Beans. The platform will launch in Malaysia on Friday.

The idea to start the website hatched when Mr Chen went on a holiday to Melbourne with Cafebond co-founder Keyis Ng, 28.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • An omakase meal, so that I don’t have to decide what I’m going to eat.And a cup of freshly brewed single-origin coffee.

The computing graduate says: "We went around to many speciality cafes in Melbourne and started discussing the possibility of doing a business related to artisan coffee."

So after making plans and doing research for a year, the duo returned to Melbourne to meet suppliers.

While the cafe scene in Singapore may not be as big as the one Down Under, Mr Chen, who still runs a Web development agency, says that the culture has certainly gained ground here.

"I find that Singaporeans, especially women, like to have brunch and hang out in cafes instead of going to a mall," says Mr Chen, who is engaged.

Opening a cafe, however, is no easy feat. He says: "I wouldn't mind opening a pop-up cafe, but coffee alone cannot sustain a cafe business. The ambience and food are also important.

"Plus, we get the expert versus the hipster drinkers. The experts source for good coffee so ambience is not the priority. Hipsters want to embrace the cafe culture, but don't really know coffee. To survive, you need both sets of customers."

What kind of coffee do you drink?

Milk-based coffee such as latte or flat white, with no sugar. I used to drink up to five cups a day, but I've cut down to a maximum of three cups. If I drink it at home, I just use the Hario V60 coffee dripper. If I'm at a coffee shop, I order kopi siew dai bing (less sugar, with ice).

What is the best coffee you have had?

A latte from ST ALi cafe in Melbourne, about 11/2 years ago. It was so rich and smooth, unlike anything I've had in Singapore. I believe it was everything from the beans to the milk to brewing method. Whenever I go back to the city, I must go there.

How about the worst?

I've had sour coffee at coffee shops, when the hawker does not bother making another batch of coffee. Sometimes, I find that the coffee from Starbucks is too burnt or there's too much sugar. But if you ask for less sugar, then there's no taste.

Any favourite cafes?

In Melbourne, I go to Auction Rooms. Apart from really good coffee, the ingredients it uses in its food is sourced locally. I like its bread and cakes.

In Singapore, I like Dutch Colony Coffee Co at Frankel Avenue. The barista takes time to explain the coffee, and the food is good too. I like the poached egg, bacon and avocado bagel, the seafood paella and mixed berries muesli trifle.

What are your favourite restaurants?

I love Japanese cuisine, so I go to Izakaya Nijumaru in Cuppage Road, Nanbantei Japanese Restaurant in Chinatown and the Itacho Sushi chain of restaurants. I love sashimi, especially swordfish and white tuna.

What are your favourite local foods?

For chicken rice, I go to Boon Tong Kee and Loy Kee, which are both in Balestier. I like fried Hokkien mee from a coffee shop in Bukit Ho Swee.

I like fried carrot cake and usually go for the white version. I also frequent Liao Fan at Chinatown Complex Food Centre for the soya sauce chicken, even before it got its Michelin star. I went the day after it got the star and the queue was crazy.

What are your childhood memories of food?

I vividly remember my mother trying to get my brother and I to eat vegetables by using cartoon characters. For example, to get us to eat spinach, she would tell us that Popeye eats spinach to get muscles.

My mother would always make sure we had a balanced meal and cook at least one soup and one vegetable dish. I like her ABC soup, which is normally made with potatoes, carrots and pork ribs; and watercress soup.

What do you indulge in?

Mille crepe cake from Lady M patisseries and cake chain Rive Gauche's Guanaja cake with chocolate mousse and sponge. I like the crisp biscuit layer.

Are you adventurous with food?

Yes, I've tried balut (boiled developing duck embryo in the eggshell), which can be scary when you first try it. But if you close your eyes, it's okay and is actually quite tasty.

In Taiwan, I've had both the fried and braised smelly tofu.

Is there anything you do not eat?

Fishballs. Since my army days, during the three-month-long basic military training period, every meal was fishballs with rice. I got so sick of it. Once, I asked my mother to buy bak chor mee, but she bought fishball noodles instead. I ate only the noodles.

Have you had any kitchen disasters?

About 10 years ago, I was cooking at home and forgot to switch on the cooker hood. The whole house was filled with fumes. My dad, who is an antique collector, came home and realised that his art pieces, as well as the furniture, were all oily. It took me two days to clean everything.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 23, 2016, with the headline 'Latte lover'. Print Edition | Subscribe