Old-school coffee shop Hup Lee in Jalan Besar to close on Aug 22

The coffee shop in Jalan Besar is known for kaya toast grilled over a charcoal fire, soft-boiled eggs and traditional sock-brewed coffee and tea.
The coffee shop in Jalan Besar is known for kaya toast grilled over a charcoal fire, soft-boiled eggs and traditional sock-brewed coffee and tea.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/EDDIE KOH

SINGAPORE - Hup Lee, one of the last few old-school coffee shops in Singapore, will close on Aug 22.

The shophouse has been sold and its co-owner Foo Mui Ya, 68, will be retiring.

The coffee shop in Jalan Besar is known for kaya toast grilled over a charcoal fire, soft-boiled eggs and traditional sock-brewed coffee and tea.

Madam Foo's son, Mr Cheong Mun Loong, 34, told The Straits Times that one reason for closing down is that her health has been deteriorating.

The shophouse, which was co-owned by Madam Foo and her younger brother, whom Mr Cheong did not name, had been sold in mid-May for an undisclosed sum.

Mr Cheong says that his uncle had wanted to sell the shophouse for the past few years, but there had been no buyers.

He believes the new owners will use the space for a restaurant.

He adds that Hup Lee's business has gone down over the years. The closure of the Sungei Road flea market across the road last month had also affected business badly.

Mr Cheong says his mother needs to take a break: "My mother works every day of the year, except for the first two days of Chinese New Year. She may be tough but she is getting old and needs to take it easy."

 

Hup Lee has been operating since the 1950s and was started by Mr Cheong's great-grandparents who owned the shop space. They passed it to Madam Foo and her brother in 1976.

Mr Cheong's father, Mr Cheong Leong Sing, 69, works in the coffee shop too.

The younger Mr Cheong fondly recalls growing up in Hup Lee and helping to crack the soft-boiled eggs. He now helps out at the coffee shop occasionally.

He says that regular customers would insist that his mother is the only person who did the coffee and toast right.

He says: "She would take a teaspoon, scoop some of the coffee and let it trickle to see how thick the coffee is. Based on her judgment, she would add more water if necessary. For the toast, she would flip the bread a few times to ensure that it is evenly brown and toasted. She's very particular about consistency."

Fellow hawker Nick Soon, 50, owner of kueh stall One Kueh At A Time at the nearby Berseh Food Centre in Jalan Besar, agrees.

He says: "Auntie's coffee is very good and it's hard to find someone who does it like her. Once, the coffee was a bit bitter, so I didn't finish it. She saw it and asked me immediately what the problem was. From then on, my coffee has always been perfect. I like that she may have been doing this for a long time, but she still asks for feedback.

"It'll be hard to find such old-school coffee shops like Hup Lee anymore."

Retired businessman Alfred Lim, 65, says in Mandarin: "I've been coming to Hup Lee for many years with my friends and it's very sad to hear that they will be closing. But the owners certainly deserve to take a break and now I'll have to figure out where to go for kopi."

Hup Lee coffee shop in 114 Jalan Besar opens from 10am to 8pm daily. Its last day of operations is on Aug 22.