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: Roots Coffee Roaster, Bangkok

So it is once again Monday. Being back in Sweden during the perhaps worst period of the year when it is grey, chilly, damp and often a mix of rain and snow makes me think back fondly of my visit to Bangkok. Therefore it is fitting to bring up one of the highlights of the visit there. I had heard a lot of good things about Roots before heading there so I was a little bit fearing disappointment, you know that feeling when you think can it really be that good.

Roots is one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Bangkok and it was started by Varatt “Tae” Vichit-Vadakan, also Thai Barista Champion and he together with the others involved in Roots, run the restaurant Roast. Roots is located at Ekkamai Terrace #2-4 (at Sukhumvit Soi 63 between Ekkamai Soi 15 and 17). It is not a super convenient location with Skytrain but still, sort of, walkable from Ekkamai station (around 15-20 minutes) but a taxi is recommended. More of an issue than the location is however the opening hours, only weekends from 12 to 6pm. The rest of the time the space is used for trainings and work shops so it can tend to get packed with people.

People do however come here for a good reason. The coffee served here is by any measure fantastic. It is number one in Bangkok and to me they also beats the competition in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Tokyo and they are definitely at par with the better places in Europe and the US. The scene for coffee in Bangkok is really booming and while Roots lead the pack there are numerous others that do great things as well. The consistent quality and the great roasting is however what in my mind gives Roots the edge.

There is a rotating selection of coffee available and usually there are three to four different beans to choose from for the filter coffees and then two for espresso based coffees. The selection rotates roughly every 6 weeks so come back to find new things. For the filter coffees it is also possible to select the method (V60, aeropress etc) but they also make a recommendation for each different coffee and based on my experience it is fine to just trust them. Every single cup I have had here has been great or excellent. The execution as well as the roasting really impresses and it does not seem to matter that much who is making the coffee. The cold brews, in bottles, are also great. Especially in the hot Bangkok weather.

The training of the staff seem to be an area of focus at Roots (and Roast). From what I understood from one of the girls working there, all the baristas go through a 3-month training before, if passing, becoming a full-time employee. It is however not as if it stops there as they then provide continuous training to let people develop more. Tae believes that the people are crucial to making good coffee so in his work to provide the best coffee he has realized that it does not matter if he sources excellent coffee, roasts it to perfection if the people serving it are not as good. So trying to retain people by allowing them to develop, learn and have a career path is a way to serve good coffee.

The strategy seems to work as the coffee is just awesome. What is then even more surprising is the pricing model. There is no price list but rather one pays what one feels it is worth. They have an honesty box and it is up to people to put as much (or little) as they want there when they leave. It does seem to work well though as most people are amazed by the quality.

There is not a full kitchen at Roots but there are delicious pastries available. These are baked on site so just sitting there they bring out new and freshly baked pastries and I do at least find it difficult not to overindulge. The pastries are also great, some of the better I had in Bangkok and these also follow the same honesty pricing system.

Since the place tends to get a bit crowded I do not really feel comfortable sitting around for too long but the place looks nice and it is pleasant to sit and sip the coffee. There is no free wifi or such but this is not the place to come and work or study – the focus here is on great coffee (and pastries) so I am not really bothered by it. I also like the fact that it is clear that the space is not only a café but that they also roast, bake and hold courses here. It does give the space a different feel to many other over-designed cafés. Service is extremely knowledgeable, very friendly and it is clear that people like talking about coffee and they are happy to answer any questions you may have. My only regret is that I do not have such a place anywhere near where I live.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 5
Ambiance and Service: 4.5
Food: 3 (pastries are five star but there is not really any ‘real’ food)
Vs Local Average Competition: 5

Coffee bar review: Onna Café, Barcelona

Onna cafe is one of the few outposts on the speciality coffee scene in Barcelona. In Spain and Catalunya, as in many southern European countries the coffee quality is horrendous (low quality beans, usually a lot of robusta). Among the average consumer there is no willingness to pay more than something like €1-1.5 for a cup and that of course makes it difficult to deliver high quality coffee. The lack of quality coffee has often been one of my main dislikes about Barcelona but something is really changing here. There are a few places that are doing a pretty decent job of it. Onna is one of them but on the list is also the ‘veteran of the bunch’ Satan’s coffee corner, Nomad Coffee, True Artisan Cafe and Skye Coffee. Most of these will be reviewed in coming coffee Monday posts.

Back to Onna though, it is in the fancy neighborhood of Grácia. On a small backstreet and I would not just have stumbled upon on it but I am glad I went looking for it. The place is not big and it has been packed with people on my visits. They do however somehow manage to keep the service fairly quick, and it is usually possible to find a table or seat somewhere. There is also free wifi so it is possible to sit and slack here for a longer time but be prepared that it will be full.

The staff are very friendly and are passionate about coffee in general and Costa Rican coffee specifically. All the coffee served is from Costa Rica as are the staff and owners. It is a nice concept and while I do not want to have Costa Rican coffee everyday it is a nice niche.

They offer well-executed espresso based beverages. They are not world class but very good and looking at the competition in Barcelona they are awesome. The filter coffee selection varies between two to four different Costa Rican coffees and it is also possible to select the method. I would recommend the Aeropress as it has been the best cups I have had there. The V60 is in general more tricky and quality varies more but even when on the V60 it has mostly been very good here. They source their coffee directly from Costa Rica and they also roast it themselves.

There is a nice selection of pastries, light dishes and sandwiches. Food is decent but to be frank I do not come here for the food (it is not bad but I have other places I rather go to in Barcelona for food) so would stick to coffee and some pastries here.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 3.5
Ambiance and service: 4
Food: 3
Vs local average: 4.5

Coffee Bar Review: Department of Caffeine, Singapore

Located right around the corner from Duxton hiIl this place fits nicely in the neighborhood. It is nicely designed, has a very modern feel to it and they do as many of the good cafes in Singapore serve both good coffee and food. The service is friendly and knowledgeable. The place seems to be constantly full but they still manage to provide fast service with a smile. I also like that they still ensure that they keep the quality level high even though they are busy.

The coffee is usually from Common Man so no roasting of their own is done. I did however find that they usually executed the coffee better here than at Common Man. The selection of coffees is however smaller here. Usually there are three options for the hand brew and then one additional one, usually a blend, for espresso based drinks. The hand brews have been excellent quality as well as the cold brew. Especially the cold brews have been really nice and flavorful yet without a hint of bitterness. The other beverages that I tried have also delivered good quality.

Food selection is good and they serve both delicious full dishes such as pastas as well as more standard cafe fare like pastries and sandwiches. Everything I had here has been very good so can easily recommended it for both food and coffee. As mentioned it is very popular and that in combination with not that comfortable seats makes a place I do not really hang out for that long at. Free wifi is available but it does not feel as if it is ok to sit and work or study here.

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

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: Old Hen Coffee Bar, Singapore

The whole area around Rangoon Road feels as if it is very up and coming and Old Hen Coffee Bar is one of the places really worth a visit. In the same building there are several cafes that all look fairly good but this is the place to go to. The place itself is not huge but there are seats for around 20 people inside and a few people outside. The seats may not be the most comfortable but the place looks very nice so perhaps makes up for it. As there is also no free wifi available it may not be the place to lounge for hours but it was still a nice place to hang out and chat at.

The place is run by three siblings (twins Ivan and Terry and younger brother Mason) and they keep the service both friendly and fast. They are knowledgeable when it comes to coffee and no problem to chat a bit about it either. They offer espresso based beverages, filter coffee (hand-brewed) as well as cold brew (bottled, both black and white). The selection of filter coffee varies depending on what they have in at the moment. I sampled a few different things when I was there: had a nice Rwandan coffee (believe it was from Papa Palheta but not 100% sure) and also sampled an excellent Colombian Geisha from the Cupping Room HK as well as some Ethiopian from Bangkok’s Roast. They have also recently had other nice roasters like London’s Square Mile Coffee, Melbourne’s Small Batch Roasting Co, Coffee Libre from Seoul and several other Bangkok roasters (Brave and Phil’s). I personally would be ecstatic to have such a nice place in my neighborhood. They do also know how to make the coffee so really good at that as well.

The cold-brew was also sampled and it was excellent as well. Nice balance to it and I would easily select the black one as there is no bitterness at all in it so no need for milk. The espresso based beverages also pulled nicely so the guys know their things.They also offer nice teas and some other beverages for the non-coffee drinkers.

The food menu is fairly short but a lot of things sound very nice.The grilled sandwich was very nice, fresh ingredients and nice flavor to it. The pastries were also well worth to stuff down. One of my real favorites in Singapore.

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