This is a mocha latte?

Supposedly, a mocha latte from the cafe at City College of New York.

The three times I’ve ordered a mocha latte, I’ve received something that looks like this. You’re doing it wrong, CCNY cafe.

No Studying in Singapore Cafés

Singapore’s a pretty hot place, and in the heat of the day, a lot of people want to move to cooler locations like the malls, cafes or libraries.  Generally it’s a place where a person can make a small purchase and then occupy space for an extended period of time.

This is also something of a problem. If you go to any Starbucks, or especially a McDonald’s, you’ll see tons of people sitting around with open textbooks, notebooks, and/or laptops. Usually, they’ll have a half full cup on the table, so they can look like they’re sitting there legitimately. They’ll stay there for hours, often with a group of friends so they can hold the spot even if they go to the bathroom. The problem with this is that it takes up seating space that other customers may want to use to actually sit down and eat. It’s so much of a problem that some restaurants, like The Coffee Bean, have put out notices on the tables alerting people that loitering to study is not acceptable, as seen in the pictures included with this post.

I suppose it’s a big problem with no easy solution because of Singapore’s climate and the cultural habits of the people here. What I mean is that air conditioning is seen as a luxury still, rather than something you just use to keep your house comfortable. Most families only turn on their air conditioners at night while they’re sleeping, so during the day it’s extremely hot indoors. In one way this is good because it promotes healthy, outdoor activities. In another way it’s bad because you can’t really write papers or study when it’s so hot that your hand is sweating and smearing your ink. So, people flock to where it’s cool.

Another thing I noticed is that while most every mall in Singapore is equipped with wireless routers that let you hook up to wireless@SG for free (if you register), there isn’t any free seating available. Malls in the US often have a large amount of benches available for shoppers to take a break on. Or, for bored husbands to sit down on while wives rummage through another store! As I walked around Tampines 1, the newest mall in Singapore, I realized that there was only one indoor bench for people to sit on, and it was in an undesirable location: right across from the entrance to the bathrooms on the lower level by the Subway. Plus, it didn’t look very comfortable. It was just a stone bench.

Because of these two factors, people are driven to find better ways to accommodate themselves while they study. What better way to stay cool and have a comfy place to sit than by buying something cheap and lounging about in a booth or at a table in a cafe or restaurant. That’s especially true in a place like Teadot in the new mall, which even provides a few wall outlets for people whose laptops are running low on battery power.

You may be wondering why these people don’t just go to the library, but there’s only so much space in a library. Plus, you can’t take breaks to eat and drink and you can’t have conversations with your friends there. The cafes and restaurants are just more appealing.

So, how do you solve this? I don’t see the habit of only using air conditioners at night changing any time soon, especially with the cost of electricity here. Not to mention the standard homes here aren’t laid out appropriately for it, unless you want to sequester yourself in your bedroom all day. I think the easiest way to solve the problem would be to provide more public seating in malls that have a small table area. Or perhaps to build new libraries larger, with more seating areas and more wall outlets.

What do you think?

OrganiCafeXperience & Teadot

Yesterday was my wife and I’s 1st anniversary.  It was sort of a shame that she had to work, but we still tried to make the most of the evening by having a nice dinner.  We went to the bottom floor of Century Square Mall to OrganiCafeXperience.  She didn’t really know where we were going.  She loves the place, but it’s a bit pricey so we don’t go often and haven’t been there in about 7 months or so.  I think she assumed I wanted to get something from the pet store down there, but then I just stopped and shuffled her into the waiting area to be seated.  She had a great smile on her face!

I’m sure you can tell from the name of the place, but OrganiCafeXperience is an organic foods restaurant.  Like I said before, it’s a bit pricey but the food is very much worth it.  After eating at this place, I wonder if all food would taste as good if it were grown naturally, without chemicals.  Most organic foods I’ve eaten do have a cleaner, richer taste to them, but anything organic comes with a premium cost, so it’s more of a treat than a norm for us, and for our families.

We sat down and took some time to browse through the menu. We decided to start with an appetizer, the Wild Mushroom Soup, along with garlic bread, which you can see I couldn’t wait to take a bite out of. The soup is very creamy and has small and large pieces of button and shitake mushrooms in it. The taste is really rich and I could see myself making a lunch out of just one big bowl of it. The garlic bread was icing on the cake. It was crispy and moist at the same time and was made with real butter and chopped garlic. I don’t know how they do it. I always had to cheat and use some garlic powder to get my garlic bread to taste anywhere near as good as this was. Our bowls of soup didn’t last long! We devoured them!

After that, it was time to move on to the main courses.  I chose a beef tenderloin dish and my wife chose a dish with lamb.  The beef tenderloin dish was delicious.  The two pieces of meat came on a bed of noodles with a brown sauce and was topped by two grilled tomatoes and a fluff of alfalfa.  One thing I love about the food here, and that’s maybe common with organic food, is that I could taste all of the different ingredients.  The alfalfa was crisp and vibrant.  The beef tasted great.  The broccoli was crunchy and fresh.  Even the noodles had their own distinct, enjoyable taste.  Plus, there were bits of ham mixed in with the pasta that added to the flavor.  I cleaned my plate.  Best of all, the portion was just the right size.  Even after clearing my plate entirely, I felt full but not stuffed.  I tried some of my wife’s lamb, but she was enjoying it so much that I didn’t take much.  In exchange I offered her some of the beef from my plate.  She said it was delicious.

The downsides to this restaurant is that the location isn’t that great.  The restaurant is separated into two areas.  There’s the preparation area and the storefront which is situated in a storefront along the wall.  Then there’s the seating area which is a separate, sectioned off area along the escalator that leads down into the lower level.  It’s not great ambiance, but the food makes up for it.  Also, the drinks are nothing to get excited about.  We actually didn’t order any drinks this time, because the first time we ate there they weren’t only unimpressive, but rather bad.

So, after dinner, we moved on to Teadot in Tampines 1 mall to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of a cafe and sip on… ya, some tea!  I had a Royal Earl Grey Tea Latte, and my wife had a drink called Iced Dragon’s Brew.  It was made with oolong tea and some citrus I think.  I’ll have to go over the menu again.  I fully intend to go back.  It’s one of my favorite hang-outs for beating the heat.

We sat at Teadot for about 40 minutes, sipping our tea and using the free wi-fi.  Then we wandered around and did a little window shopping.  It wasn’t long before 10 PM came around and the mall was closing up, so we headed home.

Our 1st anniversary evening was nothing extravagant, but it was tasty, and we had fun!  We’ll be following up on our celebrations this weekend at Sentosa Island, where we plan on riding the luge and checking out Underwater World.  Expect photos!

McCafe: I’m Not Lovin’ It

A few weeks ago, a guy I communicate with regularly on Twitter asked me if I’d been to McCafe and tried the coffee there.  He’s not much of a coffee drinker but I think I was complaining about Starbucks prices and he mentioned it as an option.  I’d never really considered going to McDonald’s or their McCafe for ‘premium’ coffee before.  I mean, how great could a latte or cappuccino from McDonald’s be?

He was telling me that a lot of his friends go there instead of Starbucks because the prices are cheaper.  I happened to be in the mall at the time (using Twitter on my phone) so I stopped by the McCafe there to have a look for myself.  I wasn’t impressed.

I’m not sure if this is another case of Singapore overpricing anything that even hints at being a luxury item, or if it’s simply a matter of currency conversion and the fact that this is an imported item.  Either way, the prices didn’t seem too much different from what I could find at a Starbucks here, so I kept going.

Yesterday I decided I might as well give it a shot.  I wanted something cold and coffee-like, and I happened to be by this same McCafe in White Sands Shopping Mall in Pasir Ris, so I walked up to the counter and ordered their “double chocolate frappe”.  Ok, so that’s not exactly a coffee drink, but it should still have some coffee in it.

The presentation was nice.  It certainly looked good:

So, it was time for the real test.  The taste test.  I took a sip through the straw and… fail.  It was watery tasting.  Even if it had a low coffee content it should have still tasted … thick… since it’s a frappe, but what I tasted most was crushed ice.  There were a few pieces of chocolate shavings in the bottom of the cup that were nice, but overall the drink was unsatisfying.  I couldn’t even taste coffee in it.  Is there any coffee in it?  I’m pretty sure that chocolate frappes from Starbucks have espresso in them.  Maybe I set my standards too high.  I was hoping for something like this McCafe in Italy.  Nonetheless, that’s the last time I’ll be going to McCafe for fancy coffee drinks.  I’ll stick with Coffee Bean or Starbucks when I get that urge.  Still, though, the best coffee I’ve had so far from a restaurant is the plain old Kopi O from the hawkers.

I’ll have to try to get out more and find some real premium coffee shops.