Last night I had some relatives over for dinner. They are visiting from Melbourne and have recently retired, but they spent the last part of their professional lives working in Singapore and Hong Kong. We got chatting, as you do, about life, work and family — and inevitably the conversation turned into an analysis of the coffee situation in Asia and, more specifically, Singapore. As it does, obviously.
I hate conversations turning all high brow, but I did have a particular interest in hearing their point of view which accurately reflected the coffee scene in Singapore until a couple of years ago. If anyone had occasion to visit Asia in the first decade of this century, you’d probably share a similar view — that it was virtually impossible to find a decent coffee anywhere. Needless to say that I revelled in the opportunity to explain that all this was changing, with no better example than Common Man Cafe in Martin Rd.
Common Man Cafe typifies what is possible when you combine freshly birthed passion with a will to challenge the status quo. I’m no interior designer, so I won’t rabbit on about the fit out. Suffice it to say that the area devoted to showcasing coffee is akin to the Taj Mahal being a monument to the tomb of the Maharajah’s first wife. It’s really hard to imagine what else could have been done in a physical way to say any more emphatically. ‘We are very serious about coffee.’ Like the Taj, the espresso and brew bar are made of marble. It’s beautiful and it’s big and it smacks you in the face as soon as you walk up the stairs and through the front door — provided you arrive at a time when the view of the bench is not being obscured by the massive audience sitting up at the brew bench watching the spectacle of coffee being brewed in marvellous and wondrous ways.
The coffee is very good — and it’s not just good relative to anything else you can find around Singapore or the rest of Asia. It’s very good full stop. The coffee is brewed by people who really care about what they are doing and are willing to engage in conversation with anyone, enthusiast or expert, about anything from their coffee ‘philosophy’ to their brewing technique.
It helps that Common Man roast their own coffee. It means that they are able to offer a wide array of interesting single origins at their optimum brew date and with roast profiles which are appropriate to the brew style. That’s not something you see every day, anywhere.
Obviously I’m ‘coffee biased’, but I’m also known to enjoy my food so not mentioning their food offering would be remiss of me. Here’s my problem: Breakfast menu, I can’t decide. Lunch menu, still can’t decide. So, to solve this, I’ve just been working my way through the whole menu — from top to bottom. I guess this means that I’m going to have to increase the frequency of my visits before they decide to change up the menu!
Places like Common Man Cafe are rare, but against the backdrop of a culture which has only recently been introduced to specialty coffee, the life they are breathing into the coffee scene in Singapore is quite an achievement. As their name suggests, they are doing this without being pretentious. They are indeed humble, common people who are willing to talk to anyone one who’s interested, to walk the coffee journey with them. Put a visit to Common Man at the top of your ‘What to do in Singapore’ list and be ready to get seriously caffeinated.
Common Man Cafe
22 Martin Road, #01-00
Monday — Sunday 8:00am — 7:00pm