Express cafe hopping – 12 homegrown cafés compressed into a weekend and a 50m stretch along waterfront promenade, what could possibly go wrong? A few things apparently.
Let’s start with the silver lining though. I love the concept behind cafe fest – I think the exploding cafe culture in Singapore is a wonderful thing and I’m behind anything that supports this growing culture. It was also so nice seeing how passionate the people involved were – not only the innovative pioneers behind the conception of this idea who have obviously put in so much love and effort into the event, but also the baristas and every single person manning the stalls. Smiles everywhere despite the
Singaporean sun and overwhelming queues, archetypical of Singaporean kiasu-ness (I overheard a woman asking her friend why people were queuing at the I am cafe booth and her friend responded with: “because other people are queuing”.) The coffee of course was on point – on the first day I got the iced latte from Maison Ikkoku for the festival price of $5 and on the second day, I got two bottles of OZ coffee’s house brand Cold Brew that came in a cute bottle deceptively similar to a beer bottle for the festival price of $4. The only food we got on the first day was a Cookie butter cheesecake from Bloomsbury Bakers ($5) which, despite being really good, was kind of depressing (reasons for this lack of food below). Food quest on the second day was much more fruitful. Tried the Kouign Amann ($4) and the white chocolate & raspberry ice cream with mini croissant ($3) from Tiong Bahru Bakery. Really liked the Kouign Amann which was something I had never tried before. Got the satay burger from I am cafe and a chilli cheese hot dog from Cake Love, neither of which were anything special. Finished off with a passion fruit cheese cake ($5) and apple crumble ($5) both from Bloomsbury Bakers. I really liked the citrus, tangy tones of the passion fruit cheesecake – perfectly refreshing for such a hot day. Plus we got free chocolate brownie samples which were also very good.
On to the cloud of disappointment within this admittedly quite thick silver lining. firstly, let’s talk about these festival prices – each stand sold their products at a regular price and a $1 reduced festival price. So why am I paying $25 for a ticket to an event with free admission just to get $1 off food and drinks? If you think about it, I would need to purchase about 50 things to break even (which is impossible even for a hardcore foodie like me). Now I’m all for supporting the cafe culture but if I hadn’t gotten the ticket and paid regular prices, I would be supporting them all the same. I think the solution to this problem would be to either make it a closed event so that the ticket buyers are actually getting their money’s worth or just making it free admission for all and everyone pays regular price.
Secondly, 人山人海 (one of the last remaining idioms in the rusty compartment in my brain from my Standard Chinese IB days) – the first day was wayyy too crowded. Of course this is a good thing because that means lots and lots of excitement and ent husiasm about this project. but this amount of people also means queues. no matter how fast the baristas work, there will always be queues, it’s inevitable. Perhaps having bigger stalls manned by more people would solve this problem. Also, the seating area which was sandwiched between the two rows of stalls, created unnecessary congestion. If the benches had simply been next to the row instead of wedged in between, there would have been much more space to walk. Plus the people sitting wouldn’t have the constant fear of a passerby knocking the cupcake they were trying to take an Instagram worthy picture of, out of their hand. The second day was so much more enjoyable just because it was way less crowded and we actually got to buy food which was what we were there for in the first place.
Thirdly, what’s even worse than queues? Not getting anything out of queuing. By around 1 ish on the first day, stalls were already running out of food. For some of the stalls, they were getting fresh supplies in a while which meant waiting, but for most, they didn’t plan on restocking so their menus shrunk as the day went by. (This didn’t really happen on the second, again because there were less people).
These are all nitty gritty details but put together they turned what could have been an amazing event into somewhat of a letdown. I think one of the main reasons for this disappointment was because of the huge hype surrounding it – I mean it is the world’s first cafe hopping event. My fellow cafe obsessed friend and I were literally looking forward to this cafe filled weekend for months.
I’m sure lots of people enjoyed this event but it could be that though one of my main hobbies is cafe hopping, express cafe hopping just isn’t my thing. It could be that the event simply just wasn’t well organized which is understandable. It could also potentially be that what ruined the experience for me was the compressed nature of the whole thing. Increasing the accessibility and convenience meant taking away the hopping aspect of cafe hopping which is kind of the essence of the whole thing (hence the term cafe hopping). Maybe the idea of cafe fest belongs in this now generation, where everything is about the here and now. But I feel like cafe hopping, and the whole cafe culture belongs to a more relaxed, slow paced era where you can just sip your coffee, doodle in a journal and gaze dreamily out the window.