Australians! Australians are everywhere in the global coffee scene, from London to Berlin, Brooklyn to Paris, and all points between. But the Aussie presence is particularly visible in the exciting, rapidly expanding coffee scene in Singapore, a modern international nation-state of six million people with some of the tightest population density in the world.
As we begin to expand our Singapore coverage, first-time Sprudge contributor Andre Tham takes us to a cafe with a funny name that’s providing a bit of breathing room in a city starved for space. It’s owned by an Aussie, of course, although the cafe’s main influence seems to be primate in origin…
Jimmy Monkey Café & Bar first opened its doors to the public in July of 2011, with a shiny new Slayer espresso machine (Singapore’s first) sitting atop the bar . A few months prior to this though, owner Michael Ryan was in Seattle, Washington, helping to build that very machine at the Slayer Espresso factory. Yet the story of how this all came to be goes back almost 30 years.
In 1980, a three-year-old Michael Ryan, together with his childhood (stuffed) companion, Jimmy Monkey, visited Singapore for the first time while on a family holiday to the region. Mr. Ryan recounts how he left Mr. Monkey behind, and thought that he’d lost his friend forever, only to have him arrive home several weeks later in a mailing box courtesy of local hotel staff. Reports are unverified as to the monkey’s activities in Mr. Ryan’s absence. Perhaps he was snacking on the local flora and fauna; perhaps he was scouting locations for what would later become his own eponymous café.
Located at 9 One-north Gateway, Jimmy Monkey Café sits at the foot of a condominium, in what is a remarkably quiet neighborhood–a rarity in this bustling, cosmopolitan nation. The residences above are actually a later addition, as the café is housed in what was originally an army barrack many decades ago. Jimmy Monkey sits perched above the cafe that bears his name, at last master of his own domain.
Inside, the space is decidedly open, with its three storey high ceilings and exposed utilities suspended above. The overall aesthetic is raw, with plenty of exposed concrete and wooden surfaces. Customers have the option of sitting at the large communal table, the end of the bar, the cushy sofa area (if they’re lucky), or tables and chairs scattered around the café. The cafe’s playfulness is evidenced by a tongue-in-cheek second storey ‘bathroom’, complete with toilet bowl and loo roll holder.
Jimmy Monkey’s coffees are crafted courtesy of a storied matte-black three group Slayer with sandblasted silver ‘X’s. Originally built in 2011, today’s Slayer at Jimmy Monkey only retains its original aesthetics; Michael had it shipped back to Seattle in December last year, and again made the journey to the Slayer Espresso factory to strip, clean, and re-build his Slayer with the latest V3 upgrades.
Currently, the café offers version 3.2 of their Ironbark blend (a five bean Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala combination), as well as single origin coffees. Both of these options are ground on Mazzer Majors, but sitting alongside these is a Mazzer Mini, dedicated to the establishment’s decaf coffee. There are plans to add a fourth grinder to this line-up that will be exclusively for guest coffees, from both local and international roasters.
Sourcing and roasting of green coffee for the café is done in close collaboration with Ross Bright. Mr. Bright is also originally from Australia, and currently works as master roaster for the Singapore local coffee chain Spinelli. Bright has been a key figure in the establishment of the specialty coffee scene here in Singapore, where he serves as the national coordinator for the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe‘s Singapore chapter. Roasting for Jimmy Monkey is primarily done off-site, though café patrons may occasionally experience the testing of new roast profiles and sampling done on a 1.5kg Giesen roaster sitting in the café space.
Adding to the overall sensory experience of the café is the open kitchenette, where patrons can take in the preparation of the establishment’s food offerings. Culinary choices vary across the week, with weekday and weekend menus, along with ever-changing specials. Generally, the fare is rustic and in a word, comforting. Think fulsome breakfasts, stacks of pancakes, sandwiches, pastas, and a large array of alcoholic beverages. For those keen to take home a bit of the Jimmy Monkey experience, the café retails their own brand of coffee beans, as well as a line of signature blue Jimmy Monkey cups and saucers made by Inker Porcelain.
Jimmy Monkey Café & Bar is at its heart a place for people to enjoy a good coffee, taste some lovely food, and just relax. Its sleepy location and imported Seattle Slayer vibes help greatly in this regard, projecting a kind of calm and comfort so often lacking from modern life in urban Singapore, but make no mistake: Australia’s influence on the global coffee scene is strongly felt at Jimmy Monkey, influencing a new generation of Singaporean coffee lovers and making for a coffee bar that’s about much more than just coffee.
Andre Tham is a Sprudge contributor based in Singapore. This is his first feature for Sprudge.com.