A cup of coffee today as it might have been yesterday

14 04 2010

Sometimes, a chance encounter with a person or a chance discovery of a place or a building can be just so delightful. This was so on one of my wanderings through the streets of a Singapore that time has left behind, when the discovery of a charming little coffee shop, nestled in an obscure corner of a part of Singapore that I know little of and set amongst quaint streets and buildings that are reminiscent of a time we have long discarded, seemed almost like a godsend to a soul longing to be transported back to that forgotten time.

A cup of kopi-O to start the day.

Seeing that little coffee shop, sitting quietly as if wanting to be overlooked, brought back memories of the wonderful kopi-tiam (coffee shops) of old, where the robust aroma of thick black coffee would greet the morning crowd who, sitting on the rounded wooden chairs by the heavy marble top tables, would greedily devour the simple fair of roti-kaya, kopi-O, and soft boiled eggs.

The coffee shop at the corner of Clive Street and Upper Weld Road.

Kopi-O served in a cup reminiscent of the coffee shops of old.

One morning, early for work, I decided to venture back, perhaps in an attempt to persuade the little shop to bring me back to the days that I so miss, sitting down at a table set amongst rickety marbled top tables of yesteryear that were a little worse for wear, sans the rounded wooden chairs that would have gone with it. Ignoring the signs of today in the newer generations of tables and plastic chairs that were interspersed with the tables of old, and perhaps the dates on that the calendars that were also reminiscent of those of yesteryear hanging on the tiled walls reminding me of where I was in time, it did seem for a while that I was back to a kopi-tiam far removed from ones that today attempt to recreate the charm of the kopi-tiam of old with sterile and air-conditioned outlets that seem so necessary in our modern world, with modern prices to go with it.

Preparing a cup of coffee in the traditional way.

There I sat patiently as the smell of roti being toasted over the red-hot ambers of a charcoal fire as is traditionally done, filled the air, mixed with the aroma of kopi-O being brewed with the help of the customary coffee sock blackened through use, into a metal pot with a long spout placed over a grill to keep warm over the same charcoal fire. Observing the insides of the kopi-tiam, I was delighted with the sight of objects that brought the charms of the old kopi-tiam back to me: coffee-socks slung next to the preparation counter with shelves lined with coffee cups and glasses; a big bowl sugar resting on the preparation area; empty condensed milk cans with holes punctured on the semi opened lids through which a loop of raffia is attached waiting to be used as take-away containers for coffee; white tiled walls with old-styled calendars resting against them ….

Coffee socks hanging by the preparation counter.

Loaves of roti (bread) lying in wait.

Eggs to be boiled.

Even calendars reminiscent of the calendars of old are displayed on the walls.

Another calendar reminiscent of the calendars of old displayed on the wall.

Very reminiscent of the days of old - when coffee is taken away not in a plastic bag, but in a washed condensed milk tin.

The roti-kaya was served as it would have been, lightly toasted and darkened slightly by the charcoal ambers, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with a thin layer of kaya (a pasty sweet spread of coconut jam) and a generous slice of butter wedged in between two slices of toast cut in two. For a while, I was back in the kopi-tiam of old, but alas, it was only for that fleeting pause from what was today, sitting there in the midst of the reminders of yesterday.

Kopi-O and roti-kaya.

One more thing that I remembered on the coffee shops of yesteryear was seeing men gathered around the tables, with shirts unbuttoned or undershirts rolled up above their tummies, slurping coffee from saucers! 🙂



5 responses

30 05 2010

It’s funny how one becomes more nostalgic as one gets older. When I was younger, I used to detest being dragged by my parents to some stuffy old coffee shop when the likes of Coffee Bean beckoned. Now, I wonder if our traditional coffee shops will still be around in 1 or 2 decades’ time.

30 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes it is funny 365days2play. Somehow as we age, we start to feel for places and things that didn’t seem to matter when we were younger. We didn’t have the likes of Coffee Bean back then and the coffee shops were perhaps the Coffee Beans of those days … it was only later that A&W and McDonald’s came along … so on that I guess we didn’t have much to choose from, and the coffee shop was the place to hang out in. It won’t be long I guess before we would have lost our taste for the traditional coffee shops – not many of the really traditional ones are left … and many have had to adapt evolving into the Ya Kuns and Killineys that we have chosen to take to these days …

10 07 2011

Hi Jerome!

I first knew abt this place through the documentary movie, old places. Would love to visit this old sch coffeeshop till I recently found out that it has closed down! Is this true?:(

11 07 2011
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Yes, it was Royston Tan himself that noted that it has since closed … such a shame that it is … 😦

19 11 2014

Does anyone know where is the kopi uncle gone to? Where is his new location?

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