“Jarvis – he has this for sure” says the guy beside me, almost leaping over the bar to get a better look at the battle raging in view, a battle to decide who makes the best coffee in Singapore.
Thirty-two of the city state’s best baristas have converged on the recently remodelled Hotel Jen Tanglin to contest their hard won skills in latte art in the Next Jen Coffee Barista Showdown.
The art of coffee
Latte art is the skill of manipulating the pour of milk onto a shot of espresso to produce artistic images. It’s part science (understanding how milk breaks down when it’s super heated with steam) part physics (making sure the pour is controlled so that foam follows milk and the layers of the coffee form a canvas for the finished piece) and part artistic flair.
Looking over the 1st round of 32 beautifully presented cups, the competition looks fierce. Among Singapore’s caffeinated elite, latte art attracts a loud and devoted following, the uber-modern kitchen-on-the-go heaves with local supporters and competitors alike.
With each pour the combatants present the judges with their cup. Judges grade by numbers based on the texture, consistency and detail of the poured image. As results are called out, the crowd goes nuts – cheers and hoots rebound off the walls, applause for the winners and friendly back pats for the vanquished.
It’s like being at a breakdance championship, complete with music.
“It’s the art itself – it has to be beautiful”, says competitor Christopher Sococ. By day Christopher’s the barista-in-residence at Mario Batali’s Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands. By night though he’s donned a batman t-shirt (the theme of the evening is superheroes) and like the Dark Knight he has come to throw wrong-doers to the grounds.
I ask Christopher who he recommends for the best roast, “definitely Common Man roasters” he says, “they’re the best for quality”. Also of the highest quality, Hotel Jen has chosen to support bijoux local roasters by selecting Nomad the Gallant as the in-house brew for the hotel.
It’s refreshing to see a major hotel chain visibly supporting local businesses and emerging culture. While standing back from the fray I notice guests drifting over to see what’s happening. So often, it’s hard for those traveling for business or pleasure to tap into local sub-cultures. Here, Hotel Jen has brought local culture to their guests – now that’s service.
The final (g)round
The final showdown sees two pop up coffee barons face-off – Jarvis from Kinsmen Coffee and Abbas from The Nomad Travels.
The MC chooses a specific art-piece for the final round – a rosetta (commonly known as the fern). Each competitor must make 6 lattes with the classic rosetta finish. Each cup needs to be as identical as the last and as beautiful as possible.
Tensions are heightened as the judges reject the first four cups but Jarvis and Abbas soon hit their straps. A brief silence reigns while the judges consider each contestant’s efforts and … Jarvis has it, the crowd shows their rowdy respect and laud Abbas as well.
Finally, I sate my craving for a coffee after hours of smelling freshly roasted beans.
It’s just as good as you’d expect.