No longer something found exclusively in the city, artisanal brews have been making their way into our neighbourhoods in the form of heartland cafés.
Beyond adding variety to the usual heartland spots, many of these coffee spots have become favourite haunts for the community to gather and catch up with each other. We spoke to the people behind 3 coffee places within HDB estates to find out why the HDB coffee experience is so special.
Continuing the Heartland Coffee Legacy
Tucked away in the corner of Stirling Road is Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee, which has occupied that very spot for more than 20 years. The heartland café started off as a coffee bean roastery and wholesaler, focusing on traditional brews before branching out into specialty coffee. “Tiong Hoe is about brewing quality coffee, and friendships,” surmises Jacob Tan, who now helms the family-run business.
Despite being located within the mature estate of Queenstown, Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee, like many other heartland cafés, usually sees a younger crowd. “Our regulars are mostly in their mid-20s to 30s. With work from home becoming the new norm, the café also sometimes doubles up as a co-working space,” Jacob laughs.
For Jacob, it was an easy decision to expand Tiong Hoe’s presence in the heartland. “Over the years, we have built such good rapport with our regulars, as well as the residents here. When we first started, the area was relatively quiet. But as more people started visiting the café and with more shops springing up, the neighbourhood has become much livelier.”
“The current café used to be my dad’s office for a long time. I guess you can say that Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee is literally built on his business,” Jacob chuckles.
From Kopi O to Latte Gao
“The older generation usually prefers traditional coffee, while the younger crowd tends to visit heartland cafés for specialty brews. We offer both types,” say Kenneth Lim and Zender Wong, the founders of Generation Coffee, a beverage stall located in Tekka Market Centre.
“We believe a hawker stall is where we can best realise our coffee philosophy of bridging the gap between the two groups of coffee drinkers,” they explain. “Plus, it’s always interesting to meet and befriend residents from all walks of life.”
While most seniors still prefer their kopi o, Zender shares how some elderly customers, emboldened by the familiar setting of a hawker centre, have taken the step to try out ‘ang moh‘ coffee for the first time.
“Some prefer latte now,” Zender smiles. “However, as they are used to stronger coffee, I would make them latte gao – a latte with a stronger espresso shot.”
While the duo’s brews have added vibrancy to the estate, they share how they have, in return, been welcomed by the community that has made the neighbourhood feel like home.
“Regular customers aside, we have also befriended our fellow stallholders. We would take turns patronising one another’s stall. And if we were ever short of ingredients, all we need to do is to pop by the wet market behind us.”
Coffee By the HDB Window
If it’s a novel heartland coffee experience you’re after, look no further than Ground Floor Coffee. This coffee gem is known for brewing and serving coffee directly from an HDB flat that is of course, located on the ground floor.
“It started off with making coffee for friends.” says Adhwa Hasif, a self-made barista. “Over time, they began to provide feedback which kickstarted my experimentation with flavoured coffee.”
As he progressed on his coffee brewing hobby, Hasif also noticed how some residents would hang out in the common area, often with drinks in hand. “It’s common to see residents catching up with one another at the seats in the void deck; and what better drink to chit chat over, than coffee?”
Hasif prepares the beverages in a dedicated room, with its own coffee bean grinder and espresso machine. He would also personally hand the brew over through the window and chats to customers if the opportunity arises.
“I know many of them because they are our neighbours who come down for their morning coffee. Some of them happened to walk past our flat, and were drawn to the smell of coffee,” he says.
“Now we also see residents from different neighbourhoods—and even other towns—popping by,” Hasif smiles.
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