For the better part of a year I couldn't talk much about the project I was hired to work on in Singapore. It was killing me, because so many of its components - Modbar! Steampunk! EK43! The best roasters in the world (according to me)! Sexy design! - were on the leading edge, and I was excited to be right in the middle of it.
The New Black is an incredibly ambitious attempt to revolutionize takeaway coffee in one of the world's most robust economies. Singapore is sleek, beyond clean, and obsessed with what's new. Singaporeans have been known to line up around the block for a much-blogged about restaurant, and have wholeheartedly embraced specialty coffee. The island is studded with amazing roasters and cafes that would sit well among the best of Sydney and San Francisco, including Common Man Coffee Roasters, Nylon, Papa Pahleta, and Strangers' Reunion, to name but a few. Sprudge has a great recent overview of some of my faves.
Instead of adding another roasting operation to Singapore's already top-notch community, The New Black - headed up by designer Phoa Kia Boon and partner Spencer Forhart, of 28 Hong Kong Street success - decided to curate a collection of the best roasters from around the world. And they hired me to do it.
Along with my obvious picks like Olympia and London's Workshop, I went on a fantasy binge, scoring Tim Wendelboe, George Howell, Sweet Bloom, Small Batch, and Verve, among others, for our concept store opening. Those first few weeks of coffee samples rolling in were some of the best I've spent in my career. I was given the enviable task of compiling a specialty coffee candy store, and it was pretty much solely up to me to pick which offerings to carry. Plus, the menu is designed to rotate and feature new roasters, further allowing me unlimited access to everything I had just spent a year in Saigon only dreaming I could score a few dozen grams of.
A huge part of my job was hiring and training a team of baristas who could work a Steampunk while making eye contact. I lucked out with our flagship baristas, all of whom are among the top of their class in Singapore and have given The New Black an immediate reputation for customer service.
Singapore is widely acknowledged as being populated with workaholics , hence, sick coffee bars in the lobbies of corporate buildings. The New Black plans to crop up in the CBD where office types are keen to score high quality brew without having to venture out to the specialty shops that dot the more affordable neighborhoods.
The culminating experience of my year in Singapore was a valuable one, teaching me more than I could have learned on my own about retail and the wider Asian market outside of Vietnam. What's happening in this part of the world is exciting, and I can't wait to see what comes next.