Coffee Bar Review: Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters, Singapore

Pacamara is one of several places to open up in the Upper Thomson Road area a North of central Singapore. The whole area seems to be buzzing with cool new places. Visiting on a Sunday it was also packed with people in search of a good brunch spot. Pacamara had a pretty nifty system for managing the queuing. One enters a phone number on a screen and how many people are in the group and then Pacamara calls when a table is available. The table will be held for 10 minutes after receiving the message, so you can browse around in the neighborhood while waiting.

The service was however severely impacted by the place being full. They were slow to give out menus, things were sold out and they did not inform about it upfront. Food came out slowly and orders were mixed up. All in all not a great experience. Some of the people working there also seemed to have a little bit of the attitude that they are slightly too cool to actually work at a cafe and we were actually on one visit asked if we would mind to speed up a bit as they have many guests waiting – that was especially annoying since we then had just gotten the last of our food after a very long wait.

The space is however very nice and bright, in a corner with big windows. There are mainly communal tables but it works fairly well and I must say that it looks really nice. There are a lot of seats, and while not super-comfy it is fine to sit for some time. There is also free wifi so on weekdays it may be a better bet if one wants to sit for long.

The coffee was pretty disappointing. Not at all that bad but looking at a place that at least markets itself as a top roaster I was expecting more. The filter coffees sampled were a bit bland but no bitterness and smooth, but they had not managed to bring out the best in the coffees. I got much better results when brewing the same at home so perhaps more a flaw in the brewing. Still a good cup compare to the average cafe but nowhere near the better ones in Singapore. They were also out of several of the coffees that they had up on the board so that was also slightly disappointing. The espresso based coffees where however very nicely prepared.

The food was however excellent. The truffled eggs Benedict is perhaps the best Eggs Benedict I have had. The pastries were tasty so the Kitchen know their stuff. It is a shame about the service and that the coffee quality is not top notch as the space is really nice and if they could up their game it would be a place I would visit again and again.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3
Ambiance and service: 3 (2 for service and 4 for ambiance)
Food: 4.5
Vs local competition: 3.5

Coffee bar review: The New Black, Singapore

The New Black are trying to further develop the Third Wave of Coffee in doing something a bit different from all the other coffee places that are around. Design-wise they are at least succeding, it is refreshing to see a place that has a very different feel to it. To say that the place is colorful is somewhat of an understatement. The walls are covered in colorful photos of the roasters they are using, despite the colors being bright it does not feel tacky or too much. The staff also have very colorful but neatly designed clothes and there is a lot of blue, yellow and orange everywhere, but as it is combined with a lot of metal it does fit nicely together. The concept is designed by Phoa Kia Boon and from what the Director of Coffee Will Frith is saying this is the first outlet but many more are to come (and from what I understood they are not only looking at Singapore or even Asia so fingers crossed it will be somewhere close to me). The modern idea is also included in the payment, no cash accepted so only possible to pay by card. Not an issue for me but still good to keep in mind as Singapore still seem to be a country where in many places only cash (or the local crappy bank cards) is accepted.

The carefully considered design is also displayed in the coffee and tea cups. The same cups are used irresepctive of having coffee there or taking it with you. The cups for coffee are nicely designed with the lid being possible to also use as a coaster. The tea cups are in bright plastic and possible to reuse. The little carry bag for take out is just awesome. The New Black is not huge and seem more gesred towards taking a cup with you but it is possible to sit there, not that many seats but possible to squeeze in around 10-15 people. There is also free wifi so while it is not the most comfortable place it is still fine to hang out for a while.

The main thing here is however the coffee, the New Black does not roast any of their own, but they are rather celebrating some of the top roasters from around the world. I was impressed by their selection as they have a line-up with Tim Wendelboe (Oslo, Norway), Verve (Santa Cruz, US), Small Batch Roasters (Melbourne, Australia), Workshop (London, UK), Olympia (Washington, US), Sweet Bloom (Colorado, US), George Howell (Massachusetts, US) as well as local Nylon Roasters. The tea selection is also good with teas from Rodrick Marcus of Chicago and Japan’s Hojo. They also have cascara (coffee cherry tea) from Has Bean from the UK.

The coffees are really nicely prepared, they are made on the expensive Alpha Dominche Steampunk 2.1 (this little baby will set you back around $15k, I have still not convinced S that it is essential for our kitchen but I am workin on it). The beauty of this machine is that it actually makes you less dependent on the skills of the individual barista as, if it is set properly, most people should be able to produce a great cup on it (with the right instructions). I am not sure it always produces the absolutely best result posdible but it is very consistent and it does look pretty cool. From a cafe perspective it is also good that it can actually have a significantly higher output than someone just making pour-overs by hand. With the Steampunk it is possible to make between 60-80 cups per hour (the latest version can make four different coffees (with different beans, settings etc. at the same time) so it is basically an half-automated single serve coffee maker that produces a great cup. It is able to make everything from French Press to Syphon so the only thing it does not make is Espresso.

The fact that basically anyone can make coffee on the Steampunk does not stop the New Black from training their staff, they are all knowledegable about coffee, happy to chat about it and in general very friendly and attentive. I was often disappointed by service in Singapore but the New Black together with a few other places stood out with excellent staff.

The quality of coffee is in general high, I sampled all of their coffees and have only occasionally been disappointed and that was the decaf so my own mistake. Who in their right mind orders a decaf. They did however see that I did not like it and offered another coffee as replacement. The quality is consistent and high but it does not reach the level to be mind-blowing. Instead this is a solid choice for good coffee, one of the best in Singapore in my view. The location was also convenient for us, so we popped by many times. What I have not really addressed is the price level, in general I do not icnlude it in my ratings but just want to mention that the average cup of coffee here is more expensive (count in at least 7-10 SGD) than in most places but to me still worth it.

Food selection is very limited, usually croissants and perhaps some more bread/pastries but not the place to come for food (what they have is however tasty). What I have not mentioned in much detail is the tea selection. I am not at all as knowledgeable about tea as about coffee but on one of the visits here S decided she wanted tea. As she did not know what to order we chatted a bit with the staff and they offered small tasters of all the teas (3 of them). To me the quality was impressive. that said I am not an expert, but I do drink my fair share of tea as well and this was really good. So the New Black is not only a place for coffee lovers.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 2 (quality is good but selection lacking)
Vs local competition: 5

Coffee Bar Review: Mean Coffee, Stockholm

Mean coffee is a small coffee bar located across from the train station in Stockholm. A rather unlikely spot for a really good coffee place but here it nonetheless is located. He same spot used to house another great coffee bar (V Street) so seems to be something about these premises that are superb for good coffee. Style wise it somehow reminds more of a Southern European coffee bar but luckily they serve good coffee here as opposed to what one can expect in Italy, Spain or France.

The space is fairly small with three lower tables, two high tables and some chairs along the window. In summer time there are some seats outside but as it faces a heavily trafficked road it is not that nice to sit outside. Free wifi and very friendly and knowledgable staff makes this places a favorite of mine. The big minus is the lack of a toilet so not the place to lounge for long.

They serve a lot of excellent simple cafe style dishes (the hot sandwiches are exceptional) and great pastries. Breakfast is also good with an assortment of sandwiches as well as porridge, yogurt and juices and smoothies. The main thing here is however the coffee. There is a rotating selection of roasters offered for hand-brew coffee. There is usually something local such as Koppi, Drop Coffee, Johan&Nyström or Love Coffee as well as some international roasters (lately I have seen the Berlin’s the Barn, London’s Square Mile Coffee, and a variety of Nordic roasters such as Tim Wendelboe and Coffee Collective. Coffee quality is usually excellent and price level is pretty decent as well. The espresso based beverages are also superbly prepared here.

For me it is the top spot for quality coffee in Stockholm. Unfortunately it is only open on weekdays and frequently closed during summer and winter holidays so I do not come here as much as I would have wanted.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 5
Ambiance and service: 3.5 (loses out on the lack of toilet)
Food: 4
Vs local average: 5

Coffee Bar Review: Assembly Coffee, Singapore

Assembly coffee is on Evans road (26 Evans Lodge), just outside the Botanic Garden in Singapore, next door to a wine store (the Wine Company), burger restaurant (Wildfire Kitchen) and Mr Prata. The cafe is fairly small and the space feels very cramped, at least when it is full (which it was when I visited). It was also fairly noisy, so it was difficult to have a normal conversation due to sound from everyone around you. The cafe is however neatly designed and has the vibe of a cool cafe.

They claim to be part of the third wave coffee movement but the focus on the coffee was not really there when I visited. They had only one option for filter coffee and while it was prepared in a decent way, it did in no way impress me. The espresso based beverages were pretty good and compared to the average place they do serve a good cup but it is not a place worth going to just for the coffee.

I was however more impressed with the food. A good selection of different sandwiches, simple dishes and some nice sweet stuff. The salted caramel waffle was really good and the same can be said for the egg and mayo sandwich as well as the scrambled egg croissant. Prices were pretty decent to be a Singapore cafe but it still bothers me that they only accept Nets or cash, so for us non-locals better bring along cash.

Service was friendly, but as it often seems packed to the brim, also a bit stressed and it was difficult to really chat about the coffee with them. Still a decent place and by far the best around the Botanical garden.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3
Ambiance and Service: 3
Food: 4
Vs Local Average Competition: 3.5

Coffee Bar review: Casa Lapin (Bangkok)

Casa Lapin is clearly part of the ongoing coffee revolution in Bangkok. They have now have four locations in their mini empire, all in carefully selected areas in Bangkok where their style fits. This review is of the the x26 location (that is on Sukhumvit 26) but they also have locations on Sukhumvit 49, Thonglor 17-19 and Phahon Yothin (next to Ari BTS station).

The space is really nicely designed and I like the look of it. When looking around the cool cafe I am however struck by that this easily could have been a cafe in NYC, London, Melbourne, Stockholm or Berlin. The hip design and the coffee, beer (they serve BrewDog on tap) and the food (a mix of brunch/breakfast favorites and pasta and steaks) does not in any way really give away that this is in Bangkok. While I like what they made of it I am missing the connection to the local. The crowd it attracts is also a mix of international travelers (myself included), what appears like affluent young Thais and groups of Japanese women (appearing to be at least somewhat local in that I get the impression they live in Bangkok). Even if I am somewhat disappointed at the lack of bringing out the specific Thai influences it is still a great design and atmosphere here and free wifi makes it easy to just spend a few hours hanging around here.

Service is however another matter, while friendly it brings the word slow to a new level. They serve their hand brewed coffees from what they call a slow bar. I thought they called it slow bar because they hand brew the coffees but maybe it was an idnication that they try to make sloths looking like they are faster than light. The speed of it actually brought new meaning to the word slow. We ordered two hand brewed coffees and there was no one else being served at that time and we still had to wait over 30 minutes for the coffees. No apologies for it taking long or anything and it was not a lack of staff (four people behind the counter doing nothing).

Coffee wise they had four different beans to select from. We tried one Honduras from a local roaster and one Brazilian from another local roaster. Neither was spectacular. They were fairly well made but the beans did not really excite. The Brazilian also suffered from a hint of bitterness, possibly due to over-extraction. Other coffee based drinks were dedent as wel but this is in no way a place that anyone interested in specialty coffee really needs to seek out but if you want a nice place to hang out that can also serve a good cup of coffee it is an option.

Food looked fairly decent but it felt very western inspired but large variety of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner so no one would need to go hungry here. They serve up some very nice cold beverages as well. It seemed like a place where people really lounge for a long time. It is also connected to a florist, a trendier hostel and office hotel of sorts/share work space (one can rent a desk for a few hours, a day or longer term) as well as a flower shop. All of these are designed in a similar way so seamlessly blend into each other and strengthening the feel of being in a modern urban metropolis that could be anywhere and is being populated by hipsters.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 2.5
Ambiance and Service: 3 (Service 2 and Ambiance 4)
Food: 4
Vs Local Average Competition: 3.5

Coffee bar review: I+D Style Cafe by BRAVE Roasters (Bangkok)

Tucked in at the back corner of the ground floor of the Siam Center this was just something I accidentally stumbled upon while walking through a number of malls to get to the food court at MBK. They share their space with some sort of interior design store selling accessories. The coffee area is fairly small with a small counter where they somehow fit three to four people behind it and make both food and coffee. There are also a few tables but not the place I would linger for long. Looking at the limited space they do have a very ambitious food menu and what i really love is that each dish is matched with different coffees, teas or other beverages. Beautifully presented menus also add to the experience that this place is really serious about everything. Service was knowledgeable and while not super-fast, it was the attention to detail that was the cause of the time spent on every order.

The attention to detail really is apparent when having coffee here. They ensure each cup leaving the bar is just as they want it. Of course measuring to the gram, grinding as they want it for the brew method, ensuring right water temperature but also trying each cup before being served. If it does not meet the quality standards set they just pour it and make a new one. I must say that I am sucker for that type of dedication to quality, and while it may cost some in throwing away things, I hope it pays off in the long run.

We sampled several coffees here and I was truly impressed by both the Burundi coffee I tried as well as the honey processed Thai coffee. By far the best Domestic Thai coffee I had, and while I maintain they have ways to go before being good enough to compete on the international market this was a remarkable step up from what i previously tried. Normally I am skeptic to flavored coffees but I did have a small sample of the ice coffee they were trying out. It was a blend of several coffees but also flavored with cinnamon and lemon peel. It was remarkable refreshing and while not really strong in coffee flavor I must say it is perfect in hot weather. All in all one of the better coffee places in Bangkok when it comes to quality of the coffee.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4.5
Ambiance and Service: 3
Food: 4
Vs Local Average Competition: 5

Coffee bar review: Wonderwall the Kaffebar (Bangkok)

Its not Monday today, but as we have quite manu coffee bar reviews in the queue, we thought we would do a Saturday special. What better day to grab a cup of coffee and relax than over the weekend.

This coffee bar is in the same vicinity as Rocket, Ceresia and a few others so it does seem like a location that gathers a lot of coffee curious entrepreneurs. I did not really manage to grasp what the name came from as the spelling Kaffebar does appear to indicate some sort of either Nordic or German connection but did not really get any explanation. From what I understood the owner had his coffee training in Australia.

Wonderwall is on a side street off Sukhumvit 31 so fairly easy to reach from the BTS (Sky train). It has a lovey outdoor terrace as well as seating indoors. I like the interior but its somehow charming outside. The drawback there is of course that smoking is allowed so if unlucky one can end up next to a smoker. Indoors it is more standard cafe look but neither cool nor trendy. Free wifi is nice though so one can linger for some time. Service is friendly, fairly quick but a bit lacking in English skills but that does not really matter (and compared to my Thai they are light years ahead)

They also serve pastries and light cafe meals as well as traditional British pies. The food is good but not as much in focus as the coffee. The selection of coffee is impressive, when I visited there were eight different roasters represented and they also had their own blend. All coffees can be ordered either as Aeropress or pour over and either hot or cold.

The coffees are very well prepared but the quality of the cup varies a lot depending on the coffee ordered. We had a lovely Ethiopian cup while the Thai coffee was just decent (tones of nut, chocolate but also a lingering bitterness that disturbed). No doubt that they know their stuff here but I also think they could benefit from reducing the number of coffees offered to have quicker turnover of the open bags and perhaps only take in really good coffee. If you are in the neighborhood Wonderwall is a good option.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambience and Service: 4
Food: 3
Vs Local Average Competition: 4

Coffee bar review: Ink & Lion (Bangkok)

This superbly cute and well designed cafe (also a mini art gallery) is on a small side street (off Sukhumvit 63) next to a Danish design store and variety of different restaurants. It does stand out in its splendid design and they have somehow created a very nice spot mixing a distinct Asian feel with a clean Scandinavian like design. The same care that has gone in to the design also comes through in everything here. They sell a variety of cute post cards, mini prints, paintings, nice coffee gear (some of it at least a bit different), some bags and of course coffee beans.

The service was very friendly, the staff were happy to explain more about the coffee and the concept. They try to vary the beans every week and when I was in first time it was a focus on Hong Kong so some interesting stuff from there. After chatting for a while with them opted for the Colombian Geisha from the Cupping Room and the Colombian Finca Vera Cruz from 18 grams both from HK. The staff also made sure I knew the price of the geisha coffee and I sort of like that even when it is clearly displayed on the menu (as it is a bit pricey it does not hurt to make sure one understands what it is). The coffee was really well prepared, I could follow the procedure and they came out and let me sniff the grinds as well. They also made sure to heat the cup before brewing into it. The geisha was excellent, and the other Colombian coffee was good but could not compare to the geisha but they really proved they can make great coffee here.

Food wise it is not a great selection, only some mini pastries from Size S (at 55 THB a piece) and some mini scones but they are really adorable and very tasty. It is not the place to come for a full meal but the coffee is really in focus here.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4.5
Ambiance and Service: 5
Food: 3
Vs Local Average Competition: 5

Coffee Bar review: One Ounce for Onion (Bangkok)

It is a great feeling that it is Monday again and that means that it is time for Coffee Monday! This week featuring another coffee bar review from Bangkok. On a back street off Ekkamai 12 there is a small laid back cafe called One Ounce for Onion, it shares the space with a fashion store called Onion. It has a few seats inside and around 20 or so outside. The focus is on high quality specialty coffee, from local roaster Brave, but they also do cold beverages, snacks, pastries and some light dishes. I was actually due to publish another review but this place got my all excited as I loved the vibe, staff, coffee and food so I just felt a need to share this first.

The space is nice and cozy, it is just perfect to lounge for a while. On weekdays it appears pretty relaxed but understood from staff that it is a bit crazy on weekends. The offer free wifi so also possible to sit and do some work, browse or such as well. I was taking my time there and did not really get any complaints from staff so appears to be fully acceptable to do just that.

They had six different beans to choose from for filter coffee on my visit. They also use a blend for the espresso based beverages so no lack of choice. I opted for a honey processed coffee from Chiang Mai. A lovely cup, one of the best local beans I had. The nose had hints of chocolate and nuts. These also came through in the flavor but there also a clear mix of berry like acidity and hints of orange. Great cup and excellent execution. After also sampling a macchiato I am convinced that these guys (and girls) really know their coffee. They are one of the top spots in town. However, I had not realized that the competition was this tough in Bangkok so they do not really make it to number one, but they are clearly in my top 5 (a top list will follow when all the cafes have been reviewed).

The food assortment is not huge but what they do they do really well. The eggs, sausage, bacon with asparagus and tomatoes was awesome. The pastries also very good (not really up to the level of Size S) but still tasty.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4.5
Ambiance and service: 4.5
Food: 4
Vs average local competition: 5

Coffee bar review: Ceresia Coffee Roasters (Bangkok)

While this is mainly a wine blog there will also be reoccurring posts regarding coffee and as we have now spent some time in Bangkok there will be some focus on the Bangkok coffee scene in the weeks to come but also from other locations (London, Singapore, Stockholm, Helsinki and more). To not bring to much focus to the coffee it will however mainly be Monday’s that will have reviews of coffee bars so here it is , the 1st Coffee Monday.

Ceresia is run by two Venezuelan sisters (and a Thai woman) who are serious coffee professionals, both have a background working several years at Monmouth coffee in London. They now run a cafe and roastery in Bangkok. It is a fairly small place and they have their 5 kilo roaster on site as well so it can get a bit cramped in here. This also means that space is valuable and it can be seen in the fact that there is no restrooms and also very limited space for staff. Unlike many other Bangkok specialty coffee bars it is also not super designed. It is still pleasant but not the place I would spend a longer time at.

Service is friendly and prompt. They also love to chat about coffee and it is great to discuss coffee with such knowledgeable and committed people. The influence from Monmouth can really be seen in the printed papers with information on the coffee and the farms. An example others should take after as it provides a lot of interesting information but also creates awareness about why a cup of coffee may cost 120-190 THB at a place focusing on specialty coffee. The influence from Monmouth also goes further as all beans can be bought in different sizes that they scoop up and put in bags. Not a fan that they keep the coffee in the open air and it does not really benefit from it.

Looking at coffee quality it is however a real treat. They serve all their coffee either as cold or hot. We sampled a lovely Kenyan filter as a hot. Truly an excellent Kenyan and with the clear characteristics of Kenyan coffee, especially the notes of black currant were prominent and with a pleasant acidity to it. They had eight different coffees to select from an we also tried a coffee called Wild Honey which is domestic. It was not bad but I would not say great either. It is however interesting to see that the Thai coffee growers are starting to focus on quality as well and fully support that specialty coffee shops buy coffee from farms trying to develop. It will be interesting to follow the development of the Thai coffee producers.

They also serve lovely pastries but the food selection is a bit slim. When I was there they had a piece of quiche but the rest was sweets. There is however a Fuji superstore across the street if hungry (and they also have a restroom).

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and Service: 3.5
Food: 2
Vs Local Average Competition: 4.5