Singapore is a city for people who love food. If you’re a person who relentlessly Instagrams your lunches and plans entire weekends around eating, this is one of the greatest travel destinations in the world. And happily for coffee lovers, this high bar of deliciousness extends to Singapore’s remarkable coffee scene, where the baseline quality of specialty espresso bars across the city is high, and there’s a world of local kopi bars to explore and enjoy. In this guide we’re exploring a handful of excellent cafes pushing the envelope for coffee quality and cafe experience in a city with countless options. Consider this your jumping off point for further exploration. Here’s just a few favorites.
Nylon Coffee Roasters
Minimalism and understatement are the names of the game at Nylon Coffee Roasters. Opened in an out-of-the-way corner of Everton Park by Dennis Tang and Jia Min Lee in 2012, Nylon is located on a public housing block, which helps lend the space an earnest neighborhood hangout vibes. The tiny bar space (often occupied by the proprietors themselves) displays a small, unfussy menu tacked to the wall, and prices here are relatively low compared to other third wave cafes in Singapore—part of Nylon’s effort to keep its coffee accessible.
But clues to the company’s reputation as a leader in Singapore’s specialty coffee scene are everywhere. The bright, white walls display photos from numerous coffee sourcing endeavors; they work with farmers in five countries, sometimes shipping lots of only 20 bags in a container. The roasting space, which is displayed behind a wall of glass, houses a new Probat UG-15. The espresso machine—a white La Marzocco Linea PB with wood trim—is accompanied by two Mahlkönig PEAK grinders.
Nylon is standing-room-only, offers no food (or batch brew), and has a high, communal table that encourages visitors to chat, but not to linger. It’s a place to meet up with a friend to catch up or have a brief conversation with a stranger. “I think that’s something we have been losing touch with. People are just on their phones too much,” muses co-founder Dennis Tang. “Take 10 minutes, slow it down, have a chat, have a coffee. It just feels good.”
Chye Seng Huat Hardware
Chye Seng Huat Hardware has repurposed a gated carpark into a shady, stylish courtyard in Jalan Besar, one of the city’s most vibrant districts to eat, drink, and shop. The cafe’s Art Deco building is adorned with raw wood, naked lightbulbs, and a spectacular mixed-metal bar as the centerpiece. Glistening hazelnut tarts beckon from the pastry case; a professional barista doles out deftly-poured cappuccinos from behind their Synesso Hydra MVP; a stylish young couple plays Streetfighter Alpha 3 in the waiting area.
The coffee menu is on point, with pour-over selections that rotates regularly to highlight a specific region and taste profile. At the time that I visited, they were showcasing Huehuetenango, with two of the lots from the same coffee producer. Tour the grounds and you’ll find the company’s wholesale roastery, PPP Coffee, which has been in operation since 2009. Drink your V60 in the courtyard and watch them roast its contents through the roastery’s large windows on their Probat L-12, Gothot Ideal-Rapid 23kg, or Taiwanese Bella 4kg.
Stroll upstairs to C-Platform, where you’ll find a training facility offering skill certifications, public cuppings, and educational programs for home baristas. Before you leave, peek into the Annex, which sells Rocket espresso machines, curated coffee books, brewing equipment, and all the accessories you need to enjoy a coffee experience at home.
Opened in the fall of 2018 by Singapore Brewer’s Cup Champion Yeo Quing He, Apartment Coffee is a popular favorite in Singapore’s specialty coffee scene. Located on Lavender Street in Jalan Besar, Apartment Coffee’s luminous white walls, large windows and Danish modern aesthetic make it no surprise to learn that Quing He has a background in design. Every object in the cafe, from the furniture, to the equipment, to the reading material, is carefully curated under his watchful eye. “We put a lot of thought into the experience of the coffee,” explains Quing He, who believes that promoting specialty coffee requires thoughtful communication with the customer. Even the ceramics, designed in the shape of a whiskey tulip, are deliberately engineered to highlight the product inside.
Apartment’s focus is on light-roasted coffees prepared with attention and deliberation, primarily served as filter coffee, which they roast on a Giesen W6A through a roaster share with another company on the island. “I think what we’re doing is slightly different than what people are used to,” Quing He tells me, but the distinction doesn’t seem to be a problem. Apartment Coffee is a busy cafe, drawing a hip, young Singaporean crowd (even on a sleepy Thursday afternoon). Behind the well-appointed espresso bar you’ll find a white, powder-coated Synesso flanked by a Victoria Arduino Mythos One, putting out some of the city’s very best espresso drinks.
Founded in 2010 by Terrence and Pauline Tay, Liberty Coffee was for many years Singapore’s most elusive cafe experience. Primarily a wholesale roastery, Liberty’s hours initially varied based on Terrence’s flight schedule as a pilot for Singapore Air. Periodically, the couple hosted a speakeasy-style cafe, inviting guests to visit the roastery and sample the coffee. In 2019 they opened a cafe in Jalan Besar with a slightly less-casual schedule: 11am to 5pm, Tuesday to Thursday.
Here you can sample their espresso blends on a sleek, matte black La Marzocco Strada AV, drink a batch brew prepared on their two-group UC Hipster Brewer by 3Temp, or watch transfixed as their Poursteady extracts a single origin on a fleet of December Drippers. The roastery is offsite, but a cheery display looping footage from origin informs us that the coffee is prepared on their Loring Kestrel and Probatone roasters.
Liberty’s sensible sourcing philosophy speaks to their staying power in a market with high turnover. “Can we get great coffee year after year?” muses Terrence Tay. “That’s the most important thing.” To that end, Liberty has invested in several rare variety plots through El Fenix, a community wet mill in Colombia operating on a fixed pricing system.
Common Man Coffee Roasters
Common Man was founded in 2013 as a partnership between Five Senses Coffee of Australia and Spa Esprit Group, a Singaporean lifestyle brand. Its flagship location is in Robertson Quay, a scenic neighborhood on the banks of the Singapore River—prime dog-watching and stroller-parking real estate for locals and expats alike, who’ve likely come to Common Man in search of all-day brunch. The brand’s downtown location, Common Man Stan, is geared more towards the weekday lunch crowd, with smartly-dressed professionals sipping espressos on the sidewalk.
Common Man’s roasting operations are considerable. Their facility in Singapore produces more htan 90 tonnes of coffee annually on a duo of Giesen roasters—a W6A and a W45A—serving their own cafes as well as dozens of wholesale accounts throughout Singapore and Malaysia. Coffee is sourced via a partnership with Five Senses, and Common Man also offer a range of coffee education opportunity to industry professionals and the general public.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast
No coffee-loving visit to Singapore is complete without enjoying kopi, Singapore’s iconic mixture of coffee dropped directly from the roaster into caramelized sugar, coated in margarine, and mixed with roasted corn or barley. After it is brewed, kopi is often mixed with condensed milk and served in a heated, white china cup as part of a set with kaya (a heavenly coconut egg jam) on toast and two soft-boiled eggs.[Learn more here in this short film from Our Grandfather Story.]
Ya Kun Kaya Toast is a popular Singaporean chain, and this combination is their specialty. Founded in 1944 by Hainanese immigrant Loi Ah Koo, the business has grown into a franchise with dozens of locations across Singapore and throughout Asia. When I asked Singaporean friends where to experience kopi, they universally recommended Ya Kun, whose many red-and-white outlets glow with fast-casual familiarity (most every mall and food court in Singapore has a location). Munch your toast between sips of kopi and enjoy the moment.
Jacqueline Billings is an international coffee professional. This is Jacqueline Billing’s first feature for Sprudge.