“ONE KOPI-C KOSONG! Who ordered one kopi-c kosong, takeaway?”
She might be just 29 years old, but Faye Sai has the traits you’ll expect of a seasoned hawker. The feisty marketing graduate joined her brother, Jack, 32, to take over a family business that dates back 81 years ago, when their grandfather started San Hai Yuan coffee house in Keppel.Coffee Break was first established by their father in Boon Tat Street, before it was moved to its current location on the second floor of Amoy Street Food Centre in 2008.
Together with Faye’s twin sister, Anna, who joined the duo in October 2015, the siblings pull nearly 700 cups of robusta-based brew daily, using the traditional coffee sock. To make their lattes, a shot of arabica is added for extra fragrance, along with a mix of evaporated and condensed milk that is heated gently over a warmer. Flavoured syrups like macadamia nut or mint are used to create drinks inspired by their travels. Sea salt mint latte, for instance, was conceived after Jack went to Iran for a holiday and tried sea salt mint-flavoured yogurt drinks.
“To me, traditional kopi is good for making lattes because it has a stronger body and richer mouth feel, so it holds up well to the syrup flavours,” says Faye. “We also use evaporated milk instead of fresh milk because (the latter) will thin out the coffee and make it weak. Evaporated milk is thicker.”
Because they use the word “latte” on their menu, however, Faye says that many customers have come expecting coffee from an espresso machine. She says: “Sometimes, people peek inside our shop when they order a latte and try to look for a machine. And then I’ll get very angry. You don’t need (machine-pulled) shots to do a latte. It is your own definition.”
“People seem to think that because we are at a hawker centre and prices are cheaper, they can trivialise our craft by changing orders at the last minute. You don’t see that happening at Starbucks.”
– Jack Sai
This is why Faye – and Jack – is described by Anna as very capable and aggressive (though Faye will insist she is just assertive). These traits allow them to thrive in an environment that is as high-pressured as the trading floor in a swanky glass-walled building – and it doesn’t even come with air-conditioning.
Jack, who is on his feet 10 hours a day in a shop space, describes it as being so hot “that the air outside feels like air-con”.
Next- Gen Hawkers
“It’s very fast-moving here, and we take pride in delivering orders quickly, exactly how you ordered it,” he shares. “However, people seem to think that because we are at a hawker centre and prices are cheaper, they can trivialise our craft by changing orders at the last minute. You don’t see that happening at Starbucks,” says Jack.
Working together has helped bring the siblings closer but, come end-September, the siblings will split up to look after a new outlet they are opening in an office building next to Kent Ridge MRT station. The twins will run the new outlet, while Jack stays to man the one in Amoy Street. They also have plans to open a third outlet at Raffles Place in early 2017.
#02-78 Amoy Street Food Centre
7 Maxwell Road