[SG] Forty Hands (40 Hands)

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Tucked away in a hidden quiet corner at Tiong Bahru, which was one of the first public housing estates in Singapore, 40 Hands certainly stood out among the old buildings being a modern and trendy looking cafe, which would appeal to students and young professionals alike.

The name was inspired from the fact that an average of 40 hands are required in the production of coffee, from the initial process of planting coffee seeds to the end product of a delicious and aromatic fresh brew. What many failed to recognize when enjoying their shot of Espresso or Latte was that the history of coffee was one filled with stories of poverty and exploitation. At 40 Hands, they aimed to promote a sustainable coffee economy whereby certified 'Fair Trade' coffee beans were used, i.e. purchasing directly from growers allowing them to earn a higher profit margin. With the abundance of budding cafes, I must say that I was impressed with what 40 Hands endeavour to achieve and their business ethics.

The first impression at the outset was that it was rather cramped, well explicitly, expect to brush some shoulders trying to make your way through. What I particularly favoured though was the clever use of the setting and location of the cafe at a quiet hideout at Tiong Bahru (an old public housing estate) with modern touches to its interior design, display exhibits and arguably the food served. Not forgetting of course provocative billboard posters as such.
After some 10-15mins of waiting, during which nobody seemed to acknowledge our presence the whole while, a table was finally secured, unfortunately at the rear end of the cafe and down a flight of stairs which was sheltered but in a outdoor setting, similar to what I would call a backyard. With an impressive shopfront, the latter part of the cafe was somewhat lackluster, in terms of design and layout. Some might favour the laid back setting but certainly did not appeal to us the slightest bit, especially the big electrical standing fan blowing right at our faces and food of course.

Probably due to the busy staffs attending to customers' orders, I was pretty much left to myself (which was a good thing) to roam around the cafe snapping interesting bits and pieces.

Certainly, this part of the cafe could be improved upon..

 The items might have been freshly baked on the same today, but somehow it did not look very appealing.

This was apparently their special micro-lot and seasonal single origin coffee which 40 Hands rotate through the store each week. Being a huge coffee fan, I could not resist to place my orders at the till, greeted by a rather adorable illustration!
Enough of the nosiness around the shop, let the eating begin!

Long Black (S$4/-)
(+) High roast, slight bittersweet tang with less acidity.
(+) Strong delicious aroma, certainly titillating to one's sense of smell.

(-) Regrettably, the initial taste was offset by the sour aftertaste.
(-) The tart flavour, such as unripe fruit persisted and lingered and had to be washed down with plain water, which was a real letdown.
(-) With the fan blowing at full blast, it was not too long before my coffee dropped to almost room temperature and the sour taste was the dominant flavour.

Verdict: 6.0/10

Latte (S$5/-)
(+) Best among the 3 beverages, richly fragrant and well balanced in terms of sweetness. I am however a Long Black/Americano and Espresso shots person and detest any sugar or milk being added to my drink, so..

Verdict: 7.5/10

Iced Mocha in the background of the above picture (S$8/-)
(-) Overly sweet and certainly overpriced for the serving size and quality.
(-) The coffee taste was barely discernible, with chocolate taste overwhelmingly strong.
(-) Tasted pretty much like a sweetened chocolate beverage.

Verdict: 5.0/10

Tau Sar Pau (S$2.50/pc)
(+) The bun was very light (in terms of density), fluffy and smooth in texture.
(+) The skin of the bun was good in the sense it did not stick to our teeth.
(+) Red bean paste inside was rich in ingredients and only mildly sweet, just to our liking.
(+) Despite the smoothness of the paste, it was not too 'liquefied' nor fluid.
(+) Unique shape of the bun contrary to the conventional round shape.

(-) Way Overpriced. Could easily have bought 2-3 tau sar paus at S$2.50.
(-) Did not seem freshly made as it was served straight from the pau electric steamer.

Verdict: 7.5/10 

Big Boy Breakfast with scrambled eggs (S$18/-)
(+) The ingredients used in this all day breakfast were fresh and of a good quality.
(+) Scrambled eggs were done perfectly with a soft curd texture, just the way it should be.
(+) Interesting presentation of western breakfast served on an 'old school' metal plate.

(-) The portion size was evidently sparing to say the least for the price.

The portion size was evidently sparing for the price though. 2 sausages, some sauteed mushrooms, minced meat (think spaghetti bolognese), 1pan fried tomato sliced in 2, some iceberg letture, 2 slices of naan bread and some scrambled eggs for S$18 certainly seemed too expensive to us since we were used to having English breakfast here in UK at pubs and they were about half the price at 40 Hands with similar quality and larger portions. 

 Verdict: 7.0/10

The ambiance at 40 Hands was good in general (with seating at the ground floor) not the lower ground level where our table was. Apparently GST and service charge was not levied onto the bill, so prices listed above were nett. Even so, we felt that it was overpriced at current standing, considering the quality and quantity of food. Do not be mistaken though, the quality was certainly above average for the food, though I would beg to differ when it came to the coffee beverages. Being a caffeine addict, I expect nothing but the best especially when it is the first cup of the day. 
Care for a seat, maybe?

Selling themselves as a socially responsible cafe, I was impressed more by their business ethos rather than, regrettably, their brew. Despite not being charged for customer service, one could certainly expect better attention at 40 Hands. Drawing comparison with a recent dining experience at QQ Noodle House, which similarly did not charge for service had a much better approach and attitude towards their diners. It is not just about the price, it is about professionalism in the service industry. Many cafes and restaurants tend to attribute this aspect of the dining experience to the shortage of manpower and busy orders, but personally I felt that is but an 'excusatory' element conveniently relied upon. It should be regarded as an integral part of one's dining experience and paying no heed to your customers is certainly a taboo in my books. 

40 Hands
78 Yong Siak Street, #01-12
Tiong Bahru Estate
Singapore 163078

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