Brewing freshly roasted beans from Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee

Tiong Hoe is the O.G. local coffee roaster and distributor in Singapore. They’ve been selling coffee for decades and have been in business longer than hipsters have existed. Since I’ve decided to stop buying more coffee equipment, the logical next step in my journey is to start sampling freshly-roasted beans from different local roasters, and there’s no better place to start at than Tiong Hoe.

Our good friend ML was treating The Wife and I to lunch at Uncle Leong Seafood at Anchorpoint (thanks again ML!) and so we made a short detour to Tiong Hoe at their Stirling Road HQ before meeting her at the restaurant. We took the bus, alighted at stop 11029 Blk 166 (Queensway) and made our way past several HDB blocks until we reached Blk 170.

It was my first time visiting the store and the first thing that caught my eye was the large timeline mounted on the wall, outlining the company’s history starting from the 1960s.

To the left of that was the entrance to Tiong Hoe Gim Kee Trading Company, started in 1975 by founder Mr. Tan Tiong Hoe. To the right was Tiong Hoe Specialty Coffee, more recently co-founded by his son Jacob Tan. Their website dives deeper into their history over the decades, and is an interesting read.

We did the necessary SafeEntry check-ins and temperature checks and entered the compact café. Drink prices were slightly lower than those located downtown, likely due to lower rentals for shops in the heartlands. It was Friday early afternoon when we visited and it was already quite full, so business was clearly good despite the relatively secluded location.

The freshly-roasted beans were displayed on shelves to the right of the entrance and they were generally split between filter and espresso roasts, and then further differentiated by origin. In addition to beans, they also sell various brewing equipment across different brands including the usual suspects from Hario, Fellow and Timemore.

The barista came over as I was happily browsing and asked if I was looking for something specific. It was my first time trying their beans so I asked for his recommendation, and if there were any that he particularly enjoyed.

“My current favourite is the Ethiopia Uraga Gomoro”, he replied.

And I dutifully picked up a bag. We then spent some time chatting about the best way to brew it (he recommended Tetsu 4-6 at 88-92°C) and we compared notes on the equipment we owned. He was very enthusiastic as I shared my experience with my new 1Zpresso JX-Pro as he’d heard good things about the brand but hadn’t tried it for himself yet.

He then whipped out his phone and started showing me photos of his home setup, which was clearly extensive and impressive, and started to identify them individually but I politely but quickly changed the topic and asked him to recommend a Costa Rican bean. I didn’t want to be tempted with more equipment and, in this case, ignorance is bliss.

The first bag that I opened the next morning was the Costa Rica Don Alfonso, and used my new Timemore Fish Smart kettle to brew across different temperatures. The smell from the freshly-roasted Tiong Hoe beans was way more fragrant than my usual Mt Whitney, but because I didn’t adjust my grind size to account for a lower dosage (25gm vs 30gm) the resulting cups weren’t as fantastic as I’d expected.

I had to take a few steps back to tweak my brewing variables and used the cheaper bag of Mt Whitney beans to find the best combination of grind size, brew temperature, coffee-to-water ratio and pour technique. Finally settling on 3-6-0 on the 1Zpresso JX-Pro, 94°C brew temperature, 25gm of coffee to 400gm of water (1:16 ratio), Tetsu 4-6 with 3x bloom and 5 pours for a total drawdown time of around 3min 40sec.

When I finally opened the bag of Tiong Hoe Ethiopia Uraga Gomoro, the first thing that hit me was the scent of the whole beans. It was rich, floral and didn’t smell of any beans I’ve used before. After grinding, the scent became even more concentrated and intoxicating. I remember thinking to myself: “So this is what good freshly-roasted Ethiopian beans smell like.”

After taking the first sip of the first cup that I made from the beans, my immediate reaction was: “OMG! This is the best tasting cup of coffee I’ve made so far.” I asked The Wife what she thought and she scored it a solid 9 points out of 10, the highest of all the cups I’ve made to-date.

I’d read about how good Ethiopian beans resulted in coffee with a prominent blueberry note, but I’ve always been skeptical. How can coffee taste like blueberry? But I finally understood after tasting it for myself. It had good balance and body, with a wonderfully floral scent and that amazingly addictive blueberry flavour.

It’s the most I’ve spent for beans, but worth every cent. My usual Mt Whitney comes in 340gm bags and costs around S$16 and since I make two cups from a 25gm dose, it works out to about S$0.60 per cup. The Tiong Hoe Ethiopian was $23.50 for 200gm, around S$1.50 per cup or 2.5x more expensive.

I wouldn’t drink it every morning due to diminishing marginal utility, but it’s definitely something I’d have for an occasional treat, and as a reminder of how good coffee can actually taste. Now that I’ve broken through the 8 point barrier, I’m even more motivated to expand my horizons by trying different beans from around the world.

To end off, I’ll leave you with this short video of the bloom from the cup of Ethiopian I made. I find it strangely mesmerising and part of the reason why I look forward to making pour over coffee every morning.

Enjoy!

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