10 places to get your cuppa...
The humble kopitiam remains the quintessential Singapore establishment.
CHIN MEE CHIN CONFECTIONERY
Famous for: Kopi (80 cents), custard puffs (70 cents) and cream horns (70 cents)
STEPPING into Chin Mee Chin is like stepping back in time.
There are whirring ceiling fans, retro mosaic green tiles and - most importantly - their signature freshly baked, oven-hot buns.
But no amount of time travelling will get the publicity-shy owners to talk about their business.
'We don't want to do interviews,' one staff tells LifeStyle before we even identify ourselves. Obviously, many others have been turned away before.
'It's because we can't cope with the crush of customers,' another explains, and allows us a few photographs outside the shop.
The Hainanese coffee shop is an undoubted institution. It has been around for almost 70 years. Its seven marble-topped tables are constantly packed with retirees and office workers.
Regulars stop to have a quick chat with the shop's staff before carting away boxes of pastries.
'You don't see coffee shops like this in Singapore anymore,' a customer mutters.
KENG WAH SUNG (top picture)
Famous for: Kopi (80 cents), kaya toast (50 cents) and fishball noodles ($2)
SINGAPORE has its popiah kings and sugar kings, but Mr Wong Chew Kee is its Mr Bean - the 88-year-old has lived and breathed coffee most of his life.
In 1934, at the age of 15, he arrived here from China to work as a coffee shop assistant for 20 cents a day, and he has been in the business ever since.
He started his own coffee shop in Kampung Chai Chee in 1944. After relocating a few times, the business settled in its current address in 1979.
He no longer works in the kitchen, but still heads down to the coffee shop at 5.30 every morning to check on things.
But he need not worry, not with the crowds of people slurping their coffee and chomping on charcoal-grilled kaya toast.
'Quality sets us apart,' says his eldest son Kee Meng, 60, who has been helping out at the stall since he retired as an assistant engineer five years ago.
Unlike most coffee shops, which make their coffee from powder, Keng Wah Sung buys beans from Bali and grinds them locally so the coffee is fresh.
The family also makes its own kaya at home - a tradition which started with their mother, who died in 2000.
The shop goes through about three tubs of kaya, or more than 200 bottles of 330ml each, every five days. More than 500 slices of toast are sold daily.
Famous for: Kopi-o (90 cents), two slices of kaya toast ($1.40)
IT'S a Hainanese thing - running a kopitiam. At least according to Mr Woon Tek Seng, founder of Killiney International and owner of Killiney Kopitiam.
The former forex trader bought the original Killiney Kopitiam from its owners in 1992. Three Hainanese families started the famous kopitiam in 1919 and Mr Woon, also a Hainanese, saw it as his duty to 'maintain Hainanese tradition' when they wanted to pack up the business and retire.
The 59-year-old says: 'I grew up in Hylam Street where there were a lot of such kopitiams. Many shut down, it was such a pity.'
Today, Killiney Kopitiam is doing booming business, with 17 branches island-wide and two in Kuala Lumpur. Two more outlets will open in East Coast Road and Marine Parade in two months. It has even branched into selling cooked food like mee rebus and curry chicken and manufacturing instant pastes like laksa and assam fish curry paste.
Mr Woon is exceedingly proud of his kopitiam's kopi. The avid coffee drinker reveals that he uses Arabica coffee beans as they're more aromatic. He says he 'easily sells 1,000 cups of kopi a day' at his Killiney Road shop.
MILLIE'S COFFEE HOUSE
Famous for: Kopi (80 cents), kaya toast (80 cents) and curry fish head ($10)
FOR three generations, the Lims have been serving food and beverages to their customers in the Changi Village area.
The late Mr Lim Ong Piow started the business in 1948 by Changi Beach, serving Western food, alcohol and coffee in a European bar setting.
The shop was accessed by dirt roads and mostly frequented by British and Australian soldiers who were based in military camps near Changi, says his son Jui Siong, 67, who took over the business.
They ditched the European coffee house concept in 2000 and started a coffee shop and started selling zhi char, which proved popular with their customers.
Jui Siong is semi-retired now and his youngest of three children Steven, 37, takes care of business. Steven followed his father to work at age 11. It was hard work, he recalls: 'My fingers got scalded a lot and I got scolded by customers who were not happy with the coffee.'
Despite its inconvenient location, the 300-seater coffee shop is packed on weekends.
TAI KWANG HUAT & COMPANY
Famous for: kopi-o (70 cents), teh-si (90 cents)
JUST opposite the sprawling, spanking new Tiong Bahru market is a dilapidated, old-style kopitiam at Eng Hoon Street. In it lies one of Tiong Bahru's best-kept secrets - aromatic kopi-o from the days of yore.
Manning the drinks stall for the last 22 years is Mr Yong Chui Min, 53. His father, Mr Yeo Swee Siew, first opened the kopitiam with his cousins and sworn brothers in 1948 and ran the drinks stall for more than 40 years before his son took over in 1994.
Mr Yong learnt his trade from his father and from kopitiam regulars.
He says in Mandarin: 'They would stand beside me and nag about how they wanted their kopi made. Now I think it's because of them that I have such results.'
The kopi that he makes is the old-school kind - bittersweet, thick and aromatic.
Customers also turn up for Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice, a family-run stall established in 1946 and famous for its pork chop and curry chicken.
Mr Yong estimates that he sells at least $300 worth of kopi every day.
And one of his oldest regulars is retiree Lin Shang Hai, 62, who has dropped by the kopitiam every day - for 50 years.
TONG AH EATING HOUSE
Famous for: Kopi-o (70 cents), thin slices of kaya toast ($1.40), thick slices of kaya toast ($1)
OWNER Tang Chew Fue, 43, says that the secret to his kopitiam's thick, black kopi is buried in his heart.
Then he smiles and says in a less cryptic manner: 'We blend our own coffee beans and tea leaves. We use three kinds of beans in our coffee and they're from Indonesia.
'You can't over-roast or under-roast the beans and the water for the kopi must be boiling hot.'
Mr Tang is the fourth generation of a Foochow family which have run the outlet since 1939. He took over the kopitiam from his father in 1999.
He goes through 60kg of coffee beans and 35 to 40 loaves of bread every week. His kopitiam is packed between 6.30am and 10am when office workers and residents troop in for their daily dose of thick, black kopi and hot kaya toast. The kaya is made by Mr Tang following a secret family recipe.
Serving up hot kopi in white, porcelain cups in between expertly flipping bread slices on an electric grill, Mr Tang shakes his head at the mention of franchises, 'a headache', he says. 'The aroma of our kopi sticks in one's mouth. It's traditional and the standard will always be there.'
TOP EATING HOUSE
Famous for: Kopi-o (70 cents)
IT'S one of the newest kids on the block but the drinks stall at Top Eating House has been packing the crowds in.
The manager of Top Eating House, Mr Eng Poo Kui, who does not want his picture taken, reveals that the drinks stall, also called Top Eating House, sells about 1,000 cups of kopi a day.
The 48-year-old set up the stall 10 months ago after working at other kopitiams for nearly two years. He worked as a drinks stall assistant at a kopitiam in Ghim Moh for three months in 2005, learning the ropes of kopi making, and then later worked as a supervisor at a kopitiam in Jurong Central.
Before that, Mr Eng says he was 'semi-retired' after working in the catering industry in Australia from the early 1980s till 2000.
Asked why his kopi seems so popular and he points to the large carpark in front of the kopitiam: 'It's very convenient for people to drive over as we've got a big carpark. Our customers are Clementi residents and factory and office workers from the area.
'The nasi lemak, vegetarian and Thai food here are popular too.'
Famous for: Kopi (60 cents), kaya toast (50 cents) and Teochew porridge (about $2 for three dishes)
FROM the moment owner Loy Boon Chwee, 48, opens the doors, there is a constant stream of customers.
At breakfast time, retirees jostle for space with joggers from the nearby MacRitchie Reservoir. During lunchtime, office workers queue for its popular Teochew porridge.
Come tea time, groups of Ah Peks sip kopi and catch up on the latest gossip and winning 4D numbers in the Chinese evening papers. As night falls, families descend to tuck into dinner from the zhi char stall.
Mr Loy has been making coffee since he was 13 - his father, Mr Loy Teck Kwan, ran a coffee stall, Keng Nan Heng, along Upper Thomson Road which he started in the 1940s.
Wah Yen, owned by the younger Mr Loy's uncle, was located at the now-defunct Lakeview Shopping Centre. Mr Loy took over the business and moved to the present premises in 2000.
Ask what keeps regulars coming back to his nondescript kopitiam - vans and luxury cars are equally common here - and he replies shyly: 'It's my kaya toast.'
Customers can choose between traditional Hainanese white bread, French loaf or buns, which are toasted to perfection over a charcoal grill. The kaya, from a Hainanese factory, appeals to those who don't like it too sweet. Eaten warm, the bread, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, melts in your mouth. But go early, as Mr Loy stops selling the toast at around 8pm.
YA KUN KAYA TOAST
Famous for: Kopi ($1) and kaya toast ($1.70)
BEFORE it became a runaway success, Ya Kun Coffee Stall - which has since changed its name to Ya Kun Kaya Toast - was a single humble shop manned by founder Loi Ah Koon and his three oldest sons at Lau Pa Sat and then Telok Ayer Transit Food Market.
Mr Loi died in 1998, the same year the shop moved to Far East Square when the Transit Food Market closed down. His sons carried on the business and in 2000, Ya Kun started its franchise and now has 26 outlets around the island.
However, the Far East Square outlet has its diehard fans. 'We tell customers the food and drinks are the same at all our stalls, but some insist on the original,' says Mr Adrin Loi, the executive chairman of Ya Kun and youngest of eight children in the Loi family.
Maybe it's the yesteryear decor that they're drawn to. The marble-topped tables, wooden chairs, floral-patterned porcelain cups and cement floor are a decor unique to this branch, which is the only one still run by the family. Other stalls sport more modern concepts.
Then there's the experience: Two of the three sons - the oldest has retired - are still working at this stall. With more than 80 years of experience between them, they and other workers prepare more than 1,000 cups of coffee for old customers, tourists and Shenton Way yuppies at their flagship store daily.
Famous for: Kopi (80 cents), kaya toast ($1) and fried beancurd ($6)
YOU half-expect YY Kafeidian to have been around a long time, what with a big colourful wall panel trumpeting the century-long history of Hainanese coffee shops in Singapore.
The truth is, the popular eatery has made its name in three years.
Owner Wong Yeh Yuh, 72, had only brief experiences running coffee shops. Instead, most of his last 30 years were spent operating his Northern Palace restaurant firstly at Colombo Court and then Odeon Tower.
His idea of semi- retirement was to plonk $100,000 to start YY - the name is derived from his initials - leaving most of the daily operations to his two daughters.
Mr Wong is especially proud of the shop's kaya toast - around 700 to 800 pieces are sold daily. YY's toast is thick and fluffy.
They also experimented with different recipes before coming up with their own brand of kaya, which he says is very smooth because of long periods of stirring.
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