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Heritage is the secret ingredient at Singapore’s Ho Tit Coffee

The local coffee roaster, with its dialect name, an Instagram-worthy shopfront and a marble-topped kopitiam table, could double up as a hipster cafe.

It is easy to mistake this shop for a hipster cafe. After all, it has the right elements: the retro Chinese dialect name of Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory, and an Instagram-worthy shopfront, complete with a marble-topped kopitiam table in the interior and strategically positioned speech bubbles that spell out fun facts about the company on the wall.

But Ho Tit – Hokkien for “good” – is really a coffee factory that has been in the B2B business for more than 60 years.

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Dominic Chua is the second-generation owner of Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory.

Running the show is 54-year-old Dominic Chua – youngest son of founder Chua Tock Hoon – together with his wife, Cynthia Aw. Having joined the family business right after he completed national service, Chua recalls: “I saw how hard my father worked. His skin was constantly covered with brown and yellow stains from contact with coffee beans. It made me feel very guilty.”

Three years later, in 1988, his father passed away. Chua continued to run the business with his brother. Chua and Aw officially took over in 2010 after his brother retired. Today, they count restaurants, cafes, private hospitals and even an old folks’ home as customers.

Ho Tit offers seven types of singular arabica and robusta beans, sourced from Indonesia, Malaysia and Columbia. These can be mixed to create more than 100 customised blends. It also sells pre-blended coffee powder, such as the Flag Blend passed down from the elder Chua.

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Individuals can purchase Ho Tit’s coffee in paper sachets or tins.

Another top-seller is the strong-bodied traditional coffee that stands up to the richness of condensed milk. Chua’s authentic recipe recalls the dark brown version popular at coffee shops in the 1970s and 1980s.

Roasting is done at the mini-factory on-site once a week, with Chua personally handling the process. He sometimes makes up to four batches, which translates to some 240kg of coffee in a day.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE
The Chuas use a variety of tools to put together the coffee they are known for.
  • ALL CRUSHED UP
    This grinder can process up to 100kg of coffee beans in 30 minutes. It has been with Ho Tit since day one.

Though a B2B business, Ho Tit gets its fair share of individuals purchasing for personal consumption. It is one of the reasons why the duo worked with a design agency to decorate the front of their store. Vintage furniture aside, there are tin coffee cans that look older than Chua, proudly displaying the company’s logo, and a shelf with small jars filled with coffee beans.

“Everything here has a story,” Aw says, pointing to a pair of folded wooden doors which the elder Chua installed after the racial riots in the 1960s, as an extra layer of protection besides the metal grille gate.

As is the case with heritage brands, the future is often a cause for concern. But Chua seems relatively relaxed. “I am not worried. We are still young so we can run Ho Tit for many more years.”

It turns out his elder daughter, Cherlyn, is passionate about the culinary arts, especially baking, and is working at a restaurant to develop her skills. “In time to come, she might want to join us and maybe even diversify the business,” he says.

402 Upper Paya Lebar Rd, Tel: 6288-4642.

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