From colonial times to the new wave of 3rd generation coffee houses, coffee has become a staple drink in Singapore. Love it or hate it, Coffee is undeniably a unique practice in Singapore. The art of coffee making has evolved from the nostalgic “Kopi-C-Siew Dai” to macchiatos found in 3rd generation coffee cafes. The question begs “How did Coffee become an integral part of Singapore culture?” and “Has coffee only recently entered Singaporean lives?”
Firstly, let's treat cultural practices like a “gene”, passed on from one generation to the next and in competition with other “genes” to survive. We shall think of this coffee as a cultural practice. Like a gene, coffee is ingrained into our minds through societal practices passed down and spread throughout Singapore. This helps to keep the coffee memory alive, like how genes are from one generation to the next.
You may be wondering, how can we think of coffee as a “gene” if “genes” undergo natural selection; Do cultural practices act the same way? Indeed! The coffee practice is in fact in competition with other practices. All these practices “compete” to keep their memory alive in the cultural body of people. The Coffee meme does so through the evolution of cumulative culture. The knowledge of bean roasting, methods of making and how Singaporeans consume their coffee over talks helps to develop Singapore’s coffee culture scene. Therefore, a stronger and vibrant coffee scene is built which helps the coffee practice in its competition with existing “competitors”.
No wonder our coffee revenue doubled from 1.2 billion to 2.81 billion (USD) within a decade from 2012. This begs the question “Why coffee? Why not milo? Milo is a beverage for the young and old.”. To start, Singapore’s long history with coffee dates back to when it first arrived as a commodity for trade in the mid-19th century. Soon, coffee was drunk by the people of Singapore and adapted to suit their taste buds. After independence, coffee or more commonly referred to as “kopi” is still widely drunk. This is partially due to its cheap price and our creative adaptations. Look at how unique we used to drink coffee! Therefore, with all the accumulated knowledge of coffee, it’s no wonder there is such a big scene.
During the early periods of the circuit breaker, Dalgona coffee flooded social media and gained the attention of the press. It’s no surprise though, since we are unable to delight ourselves with a barista’s latte art at a cafe. Dalgona is an easier version to satisfy the aesthetics. Dalgona’s fluffy whipped texture adds to the drink’s “cute aesthetics” and almost anyone can do it!
This lends to how coffee during the pandemic had accumulated a new method in the art of coffee “make-ing” (pun intended). Dalgona adds to the variety and reflexivity of coffee as a cultural practice. Thereby, Singapore’s coffee scene is enhanced once more. Our coffee cravings is reflected in areas like Keong Saik Road and Outram. There, evidence of our passion for coffee has encouraged more cafes to open for us to try. Thus, coffee has successfully “imprinted” itself onto our taste buds. While the pandemic stopped the practice of chitchat over a cup of coffee, coffee is resilient. Coffee had developed a way to unit coffee lovers through partaking in novel DIY trends. In a way, we keep trying new coffee styles!
How did coffee become an integral part of our culture? Why do Singaporeans get engrossed with drinking coffee? The practice of coffee as a drink to accompany our meals during idle chit chat with friends gives an added layer of meaning to the “caffeinated drink”. In contemporary society, coffee has become a form of art and service. 3rd wave coffee makers aim to provide the perfect roast at the right temperature. While customers relish in their cup as they sit in comfortable cafes that strive to give you a feeling of “luxury”. The coffee practice in our mind's perception has adapted to mean more than just a drink. Since we give meaning to culture, we have come to see coffee cafes as a place for leisure, chit chat or a niche element of society. The smell, taste and visual appeals of coffee “paralyse” our minds and taste buds as something appealing. The “sensation” of coffee and the psychological hold it has on Singaporeans entices us to continue drinking or adding onto the art of coffee. Hence, we can't help it if the next big or small coffee chain comes to our tiny town. We need to try our macchiato or flat white from the newest addition to our never-ending chain of coffee cafes.