12 insider tips we've learned at the Singapore Coffee Festival

If you’ve been too busy noshing at the Singapore Coffee Festival to sit in for the talks and workshops, fret not. Here are some of the best insider tips we picked up.


Photo: Instagram



1. Take note of regional differences

While espresso are indeed the undisputed caffeine boost of choice in Italy, the different regions favour quite different flavour profiles. In general, the northerners prefer their coffee to be lighter and more delicate, whereas the south is all about thick body, rich crema and intense flavours.


2. Order the right drink

If you've asked for a latte and you get a glass of plain milk, well that’s because “latte” literally just means “milk” in Italian.

“Latte macchiato” is the right term to use when you’re in Italy. But know that in Italy, milk coffees are generally a no-no after lunch. To them, milk-based coffees like cappuccinos are strictly a breakfast drink. Most people also believe that taking a milk-based coffee late in the day is bad for digestion. 


3. Keep the surprises coming

According to Damian Burgess, the master trainer of Caffe Vergnano, the “marocchino” is as wild card a drink as you can get. It’s loosely based on a combination of espresso, chocolate and milk, but the permutations are boundless.

For instance, chocolate might take the form of nutella, hot chocolate, or cocoa powder. And your drink might be prepared with hot milk, frothed milk, whipped cream etc. Even in the same city, different cafes might serve wholly different takes on marocchino, so order one everywhere you go to keep it interesting!



Photo: Instagram



4. Play around with spirits

Vodka is the de facto spirit when it comes to espresso martinis, but as a neutral-tasting spirit, it doesn’t add much character. Try a Scotch whisky if you favour a bit of smokiness, or if it’s sweetness you ask, bourbon will do the trick nicely.

And when it comes to rums, Shah Herman, the bar manager at Little Bastard, recommends opting for spiced rums for an unusual accent.


5. Give your milo a boozy upgrade

For an adult take on the childhood drink, Shah suggests shaking up 45ml whisky with 30ml espresso, 30ml condensed milk, and a heaped tablespoon of milo powder. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can also use instant coffee – stir a sachet into half a cup of hot water, let cool, and measure out the desired quantity.



Photo: Instagram



6. How to get your froth right

Hold your milk jug at a 45 degree angle, such that the tip of the jug is pointing up towards the nozzle. Then, position the nozzle to three o’clock (i.e. towards you right), making sure that the nozzle is not hitting the walls of the jug – according to Keith Yee, the barista-trainer at Common Man Coffee Roasters, you want to make it easy for the nozzle to froth the milk.

Keep your other hand touching the base of the milk jug throughout the process. Start frothing with the tip of the nozzle just barely below the milk surface.

As soon as you hear a gurgling sound – that’s usually as fast as two to three seconds later! – push up the milk jug such that the nozzle is submerged deeper, but still not touching the sides of the jug.

When the milk jug gets too hot to touch, remove your hand, count two seconds, then stop the frothing. The whole process will take about 10 seconds in all.


7. The two-step pour

To start, hold your milk jug much higher above the cup and slightly tilted. Pour in a circular motion to let the milk swirl into the coffee. When the cup is about three-quarters full, stop the pour.

Now, shift the milk jug low and close to the surface of the coffee to let the froth slide out. And voila!


Photo: Instagram



8. Wait a minute

According to the folks at Jewel Coffee, 94 degrees Celsius is the ideal water temperature when it comes to making coffee. Since most of us don’t have a fancy kettle that can do precise temperature control, here’s how to approximate that temperature: Bring the water to the boil, wait for one minute, then start brewing.


9. Do a pre-rinse

If filter papers are required for your brewing apparatus – like the V60 or Clever Dripper – always do a quick rinse to prevent “contaminating” your java with a papery taste.

Just set up your apparatus with the filter paper in place, pour hot water all over, then discard the water. (The exception is the Chemex filter, only because its proprietary production method has that issue taken care of.)


10. Let it bloom

For drip brewing methods – when using the V60, Chemex and Kalita Wave – always pour a small amount of water (about 40g of water, based on a 16g ground coffee recipe) over the grounds first and let rest for 30 seconds. This lets the coffee “bloom” and release carbon dioxide (which would otherwise affect the acidity of the coffee).


Photo: Instagram



11. Stick to the rule of the thirds

It’s one of the most important principles in photography. Imagine a tic tac toe-style grid over your camera screen. To make your subjects pop, arrange them at the intersection points as far as possible.

For instance, if you’re doing a flatlay of your brunch table, place your food-porn at these four intersection points, then arrange the rest of the peripheral items – drinks, cutlery – in the remaining spaces.


12. Keep your lines straight

A level, top-down view is essential when it comes to flatlays, so hold your phone or camera parallel to the table. And if things like table edges are part of your composition, make sure the lines are straight or they’ll be distracting.

Still, minor adjustments are inevitable, and that’s when photo-editing apps come in. C. R. Tan, the flatlay master at @xlbcr on Instagram, is a big fan of Snapseed – free on Android and iOS – as it’s powerful and easy to use. He recommends starting your edits with the Transform function to adjust the tilt and angle.

Next, do your cropping, fine-tune your exposure and saturation, before finally moving onto VSCO (also free on Android and iOS) to add artsy filters. One other bonus: Snapseed’s Selective Tool lets you spot-treat specific areas.