Taobao product recommendation – automatic coffee machine

This is one of the most expensive items I have purchased on Taobao. As with most things on Taobao, it is cheaper than the equivalent coffee machine sold in the stores. The closest competitor is the De’Longhi Magnifica S which sells for around S$900. At 2980 Yuan (S$605), the Thermos is a no-brainer choice. The pricing fluctuates, but the 2980 is about the lowest i have seen so far. You might want to purchase from the official Thermos Taobao store if the price is the same.

Continue reading Taobao product recommendation – automatic coffee machine

Qoo10 product recommendation – Imex CR-100 coffee bean roaster

Doing home coffee bean roasting isn’t so popular in Singapore, so it’s not easy to buy a home coffee bean roaster machine. Thanks to Qoo10, we have access to Korean made machines, and Imex is an established brand. Specifically, the CR-100 is a good entry level bean roaster. It is a fluid bed roaster (hot air keeps the beans moving while roasting), which is supposed to produce an even roast.

Continue reading Qoo10 product recommendation – Imex CR-100 coffee bean roaster

Taobao product recommendation – Coffee filter

My coffee sock became worn out and I looked for a replacement on Taobao. You could say the options are plentiful now because the Chinese are drinking coffee. Not kopi, but filtered coffee, and of course Espresso. Well, a coffee sock isn’t actually cheaper on Taobao than what you can get in Malaysia, where it sells for just RM2 (S$0.68), but I did find something interesting – a metallic filter, that could potentially last forever.

Replacement long overdue
Continue reading Taobao product recommendation – Coffee filter

Jakarta Trip Report Card

“Macet” is the Indonesian word I learned during this trip, and it is an important word which you’ll likely hear much when you are on holiday in Indonesia. It means traffic jam. Yes, expect to be stuck in traffic jams for a significant portion of your travel. A very significant portion.

In my case, and I suspect for most people too, the worst jam would be the one enroute to the airport for your flight out. Departing at 230pm from the SCBD in Jakarta, we were caught in a one hour jam just to travel 5km to get onto the toll road. For the rest of our itinerary as well, we were also caught in jams to get past most little towns. Continue reading Jakarta Trip Report Card

Johor Durian trip

It is July and it is time for more Durians! This time we ventured further north, all the way to Malacca.

Information on the whereabouts of Durians, whether Durian orchards or stalls selling Durian are scarce as ever. My first target location was an organic Durian orchard near Batu Pahat. Believe it or not, I managed to determine the location of this place based on the markings on a lamppost. No other clues were given except the name of the road and a photo of the roadside. The photo carried the caption “very easy to find us”. Yeah, right.

Undeterred, I started searching using Google Street View, traversing the road, Jalan Sungai Suloh, where they’re said to be located. I found a patch of land that looked promising, and upon comparing the markings on the lamppost, to my amazement, they were a match! Continue reading Johor Durian trip

Taobao product recommendation – Coffee plunger sieve

You can buy just about anything but love from Taobao. I had no doubt i could find a replacement for the torn and tattered sieve on my Coffee plunger, which i use daily for making Kopi. The keyword to search is “咖啡滤网片”, and i managed to find this seller.

I guess the sizes of plungers must be pretty standard, as one of the three sizes available for the sieve was a perfect fit. The diameter of the sieve has to be slightly bigger than the actual diameter of the plunger flask, since it curves upwards at the outer edge. At 3.8 Yuan (S$0.80) per piece, it is dirt cheap. With the availability of this sieve from Taobao, i can imagine my plunger will last me forever.

Product recommendation – Kuissential Evengrind coffee bean grinder

I’ve finally received the coffee bean grinder i ordered from Kickstarter last year, after a delay for more than half a year, plus another half a year wait for friends from the US to bring it over. Continue reading Product recommendation – Kuissential Evengrind coffee bean grinder

Sourcing for coffee beans

Some time back i wrote about buying coffee beans on Amazon. Well, if you did a little more homework, you would have realized that, unless you’re buying coffee beans sold by Amazon themselves, buying on Amazon might mean paying a premium over the seller’s actual pricing to cover the transaction fee Amazon charges the seller. Some of the sellers actually host their own website to sell their products, but also sell on the Amazon platform as an additional sales channel. The customers are the ones paying the additional cost anyway.

For example, this Kona Coffee cost a total of US$38.50 on Amazon, inclusive of shipping, but only US$35 with free shipping on the seller’s own website. By the way, this was a very fragrant coffee, though not that spectacular in terms of taste. On the other hand, the Dark Guatemalan i recommended in my earlier posting is the same price on the seller – Fresh Roasted Coffee’s website. In this case, buying from Amazon presents the advantage of choice to purchase items other than coffee to make up the total of $49 required to get free domestic shipping (whereas you need to buy $35 worth of coffee i.e. at least 4 X 12 oz to get free shipping from Fresh Roasted Coffee). Continue reading Sourcing for coffee beans

How to make kopi

When i first started drinking kopi at Kopitiams, a cup of kopi costs 60 cents. Some time around 2005 or 2006, if my memory doesn’t fail me, there was a price hike to 80 cents. Well, nowadays, as you know, it typically costs S$1 or S$1.10. Have you ever wondered how much a cup kopi really costs (in terms of the raw material only)? I don’t have a definitive answer, but i would guesstimate that it’s around 30 cents.

I used to patronize coffee chains such as Ya Kun, but have since cut back (to almost zero) due to the ever increasing price. They have gone from S$1.40 to S$1.80 in a very short span of time (probably just 3 years or so), and i thought that was too much. I’m very sure the raw material cost for such a small cup of coffee is no more than 30 cents, especially when they buy in bulk. So i thought, why not make kopi myself?

Making kopi is really simple. If you drink kopi, you must have seen how it’s done. You simply need to soak ground coffee in hot water and mix it with sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk – that’s all there is to it, really! For brewing kopi at home, you don’t need any special tool, except a “sock”. I got my 2 Ringgit sock from a neighbourhood kitchenware shop in Malaysia. It’s not so good as it doesn’t filter fine coffee particles so well. It’s high time for me to find a upgraded replacement but I have been lazy to do so.

My well used sock

The other tool that does help a lot is a French press. It keeps the ground coffee in place when pouring out the coffee, and this practically eliminates the occurrence of heavy ground coffee sediments in my coffee, which I get if I relied on my sock alone. Also, this way, you don’t get a lot of coffee ground poured into the sock, which would drastically slow down the flow of coffee through the sock. I suspect there is yet another advantage – you get better aroma if the coffee flowed through the sock quickly, since more of the oil in the coffee flows through rather than get absorbed by the sock.

Ground coffee kept from flowing out of the French press

Here are the steps in making kopi:

1. Boil water. While boiling water, put ground coffee into the French press. I would estimate that the amount of ground coffee to use is about 1/6th of the volume of the kopi you’re making. You will need to do trial and error to find out the amount of coffee that works for you. I do like my coffee slightly stronger.

2. The recommended temperature to brew coffee is 90-95°C. If you used boiling water (100°C) on the ground coffee, it will not taste good (likely to turn sour). If you wanted to be precise, you could use a thermometer, but here’s what i found to be the most reliable method: pour a little room-temperature water onto the ground coffee until it is fully soaked, then pour the just-boiled water. This way, the coffee is guaranteed to be not treated to boiling water.

3. Stir (i like to use a chopstick to do this) and cover (without pushing down the plunger of course). Let it sit for a few minutes.

Chopstick works well for stirring

4. In the meantime, you can get the milk ready. I use 2.5 spoons of evaporated milk and 1.5 spoons of sweetened condensed milk for my large mug of coffee (probably 330ml). Again it takes some experimentation to find the quantity that will suit your taste buds. I don’t add any sugar, but you might find that you need to. Since the milk is stored in the fridge, when you use it to make coffee, it needs to be warmed up, otherwise the coffee will end up being lukewarm. I do so using the microwave oven, very handy.  My preferred way of warming the milk is to heat the mug in a pot that is filled with inch-high water, for about a minute. This way, the mug itself also gets heated up, which ensures the Kopi will not cool down too much when poured into the mug. This is similar to pouring hot water into and around the cup like they do in a real kopitiams.

Warming the milk (and mug)

5. When you’re done preparing the milk, your coffee should also be about ready. Gently press the plunger down, then pour the coffee through the sock into the mug with the warm milk. If you’re making just a standard cup (250ml) of kopi, the volume of coffee from the French press is probably enough to fill the cup. In my case, where i make a big mug of kopi, the volume of coffee from the French press only fills 2/3 of the mug. Instead of just adding hot water to the kopi, i pour hot water into the french press. This way, you will have a more complete extraction of the coffee. You must have noticed that the way kopi is made in a Kopitiam is they add hot water. That is because use a super concentrated coffee. Adding hot water ensures that the coffee is served really hot. This does not apply at home when you’re just making one cup at a time. To make concentrated coffee, you’ll need to use a lot of ground coffee. It doesn’t make sense to, afterwards, dilute the coffee with hot water. What you want to do is to use just the right amount of ground coffee that can give you the strength of coffee that you want, and to extract as completely as possible from the ground coffee you have used.

6. In step 5, your kopi is actually done, but in case you were interrupted during the kopi making process, or you forgot to warm your milk, then you can still fix it by heating it up in the microwave oven pot. This is akin to adding hot water like it’s done in a Kopitiam. In fact, if you’ve taken too long to drink you kopi, you can always pop it into a microwave oven the pot to heat it up again. Lukewarm kopi should not be tolerated.

kopiHomemade kopi

Milk Storage
Regarding storage of the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, well, after they have been de-canned, they both need to be stored in a fridge. For the sweetened condensed milk, you can just use any container, as it keeps very well in the fridge due to the high sugar content. Evaporated milk tends to spoil (curdling happens and the taste is altered) within a week even when kept in the fridge, using a normal container. To make it keep better, i store it in a mason jar under vacuum. This way, it lasts more 2 weeks without much noticeable change in taste.

Mason jar for the evaporated milk and a porcelain container for the sweetened condensed milk

Sourcing for coffee powder
If you’ve read this article up to this point, you might be one of those who would get serious about making kopi at home. I suspect you do not have any idea, though, about where to get the most essential item needed for making kopi – coffee powder. Part of the reason i felt motivated to make kopi at home was someone (an ang moh in fact) mentioning in a Facebook comment that a particular coffee roaster in Singapore was “best in the world”. Renowned food blogger Leslie Tay recommends them as well – Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory. Well, i am now their regular customer and i highly recommend that you check them out. They are a very friendly couple. Update: these days I get my coffee powder from the wet market where they cost $6 for halk kg. Ho Tit is too expensive. I like the coffee powder from Hougang Hainanese Village Centre, the ground floor shop at the very corner near the car park ramp.

kopintoastKopi with toasted homemade bread

Amazon product recommendation – barista tools and coffee beans

My coffee adventure started with the purchase of a Krups espresso machine, which became the subject of some of my first few blog entries. The purchase of the espresso machine was triggered by the gift of a pack of coffee powder from Ipoh. You must be wondering how a pack of coffee powder from Ipoh (the traditional Kopi type coffee powder) can be used in an espresso machine. You’re right, it couldn’t. I actually did try, and, well, you can imagine the result you get with very coarse ground coffee in an espresso machine. Sadly, not too long after i had the machine, it went back into the box and got stashed away for more than 5 years. I guess my taste buds were not yet ready to appreciate coffee for what it is.

I don’t remember what was the motivation, but out it came from the box and it sat on my kitchen table top again, a year and a half ago. I decided to do it right this time. Now that i have proper filtered water (the absence of which was noticeably affecting the taste of the coffee previously), i was sure i will arrive at a better result. I got serious – i decided to upgrade the tools. Back then (yes just a year and a half ago), the only logical place I thought I could source for the tools was Amazon. Now, well, you know, anything can be found on taobao, for a fraction of Amazon’s price. My recent one day transit in Beijing has revealed to me that China is now a serious coffee consuming nation, so it’s no surprise that taobao has a proliferation of coffee related products.

The tamper definitely had to be upgraded. I’ve read more than once people referring to the plastic tamper that normally comes with an espresso machine as “silly”. Now that i’ve had some experience with tamping the coffee powder, i concur. I got myself a stainless steel tamper, because the ones with a wooden handle cost more than I was willing to cough up. Now that you can buy from taobao, well, nothing is really out of reach. So, contrary to the title of this article, when it comes to buying a tamper, i would suggest looking it up on taobao. The search term is 咖啡压粉器. Quick check on price – CNY 35 to 200.

The next item I thought I should get was a coffee bean grinder. I initially thought i should get an electric grinder. After reading some reviews however, i learned that a blade grinder may not be a good idea, since the stainless steel blades may impart a metallic taste to the ground coffee, and it may be difficult to get the exact grind size you want. Someone recommended that a manual ceramic burr grinder is the best option. I took the advice and got the Hario Mini, from Amazon. This product is sold at departmental stores in Singapore, but Amazon’s was slightly cheaper, even after factoring in the shipping cost. Now, however, contrary to the title of this article again, i doubt Amazon is the best place to get a grinder. You can find the Hario Mini at a lower price on taobao. Search for Hario or the general term 咖啡磨豆机. Price check – CNY 115 to 170 for the Hario. By the way, at this point of time, i am actually waiting for a new grinder to arrive. I must say that manual grinding can be a little tiring, but that’s a compromise i’m willing to make to get fresher coffee. There are electric burr grinders in the market, but the reviews are not so positive, UNLESS you’re willing to spend an equal or higher amount of money on a grinder than you do on an espresso machine, in which case you might get something decent.

The final tool I got was a pitcher for frothing milk. Ok, I must have got the name of my article wrong, because taobao is again the place to get the pitcher now. The term to search for in taobao is 咖啡拉花杯. Quick check on price – CNY 13 to 150.

A group photo for my tools. The weight of the tamper helps. I would imagine that a wooden handle will give a more comfortable grip.

With the tools in place, there is one final item needed to make coffee – the beans! This is one item that doesn’t make sense to get from taobao, because China has to import the beans as well. Amazon is a good place to buy the beans, but there are some things to note. Firstly, coffee is not eligible for the free AmazonGlobal Saver shipping. You will have to ship via a forwarding service. Also, the coffee sold on Amazon may be more expensive than if you bought directly from the seller’s own website, so you will have to do proper homework before you buy. I must have sampled no less than ten different varieties of coffee from Amazon. I think I could recommend this one – Dark Guatemalan, good taste and good value. Coffee beans sold in Singapore are generally quite expensive (and they tend to be already ground), so I think it’s worthwhile getting them from the US, from Amazon or other websites.