Coffee beans are still roasted at Ho Tit using the eyes, nose, ears and touch to judge when the coffee beans are just right, without of the help of digital algorithms that did everything perfectly with a few swipes of the touch screen.
Ho Tit 好的咖啡 established in 1953, is the last cottage style coffee roasting shop left surviving from pre-Independence Singapore.
The present owner Dominic was born in 1963, 10 years after Ho Tit started operations. 1963 was the year Singapore briefly merged (for 2 years) with Malaysia.
The quaint sounding name Ho Tit is a transliteration of the Hokkien 好的, which means "Good One".
I thought the brand name, and globe and bulge logo are very appealing.
I lived in nearby Ang Mo Kio town in the 1970s and 80s, and ran pass Ho Tit along upper Paya Lebar road many times during my evening runs.
But, this was the first time I stepped inside Ho Tit.
Inside Ho Tit today, there are still many pieces of equipment and paraphernalia from the shop's early years. Many were actually Singapore made, testament of a time when the island was teeming with cottage industries churning out simple machines for businesses.
I still see some of such "Made in Singapore" machinery in small town Malaysia. The Malaysian owners told me that in the 1950s to 70s, they had to go to Singapore to buy equipment and "Made in Singapore" used to mean quality and reliability. "Made in Singapore" would cost a bit more but was value for money.
Ho Tit still roasts it's coffee blends at this pre-independence shop house. Ho Tit only wholesales and retails coffee powder. But, walk-in customers like to sit at the old marble table at the front of the shop while waiting for their coffee powder packets. Smelling the freshly roasted coffee bean fragrance and feasting the eyes on 1960s paraphernalia transports one temporarily to a much romanticised past.
It has a therapeutic effect. I felt so at home, I actually dozed off under the cool and hypnotic hum of these whirling ceiling fans.
Old school Nanyang coffee is Robusta beans mixed with 50% corn and roasted in margarine and sugar. As Robusta beans are too bitter for most people (despite roasting with corn, margarine and sugar), standard Nanyang kopi is further sweetened with condensed milk.
The movement away from "mixed coffee" towards "white coffee" which is pure coffee beans sans (without) corn, margarine and sugar began some time ago and is the mainstay of Ho Tit today.
Ho Tit's roaster for old school Nanyang coffee had been mothballed for a few years already.
Besides Robusta, Ho Tit has also moved into roasting premium Arabica beans.
This is one of Ho Tit's "white coffee" Robusta and Arabica blend, named 心跳. It is a name coined by Dominic's mother, dedicated to Cynthia, Dominic's wife. The name 心跳 means "heart beat" and when pronounced in Hokkien sounds like Cynthia.
The 心跳 blend has a light body, typical of "white coffee". The tastes were gently savoury with a mild piquant sweetness. The aromas were mellow notes of floral and spice.
I love enjoying kopi the old way by dunking crispy cream crackers in the brew.
There is no need to go to Malaysia to get Nanyang "white coffee". We can get it here at Ho Tit, but we really don't know for how long more before the shop lot is taken over for "en bloc development".
Restaurant name: Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory 好的咖啡
Address: 402, Upper Paya Lebar Road, Singapore
Hours: 10:00am to 5:30pm (Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays)
Date visited: 16 Oct 2014
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