Café Community: What's With All The Java, Joo Chiat?
STORY: Annette Tan
29 September 2021
If you find yourself parched and in dire need of caffeine, you’ll want to head straight to Joo Chiat Road. This 1.6km stretch of now very crowded road is packed with more cafés than the heritage enclave has ever seen. Each serves not only excellent brews but their own alluring menu of cakes, pastries and brunch classics.
This explosion of cafés, coffee shops and hipster eateries over the last year has given it a new lease of life and a new generation of visitors. And since we haven’t even included the wealth of similar establishments in surrounding Joo Chiat Place, East Coast Road and Changi Road, you should be warned: If you venture here on weekends, prepare to sit in traffic or get in a queue.
The “C” in its name refers to cards, choices and connections, which is an overly complicated nod to the Magic Table that sits in the centre of the café where its owners might show you a magic trick or three. The standard coffee drinks abound, along with novel options like the Honey and Cinnamon Lattes. Unsurprisingly, its menu is designed after many a magician’s favourite prop, the playing card, and it includes toasties filled with chicken and pesto or ham and cheese, fried chicken and waffles, burgers, lobster rolls, pastas, pizzas, snacks and dessert. Its bright interiors make it easy to want to linger here and ignore the queue outside the door.
Cool cats love Choice Cuts Goods + Coffee, helmed by DJs Dre Reyes and Jnr Tirso, better known by their collective name Matteblacc. This record store and diminutive café serves the likes of old-school hip hop, funk, neo-soul and electronic vinyls in the front and a small menu of bagels, hot dogs and coffee, mainly for takeaway, in the back where there’s a tiny strip of dining space. Suffice it to say, this isn’t the sort of place to linger in your seat. Instead, grab a coffee, have a mooch around the store and discover the music on offer. If the artists or titles capture your curiosity, be sure to ask Reyes and Tirso about them. These guys are treasure troves of information.
Never mind that it is one of the largest coffee cafés in the area, Common Man Coffee Roasters is still packed to the rafters most of the time. If you manage to snag a seat by its massive windows, you’ll find yourself transported to a different place and might even imagine yourself on holiday, especially if your preferred destination boasts a Hotel 81 right across the street. Like all Common Man outlets, this one is stylishly funky and serves all-day breakfasts that are worth queuing up for. There are also plenty of cookies, cakes and croissants to have with your coffee or tea.
This narrow, industrial-chic coffee shop is helmed by Singapore Brewers Cup 2019 champion Elysia Tan. It goes without saying then that the java here is excellent, which explains why it’s always hoppin’ with people either queuing up for their daily caffeine fix or hunkering down to easy eats like the Level Up Kaya Toast featuring Hokkaido milk toast with homemade kaya, French butter and sous vide eggs. The list of coffees is interestingly diverse. Try the smooth, full-bodied Iced White made with the café’s Lollipop blend of Kenyan and Ethiopian beans.
This pleasing café by local wholesaler King’s Cart Coffee serves an extensive menu of drinks and simple western classics like tiger prawn aglio olio and eggs Benedict. There are also coffee cocktails and desserts, craft beers, and of course, good coffee. Unique offerings include the Coconut Cold Brew made with fresh coconut juice, coconut flesh and a cold brew concentrate, and a Salted Caramel Latte with espresso, homemade salted caramel, milk and speculoos crumble. Given that they label themselves a factory, there’s plenty of bean roasting going on during the week, which means you’ll be enveloped in the warming aromas of coffee in the air.
Since it opened in April this year, Little Farms has become a bit of a hub in Joo Chiat, where upper-middle-class folk come for the gleaming selection of veggies, organic fruit and esoteric chocolate. But it’s the bistro that draws an egalitarian crowd with its menu of classics like roast chicken and grilled fish, as well as bar bites like brussels sprouts with bacon and roasted garlic. Most patrons save their raves for the coffee by Allpress, with all the requisites like espressos, macchiatos, long blacks and flat whites. If you need something stronger, there are beers on tap, cider and a small list of cocktails which include a Katong Old Fashioned made with coconut fat-washed dark rum, agave syrup and bitters.
If you blink, you might miss this popular coffee joint in a shophouse that’s also home to a boxing studio in the back. Founded by a part-time lawyer who juggles her job at a local firm along with two coffee outlets, Mad Roaster was conceived with the aim of helping channel income to refugees passing through Thailand. The stickers you see on its packaging are printed in Thailand and decorated by resettled refugees there, which helps them pay rent. Come for the beautifully made babkas and stay for the espresso-based drinks like a Honey Butter Latte and rich Matcha Latte.
The Mediterranean colour scheme at the latest Prairie By Craftsman outlet is a sight for sore eyes. It brings to mind a Greek holiday, replete with terrazzo tabletops and rattan-lined stools. Fittingly, the food is pretty Instagrammable too. Among the favourites are Spam and Cheese Bagels, Smoked Salmon Rosti, Avocado Toast and Tandoori Pork Ribs. The small alfresco area by its entrance has been designated pet-friendly, so expect plenty of people with pooches sipping cups of things like Roasted Almond Latte and fresh pressed juices.
Having opened in 2018, this retro café can now be considered the OG of the Joo Chiat café wave. With ’60s-style décor and a menu inspired by traditional Singaporean favourites, Sinpopo has become a timeless presence in the hood. We still get excited about the Sinpopo Crab Beehoon and well-wrought cakes in local flavours like Putu Piring and Pulut Hitam. With offerings like that, expect the drinks to come local-style too. Choose from kopi and teh in all their kopitiam permutations.
When it first opened, Tigerlily drew scores of Instagrammers who clamoured to get photos of themselves against its pretty floral painted walls. The entremets (small layered French cakes) are also uber-photogenic, which might explain why just about everything worth eating or ’gramming here often sells out by the afternoon. If you get a chance, try the mochi blondies, which aren’t the most photogenic items but certainly among the most delicious. The coffee is made from a blend of Colombia and Ethiopia beans by local roaster Bearded Bella.