On a stroll through the colorful neighborhood of Lavender in the heart of Singapore, not too far from the would-be hustle and bustle of Little India (remember those pre-COVID days?), you’ll pass a variety of shophouses and storefront—from hawkers slinging cuts of roasted pork on yellow plastic tables to boutique hotels, motorcycle mechanics, and old hardware stores. Among the industrial rust and the grit lies a little glitter—welcome to Apartment Coffee.
The Apartment opened its doors in 2018, only a few short months before owner Yeo Qing He won gold in the Singapore Brewers Cup, also placing 6th on the world stage in Brazil that same year. Now in 2020, after only two years of operation, Apartment has quickly helped advance the standard of specialty coffee in the country, winning Singapore’s first annual Roaster Forum and garnering a loyal following of coffee enthusiasts.
Wrapping the corner of Tyrwhitt Road and Lavender Street, natural light pours through Apartment’s near 180-degree windows, illuminating its all-white interior. Pops of color—the greens and golds from plants and oak tabletops, along with a record player, complete with a stack of vinyl—keep the space feeling warm, open, and non-clinical. At the heart of the studio lies a large shared counter, running almost the entire length of the room; a place for customers to sit, currently safely distanced at least one meter apart, of course, and chat all sorts of coffee geekery with the team brewing fine coffees over the other side.
The importance of design and attention to detail shown at Apartment becomes clear from the moment you walk in. Before you’ve even tasted their coffee—seeing the ceramics, browsing the coffee menu—you already have a pretty good idea that the coffee will be something special. One of the first questions I posed to the good folks at Apartment was about the elegant fit-out of the studio, to which Qing He explained, “We believe that good design plays a huge part. Every aspect has to be carefully considered, from the shape and weight of the vessel to the environment and the music that is playing. It all has to work in harmony to create a consistent and memorable brand experience.” And while it’s true the place oozes style—style certainly isn’t the only thing Apartment has going for it.
Atop the beautiful, wide counter, set to the side as to not disrupt the flow of the room, sits their espresso workhorse, a two-group Synesso Cyncra. To its left, on the task of grinding, a Victoria Arduino Mythos One, and a Mahlkönig EK43, all looking sleek in matching white. Pour-over duties are fulfilled by three Hario V60s. As we chat about brewing gear, Qing He tells me that rather than putting too much importance on brewing equipment, his team focuses much more on getting the brew water just right, and implementing different water filtration systems for their espresso machine and for their pour-over coffees.
Daily operations at Apartment include the coffee studio, coffee roasting, a web store, and their monthly coffee subscription service. During Singapore’s two-month near-total “Circuit Breaker” lockdown period, the team took the opportunity to focus more on the latter two—working on their subscription service and online store. The offering of food at Apartment is rare, and only on the occasional weekend will one find baked goods—collaborations with some of their favorite bakers, rubbing shoulders with the coffee they serve. Qing He mentions that the choice to not have food was a conscious one, allowing the team to fully focus on what they do: coffee.
On my most recent visit to Apartment, the coffee lineup was stacked with tasty offerings, including a deliciously juicy mixed lactic- and acetic-processed Castillo from La Palma Y El Tucan’s Neighbors and Crops program, a honey-processed Aramosa by Daterra, and a fully washed Gesha from Las Margaritas farm in Colombia. I had the pleasure of trying two of the three, both were bright, complex, and incredibly clean tasting.
When it comes to roasting, the team's weapon of choice is a 6kg Giesen W6 series roaster, housed offsite at a shared roasting facility run by friends, Compound Coffee. I asked Qing He how Apartment goes about selecting and sourcing its roster of green coffees, which often comprises rare and prized lots. While some come from their own sourcing trips, said Quing He, many are selected from green traders like Nordic Approach and Mercanta, with a focus on quality and transparency.
The folks at Apartment have a love for coffee that is rare in Singapore. Not only do they provide stellar examples of transparently sourced, sweet coffee, but they also provide their customers with a complete backstory on most of the coffees they serve, and a gorgeous setting to enjoy them in. With things having largely returned to normal in Singapore, or at least what we’ll call the new normal for now (don’t forget your mask, everywhere, all day, every day!)
For Apartment, it’s back to business as usual.
Beau Badinski is a freelance journalist and coffee professional currently residing in Singapore. This is Beau Badinski's first feature for Sprudge.