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THE BUSINESS TIMES
SPECIALTY COFFEE FOR
THE CORPORATE CROWD
14 NOV 2014, FRIDAY
by GEOFFREY EU
Coffee purveyor The New Black aims to change high-quality coffee-drinking habits in the CBD in a spectacular way.

The unstoppable force that is the coffee-drinking scene here, powered by a growing number of local roasters dedicated to high-quality coffee, is about to enter a new phase that will have coffee-lovers licking their lips in approval and – if it takes off – turn Singapore into a prime mover in the specialty coffee stakes.

The New Black is a coffee purveyor with a fresh take on the art of coffee and hopes of changing coffee-drinking habits in the CBD in a spectacular way. The plan: to introduce a small, self-contained, state-of-the-art coffee bar into the lobbies of Grade A office buildings, offering tenants and visitors a chance to taste not just decent coffee, but the best artisanal coffees from top roasters around the world. The company launches its initial concept store on Friday.

With a carefully curated seasonal collection from a rotating roster of star roasters like Tim Wendelboe in Oslo, Verve Coffee Roasters in Santa Cruz, California, Workshop Coffee in London and Small Batch Roasters in Melbourne, The New Black doesn’t offer its own brand of coffee; instead, it’s gone straight to the gurus of the specialty coffee world.

Homegrown company Nylon Coffee Roasters – a local roaster that has achieved cult status among coffee aficionados here – is one of 10 featured roasters, plus tea specialist Rodrick Marcus from Rare Tea Cellar in Chicago and pastry chef Christophe Grilo of Bakery Artisan Original, which has been contracted to supply pastries.

Having the crème de la crème on the coffee menu doesn’t guarantee a good cuppa, of course. So The New Black’s comprehensive vision includes the best equipment available, a four-week barista training programme and a high-powered management team with a long-term view.

It all started about four years ago when Malacca-born design consultant Phoa Kia Boon (known as Kia) dropped in at the offices of a major law firm here. He was surprised at being unable to get a decent cup of coffee – something he had taken for granted while living in London. When his lawyer told him he drank up to five cups of coffee a day, the creative thinker in Kia saw a business opportunity and – spurred on by positive experiences while working with high-net-worth clients such as business tycoon Richard Chandler of The Chandler Corporation – decided to think big.

The result is an all-star line-up of roasters and a bespoke work bench (designed by Kia) that is a professional coffee-maker’s wet dream. Sleek and futuristic-looking, The New Black’s three-metre-long prototype workstation is all stainless steel and glass, with only the necessary parts showing. It combines with a separate cabinet and shelves to fit neatly into a 100-square-foot space.

The equipment includes top-of-the-line coffee grinders, next-generation brewing and espresso machines, and even a cold milk dispenser that was designed in-house. Everything is geared towards producing a high-quality cup of coffee in the quickest time possible. This cost-is-no-barrier-to-quality approach requires a certain level of financial commitment but Kia declines to reveal the project’s start-up cost.

“The whole concept is to break down the things we needed to solve, and then find a solution that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional,” says Kia, who is opposed to the idea of a café hidden away on a basement level. He designed the work bench to fit into a corporate lobby, which is a different proposition than designing a café, he adds. ‘The only thing we need is water and power supply.’ Kia calls it the plug-in-and-play approach for the grab-and-go (takeaway), swipe-and-go (cashless system) market.

“We wanted to raise the bar with this new concept and create a brand that is more premium,” he says. ‘If you’re Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch, is your brand in keeping with Starbucks? Curating a collection of coffee from the best roasters is developing the concept even more.” He adds: “We’re not going into food courts; we’re going to serve a very specific market.”

“It’s a very refreshing approach,” says Dennis Tang, owner of Nylon Coffee Roasters, which is supplying a single estate coffee from Nicaragua to The New Black’s filtered coffee cause. “A few cafes in other cities have done the multi-roaster concept before but no-one in Singapore has done it with this quality and level of detail, plus a ‘show’ element from the customer’s point of view. The best part is they are not simply relying on the reputation of the roasters – it’s how they execute as well.”

According to Jeffrey Meese, managing director of The New Black, the high-tech, high-spec equipment used will allow baristas to calibrate coffee-making to exacting standards and brew coffee just as each individual roaster intended. “Each coffee has a unique recipe and taste profile, and baristas will be literally dialling in the recipes,” he says, adding that the company is currently negotiating for space in a number of office lobbies, with hopes of opening 3-5 outlets in the first quarter of 2015.

The company will be able to open an outlet within six weeks of signing a lease and there will be 10 coffees on the menu, priced from a S$5.50 entry-level brew to S$6.50 for a 10-oz latte and closer to S$20 for a special varietal Geisha coffee. “Singapore is a test market developed entirely from the ground up,” says Kia. “It’s about replicating the concept again and again – first in Singapore and then in other cities.”

The New Black concept store is now open at 1, Upper Circular Road. Tel: 6443-0332. Opening hours are Monday-Friday 8am to 6.30pm, Saturday 8am-4.30pm. Closed on Sunday. For more information, visit www.thenewblack.asia