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: 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