Kopi, as it is commonly known in Singapore, it’s the Malay word for coffee. The coffee beverage is a common drink worldwide that is able to bond people together with a cuppa of coffee. Our local kopi, is something very special and unique, different from the coffee beverages that are prepared and served in other parts of the world. Have you visited a kopitiam a.k.a coffeeshop, ordered a kopi and have a thought about it, how different it is from the coffee by Starbucks, Coffee Bean etc?
Today, I would bring you through a short history tour of a traditional coffee powder grinder that produced the kopi for our kopitiam. They are Lam Yeo Coffee Powder with a rich history and heritage in our local kopi culture. I first heard of Lam Yeo Coffee Powder when I watched Old Places documentary by Royston Tan and they were featured inside there. The Old Places documentary was very inspiring to me, that spurred me onwards towards history, heritage, preservation and conservation of such Old Places and traditional businesses in Singapore. Lam Yeo Coffee Powder was one of the locations inside the Old Places documentary that I really wanted to visit and the opportunity came when I was allowed to follow along another of National Heritage Board (NHB) projects, visiting Lam Yeo Coffee Powder, with blessings and permission of Lam Yeo Coffee Powder.
I took a few hours time off from work, went there visiting Lam Yeo Coffee Powder, joining along with students from First Toa Payoh Secondary School who were there to learn about the coffee powder grinding trade, to have a hands on the coffee grinding business and speaking to the owners about the history and heritage of coffee in Singapore. Our major newspapers Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao were there together with tv crew to write and share about the traditional coffee powder grinder too. Being a local kopi addict, a coffee supporter, it’s like an adventure to learn more about kopi from the experts themselves, the owners from Lam Yeo Coffee Powder. Our traditional local kopi is special and unique because the coffee beans are roasted before grind into kopi powder, a taste that is different and something that you have to try if you are a visitor coming to Singapore! There wasn’t any roasting facilities at Lam Yeo Coffee Powder and I wasn’t able to see traditional practice in action.
Lam Yeo Coffee Powder has a lot of history, heritage and tradition inside their shophouse. They kept their authenticity, original style and furnishings, with many old treasures and antiques stored in their cupboards, those that might not be able to find in modern Singapore today. Chatting with the owners of Lam Yeo Coffee, I got to learn a lot more about kopi from the early days of Lam Yeo Coffee in Singapore
- They were founded in 1959 at another location before moving to their current location at 328 Balestier Road during the early 1960s and they stayed at this location till today.
- The kopitiams in Singapore in the olden days used to have an area behind them to roast their coffee beans that would be grind into kopi powder for their kopitiams. With changing times, regulations and health concerns, kopitiams no longer roast their coffee beans behind their backyard.
- Lam Yeo has a great customer service culture from the days they started their coffee powder business. Customers that bought from them had a chance to redeem gifts over time when they returned back to buy coffee from them. By accumulating Lam Yeo Coffee Powder cards (our modern day purchase card with stamps), they have choices to redeem their preferred gifts. Customers can redeem a small gift with just 2 cards and they have different gifts for the number of customer reward cards that they kept when they returned to buy Lam Yeo Coffee Powder! This is a great example of providing great customer service and rewards, thus ensuring many loyal and return customers! Check out the customer rewards card by Lam Yeo! They are very authentic and very classic!
In this modern era, times have changed so much over the years, the practices and traditional businesses faced many challenges today. Lam Yeo Coffee Powder today not only do what they are expert in, coffee roasting and grinding. They also have other types of coffee beans/coffee powder that catered to a different coffee taste too. Chatting and listening to the people from Lam Yeo Coffee Powder, it was very enriching and enlightening for a kopi lover like me. If you a kopi lover like me, do help to support our local kopi culture! Lam Yeo Coffee Powder is on Facebook too, support them and Like them!
The short time there, photographing, chatting and learning about Lam Yeo Coffee Powder, their history and heritage, it’s very meaningful and enlightening. Therefore, I would like to say a big THANK YOU to National Heritage Board and Lam Yeo Coffee Powder for this special invitation and opportunity to photograph, document and share the story of the traditional coffee powder grinder trade.
“This blog entry is written in support of the “Heritage in Episodes” project under the Heritage Institutions Division of NHB which seeks to document traditional trades and businesses, and to promote public awareness of these trades and businesses through NHB’s social media platforms. The traditional coffee powder grinder will be featured in an upcoming episode of the “Heritage in Episodes” project and video clips of traditional trades such as rattan weaving and Chinese lantern painting have been uploaded on NHB’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/yesterdaysg.”