The Perth native and founder-barista of 40 Hands talks about the Singapore brew scene, coffee education and the difference between indie cafés vs. specialty coffee shops.

What do you think of the Singapore coffee scene?
It has moved at breakneck speed but the specialty scene here still has a long way to go. The average customer is still not aware of the difference between genuine Third Wave coffee shops—using specialty grade coffee, single origin beans and the best gear with properly trained baristas—and quirky indie café; not that there’s anything wrong with the latter! But I think the distinction between specialty coffee shop and indie coffee shop has been missed.

Tell us the secret to running a successful café…
It’s a tough business and I think several newcomers are finding this out the hard way; I know one or two that are about to call it quits. You can do great coffee and put all your passion and resources into it, but unless you put the other pieces of the puzzle together—an interesting space, nice vibe, good food (the most important other factor) and a fast and tight operation—people here won’t buy into it.

How do you think the scene here will evolve?
I look forward to a savvier, better educated customer. We had a few complaints early on that our coffee was too sour. But now, people can recognize brightness and acidity from fresh top quality beans; a delicious and moreish factor in coffee. Customers also understand the coffee they were drinking before was perhaps flat and dull, even if it had a robust upfront flavor, it was not so complex on the palate. That’s due to the rise of better cafés and people getting more exposure to higher grade coffee.

How important is coffee education to you?
It’s very easy for us to get distracted with just keeping the plates spinning in our busy café but to remain true to our aim of promoting specialty coffee, we’re getting more into the educational side with cuppings and coffee appreciation courses. It’s our duty to fly the Third Wave flag.