Shiok Ah Ccino

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Shiok Ah Ccino

August 9th is National Day in Singapore, and it’s always accompanied by massive displays of pride in the achievements of this tiny city state. And that covers not just the National Day Parade or the Singapore flag flying proudly from most residential windows, but special edition Singapore-themed items ranging from red and white T shirts to decorated cakes.

Somewhere in between comes the Shiok Ah Ccino, a remarkable, and Singapore exclusive, offering from Starbucks. Drawing on several of those local delicacies familiar in kopi tiams around the island, they have managed to create a drink that perfectly blends the Starbucks signature frappuccino with tastes that are completely Singaporean.

So the regular frappucino is blended with and the whipped cream topped by the thick sweetness of gula melaka, which is a palm sugar syrup.  The main ingredient, however, is a large scoop of coffee jelly shreds, which are an interesting take on that slightly bitter tasting local favourite which goes by the English name of ‘grass jelly’ even though it is black rather than green in colour. There’s crunchy coconut on top as the finishing touch.

Shiok, incidentally, is the local way of saying that something is really good.

It took me a couple of days to work up to tasting this one, and I did not manage to drink it all, but it was actually quite nice, despite the ‘exclusive’ price of S$7.90 for the smallest cup. Of course it helps that I really like gula melaka… What defeated me in the end was the coffee jelly, since there was so much of it that I could not get a mouthful of the drink itself without several strands sliding up the straw, and I found that horribly disconcerting.

Still, it is clearly super popular with the locals and it’s a great and rather flattering idea from Starbucks. I look forward to seeing if it reappears next year.


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Seasonal Sakura

Christmas can start as early as September in the UK, with decorations going up and seasonal specials on sale. Cadbury’s crème eggs have even been spotted in October, many months before Easter…

It’s not quite as bad in Japan, but still – despite the February snow – the spring time cherry blossom is hotly anticipated with posters, decorations and products submerging Tokyo in pink.

There are even seasonal brews from the big beer companies, with the limited edition cans adorned with shiny flowers.

Starbucks coffee shops also prove to be no exception, with these delightful if very creamy sakura flavoured specials on sale already. Daughter #1 was persuaded to sample the latte, which came with festive pink sprinkles, but not the sakura chiffon cake complete with blossom bud.

Her verdict: who can tell what cherry blossom really tastes like? The best drink by far was a regular hot chocolate topped with pink blossom shaped marshmallows.


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Collagen Coffee

Category : Food

There’s a growing number of food and cosmetic products laced with collagen, all of which promise to slow the aging process by boosting the production of this structural protein in your body. I know you have to take these claims with a pinch of salt, but then I see something new and feel I have try it out…

So here is collagen coffee, fresh from Thailand and apparently containing goji berry extract as well for added anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Careful perusal of the packet reveals that each sachet of instant coffee contains 7% collagen and 5% goji, which is actually more than I was expecting. More than 65%, however, is dairy creamer, as this is one of the 3 in 1 instant drinks so beloved of SE Asians.

There are scientific studies out there which delve into the helpfulness or otherwise of consuming collagen, and the general consensus seems to be that your average female would need to eat around 10g a day to see any effect on their skin.

There is so little collagen in these sachets that you’d have to drink more than 50 cups a day to achieve that amount, which is plainly ridiculous. But maybe every little helps…

Anyway, facing up to one of those days where there was more to do than energy available, plus a deadline looming, I decided the moment had come to give this product a go.

And it was not half as bad as I was expecting, for the first half cup. Then a strange after taste began to creep up on me, which I suspect was more to do with the artificial sweetener than anything else, and in the end, I had to pour the rest away. The packet is still in the cupboard, but I am keeping it for emergencies only.


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Weasel Coffee

Currently giving Jamaican Blue Mountain a run for its money as the most expensive cup of coffee you can buy, ‘weasel’ coffee is something that divides the men from the boys.

I have lost count of the people I know who have recoiled in horror from the thought of trying this, which is a shame although understandable.

The problem is that the coffee beans have been through the digestive tract of the weasel, which in certain SE Asian countries has learned to steal the ripe berries from the coffee bushes as a delicious and stimulating snack. The beans inside the berries are deposited later and have to be ‘harvested’ from the weasel poo before going through the usual roasting and grinding process.

I have no idea what prompted the coffee farmer who discovered this to actually try it in the first place, but it has become a premium product. And I guess the high price is justified by the trouble you have to go through to retrieve the digested beans, which – even if you ‘farm’ them by feeding the berries to caged weasels – is still fairly disgusting.

Also, however you get your hands on the beans, there are never very many of them so they have a rarity value, not to mention that they need extra treatment to make them fit for human consumption.

In the end, is it worth it apart from the shock value? I would say it is. The flavour of the resulting brew has a richer, mellower taste, which makes it a better drink.

Mind you, as weasel coffee tends to come from Vietnam and other SE Asian countries where the beans often have a more sharp, sour flavour then the classic S American varieties, this is probably an important improvement.

You can now get weasel coffee in all sorts of forms, from the beans or basic grind to the fancy ‘origami’ coffee filters which balance over your cup as they drip. It also comes in varying grades and strengths, and even from specific areas. (My most recent purchase of’ kopi luwak’ – not the one pictured – is sourced from the slopes of the Kintamani volcano in Bali, which makes it even more interesting.)

As I first had this in Vietnam, where coffee comes sweetened with a big dollop of condensed milk, I tend to drink it this way at home, too. And when they have it in the supermarket, I can use the ‘stay fresh longer’ tubes of chocolate flavoured condensed milk to make myself a weasel mocha. Perfect!


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Challenging Coffee

I’m all for trying new flavours, but sometimes things turn out so badly it quite puts me off for a while.

Take the lemon coffee here – which appeared as a ‘special’ on the blackboard at my current favourite brunch hangout. Iced lemon tea, or variations thereof, is very big in Singapore, so clearly this was an attempt to expand the idea into the coffee drinkers market.

But oh dear, the marriage of coffee and lemon juice was so awful I could not manage more than a token couple of sips.

Which is why a few days later I was prepared to do no more than take a photo of this durian coffee. Durian, of course, is one of those peculiarly Asian things that very few Westerners can tolerate. Sometimes even the smell as you go past a durian stall is enough to make tourists gag, not to mention the acrid taste and the decidedly unpleasant sensation involved in sucking the slimy flesh from the seeds. I do keep trying, but I will never be a fan.

But for anyone who is willing to sample this ‘rich concoction of creamy coffee with a noticeable durian dimension’ it is available not only at smarter supermarkets, but also at Changi airport.


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Hospital Coffee

For such a tiny island, there is a great deal that is unique about Singapore. The city state, barely 50 years old, has managed to blend a diverse collection of races, religions and cultural heritages into something spectacular and instantly recognisable.

Often, I take this for granted, then something unexpected will catch my eye and bring it all home again.

So I present the free coffee machine in one of the waiting areas at Singapore General Hospital, where I spent a fair amount of time over the recent holidays (husband with dengue fever, daughter needing minor surgery…).

Some of the drinks on offer are standard – coffee, cappuccino, latte, mocha – but look more closely and you’ll see some decidedly local options there as well.

Teh Tarik means ‘pulled’ tea, and in street-side stalls you can see the tea being poured from a great height between 2 containers to improve the flavour by mixing the tea and milk really thoroughly. The smoother texture and frothier top are an added bonus. Heaven knows how they achieve this through a machine, but many Singaporeans are addicted to 3-in-1 packet mixes of both tea and coffee, so this is presumably very similar.

Milo is a chocolate malt drink which is ridiculously popular here, especially when served topped with a great heap of the undissolved powder, making it a milo ‘dinosaur’. Obviously this isn’t going to be possible here, but full marks to Nescafe and SGH for providing a spot of extra comfort to bored and worried locals.

(The mocha, incidentally, was really very good.)


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Coffee Sock

Category : Other

coffee sock 3 sock 5sock 1

This is a venerable tradition in Singapore… land of the hawker stalls whose drinks menus list a mind-boggling variety of choices which often need translation.

Kopi-O? Kopi-C? Kopi Siew Dai or Kosing?? There are so many local variations on a simple cup of caffeine that they could give posh western coffee chains a run for their money.

The key difference, however, lies in the preparation, and you have to bear in mind that these drinks are usually being produced at double speed by an ‘uncle’ in his vest and shorts rather than a smartly uniformed and aproned barista with a gleaming espresso machine.

So – the coffee sock, the ultimate low tech reusable coffee filter, often seen drying on pegs or racks outside the most popular coffee stalls. Not for coffee snobs, but definitely an unmissable local experience!


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Coffee Bags

barako 1 barako 2 barako 4

The only surprising thing about this idea is – considering how long tea bags have been around – that it has not been on sale until now.

Mind you, it reminds me of the days before fancy fruit and flower flavoured gourmet teas, when your basic ‘builder’s tea’ tasted pretty much of floor sweepings from the tea factory.

I should mention at this point that I have been round a tea plantation in Sri Lanka and examined at first hand the different quality of leaves which are produced. What goes into standard tea bags really does look like sawdust in comparison with the hand-picked superior leaves destined for the special brands.

So, I fully expect that future generations of coffee bags will be vastly better than this particular offering, which is quite frankly the coffee version of floor sweepings. One sip had me thinking of that Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown is offered a cup of cocoa that has actually been made by stirring a cup of hot water with a brown crayon.

But, since I bought this in a Jakarta supermarket and have had fun experimenting with it (adding cocoa does not turn this into a drinkable mocha…) I will say that if all you really need is a caffeine fix in the morning, this might well do the trick.


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Selfie Coffee

Category : Food

selfie 1 selfie 2 selfie 3

A long time ago, Haji Lane in Singapore was lined with hostels, where pilgrims would gather before embarking in their hajj. It was right beside the harbour then, but land reclamation and air travel have put an end to that business.

For a while, Haji Lane was just a back alley, home to dustbins and graffiti, but it has since been transformed into a hipster hangout crammed with quirky cafes, bars and boutiques. And coffee shops…

This is where I came across Selfie Coffee, whose name sums up the major reason for dropping by. Using some miracle of modern technology, the friendly staff will loan you a phone loaded with their special app, point you at a table of props, then print the resulting circular snap onto the top of your coffee.

There’s a machine in the kitchen that uses coloured, vegetable oil based, inks, which are perfectly edible in the same way as the food dyes used to print pictures onto birthday cakes. Here, the picture goes onto the thick layer of cream which tops your drink, so the colder the drink, the longer the picture lasts. (Obviously, if you choose a hot mocha, it is going to melt pretty fast)

The menu lists a huge range of possible beverages, with flavours from berry and banana to hazelnut and salted caramel. Prices go from S$7.50 to 8.90 – which is what I paid for my dark chocolate frappé.

It’s a little strange drinking a picture of yourself, but with careful positioning of the straw you can make it last until the bottom of the cup. Of course by then, your face will have crumpled somewhat, but never mind.

This was delightfully silly and I enjoyed the experience immensely.


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3D Foam Art

foam art 1 foam art 3 foam art 2

Those neat hearts and swans barristas swirl onto the top of your coffee are all well and good, but look at this instead! 3D foam art is the latest thing, with cute cats and teddies whipped up from your cappuccino and decorated by hand.

It’s a real labour of love to create these offerings, using heaps of super-frothed milk, then painstakingly adding the details with cocoa and a cocktail stick. At the Hong Kong café where I enjoyed mine, customers were paying several times the regular cost and waiting up to 30 minutes for their drink, but everybody had one and the place was full.

How to destroy such a wonderful piece of art by drinking it? Luckily, the foam shape lasts for ages, long enough for you to sip your drink carefully whilst it sinks gracefully to the bottom of the cup. My cappuccino kitten (above left) was adorable, and well worth the HK$50 I paid for it. The cat on the iced latte belonged to the customer ahead of me, and the bear was at the next table. Comparing foam masterpieces is a great way to make new friends!


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