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One of my favorite coffee bars in Stockholm belong to the chain Espresso House. They do perhaps not in general contribute to the great coffee scene but rather bringing up the average quality be serving a decent cup. The location in Hötorgshallen is however their showroom and have both better coffee and more skilled baristas than their other locations. Hötorgshallen is a food hall in the center of Stockholm and this café is on the ground floor alongside several other restaurants and cafés and downstairs in the basement there are numerous vendors selling cheese, meat, vegetables, nuts, spices and many other things (there is even a Finnish specialty food store). In general a nice place to browse but it also means a lot of people moving through there so even if there is free wifi and some space to sit at Espresso house it is still not a really great place to hang out for a long period of time. The staff are however very knowledgeable and friendly so still like the place.
The main thing is however the coffee. As all Espresso house they have coffee roasted by Solberg & Hansen but in addition to the normal range of five different coffees to select from they have an additional three to five different ones. Usually these ones are more interesting and smaller lots. All coffees can be ordered as hand-brews and are very nicely prepared. The espresso based beverages are also good but I am not a super-fan of their espresso blend.
The food selection is virtually non-existent, only some cakes and pastries but they do kindly offer to grab some food from the other places and still sit and eat it at the tables at Espresso House.
So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 4
Ambiance and service: 3.5
Vs local competition: 4.5
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