40 Hands at Tiong Bahru


Previously, without Facebook or Twitter, you would have to send several postcards a day to friends and other people about obligatory observations of your morning meal, daily commute, whinges and, naturally, updates on bowel movement.

People receiving your postcards everyday would likely think that you are an idiot with an issue of narcissism. However, with Facebook and Twitter today, you are someone who is engaging in “Social Networking”.


It was a bright and sunny day when after finishing a nice bowl of Laksa with beef brisket and tendon, I was faced with the problem of what’s next? Sharon was talking about how she liked 40 Hands, so coffee and cakes was it.

40 Hand is located in an obscure corner of Tiong Bahru but it was doing a brisk business with a decent crowd. We managed to snag a table and we started looking at the coffee and cakes available. The Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake looked interesting and the Chocolate Tart too. Sharon recommended I try the Doushabao which is their signature red bean bun that’s been written about in various places.

Coffee-wise, I got a little confused because they were using strange and suggestive terms such as “Long Black” and “Short White”. I was told that these vaguely racist terms were Australian in origin.

We found the cakes to be horrid. The Lemon in the Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake was so artificial-tasting in an unpleasantly chemical way that I abandoned it after my second bite; I had a second bite just to make sure it really tasted as awful as the first. The Chocolate Tart which looked so good was so hard and dry that I had difficulty swallowing it.

And what of the Doushabao? I was reluctant to order it initially because I felt that there is nothing sadder than a flat Doushabao. The skin was fairly light, almost bready (which is not a good thing). And I was surprised to find more air than Dousha (red bean paste). The Dousha was fairly good as I can taste the red beans but at $2.50 for a depressing deflated Doushabao that is barely warmed, I expected more; you can almost see the profit margin represented by the empty space inside the bun.

I’ve read that a lot of people found the coffee at 40 Hands to be good. I beg to differ: the Long Black I got was so badly under-extracted that it was sour and foul-smelling. I immediately asked for a replacement cup but I got the same warm, sour and bad-smelling brew. I gave up; to para-phrase Sharon: it’s so bad, it’s not funny.

The so-called Barista wasn’t able to extract a good cup of coffee. Under-extraction usually implies a rush-job. While I understand it’s not an easy job but if the stress is too much, maybe the job isn’t for you? I’m saying this as a paying customer who very much prefers to get a good cup of coffee in exchange for money.

But what surprised me the most was that everyone else at 40 Hands was happily chugging down the coffee and eating their food, including the chocolate tart.

Previously, without hip coffee houses and kitchen staff with hoity-toity titles, you would have to make your own coffee. You did this with care because if you are to be drinking shit, it had better be good shit.

However, with hip coffee houses and baristas, people are lulled into believing that the coffee they get would be good because a professional is making it. After all, it’s a hip coffee house and I can pretend that I’m in some romantic setting in a hip neighborhood in Sydney where the food is always good.

I realize that I am over-generalizing here but as is often the case when I over-generalize: I don’t really care. But I do care for a good cup of coffee; one with a long finish with hints of Jasmine in the aftertaste, one that refreshes my soul and uplifts my spirit. Quite unlike the 2 cups I found at 40 Hands in Tiong Bahru.


Posted on 3rd Aug 2011 in Baked Goods, Drink, Food and Drink, Musings


There Are 16 Comments


vinson commented on August 5, 2011 at 10:55 am

It’s indeed most unfortunate that you had such a terrible experience at 40 hands. Personally, never had a bad cup of coffee here. I have to agree with you on the pastry selections. Not a big fan of their cakes. Same sentiments with regards to the bao, it’s tasty but pricy.

Have you tried Loysel’s Toy as well? I prefer Loysel’s Toy over 40 Hands. The coffee there is good and the cakes are better there.


ivan commented on August 5, 2011 at 11:32 am

@vinson: I was there on a weekend, I had a Long Black and the place was busy but I don’t think that’s any reason to serve bad coffee twice. Alas.

I’ve heard of Loysel’s Toy; where is it? My friends are reluctant to give me the address after hearing my experience at 40 Hands.


Eileen commented on August 7, 2011 at 2:01 am

have to agree about the bao. All my friends whom I have intro 40 hands to agreed that the bao is nice but for $2.50 it is the most expensive bao to date 😛 I am not a fan of coffee so can’t comment much about the quality of it..but $8 for a glass of ice mocha is a bit too much 😛


imp commented on August 7, 2011 at 8:19 pm

40Hands serves better coffee on the weekdays. Even so, its coffee is inconsistent. Weekends are the shits. it was way better in Dec and Jan 2010, then the standards slipped. its cakes have been crap since day 1. that tau sar pao is quite impressive. but at $2.50, even i feel that it’s a clear rip-off.


Max commented on August 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm

What an absolutely classic review this is.

“Coffee-wise, I got a little confused because they were using strange and suggestive terms such as “Long Black” and “Short White”. I was told that these vaguely racist terms were Australian in origin.”

It is so hilarious that I can’t help but wonder if it’s deliberate satire – surely no-one would be so unselfconscious to critique a cafe like 40 Hands, including their coffee, while openly conceding that they have no idea what a long black is. (The ‘racist’ comment too was a wonderful touch – almost befitting an article from The Onion.)

Whether you were serious or not – either way, you are to be congratulated. I haven’t laughed that hard in ages!


Ivan commented on August 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm

@Max: I’m glad you enjoyed it. It all started when I visited Australia and the Australians working in the coffee shops couldn’t understand what I wanted when I ordered “Coffee with milk” or “Black coffee with sugar”.

Just a little payback…

God forbid I order an “Americano” in Australia…


Thristhan commented on August 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm

The last slice of cake looks delicious 🙂


Anony commented on August 9, 2011 at 11:25 pm

66 Kampong Bugis, Ture, #01-01, Singapore, Singapore 338987
Tues – Fri: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sat – Sun: 9:00 am – 7:30 pm


Ivan commented on August 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm

@Thristhan: It’s the lemon ricotta cheesecake I wrote about. It really wasn’t.


Eddard commented on August 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

No doubt you had difficulty swallowing the chocolaty tart after the racial affront splashed all over the coffee menu. What open-minded food and beverage establishment patron could digest such a blatant slur against object based racial decency? Particularly after being lulled into the false sense of racial harmony at the zebra crossing taken to access the café in question.

Furthermore these deserts were undoubtedly served in ‘Brown’ paper bags? Which could only have come about due to the unholy matrimony between a white and black pastry holding device.

And the final straw – the innards of the Doushabao were both Mexican and Communist (red bean paste) in their origins.
We all long for the Orwellian Utopian view where all inanimate objects cease to be racially vilified, and come in a racial harmonious Government Grey – but until this time, I guess we’ll have to continue trying to stomach these F&B racial slurs.


ivan commented on August 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm

@Eddard: That’s laying it on a little thick no? 🙂 Sometimes less is more.


Witt commented on August 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm

“But what surprised me the most was that everyone else at 40 Hands was happily chugging down the coffee and eating their food, including the chocolate tart.”

Reads: “Everyone except me is a retard! I had better let them all know via the internet that they are making erroneous cake and beverage choices! Without my profound culinary insights the proletariat would never know how stupid they actually are.”

Lighten up, Ivan. I, like the other people at 40 Hands last week, happen to think the coffee is pretty good.


ivan commented on August 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm

@Witt: You read all that in my blog entry? That’s deep man, a little too deep in fact. My point was simply: there is no accounting for taste.

Actually, since you brought it up, historically coffeehouses were frequented by the bourgeoisie and not the proletariat. I have no opinions on that since what you do with your money is your own business but looking at the clientele at 40 Hands, I would say it still holds true.

Of course, judging from the other comments, you may have visited 40 Hands during a weekday. This is also one of my points where I feel a consistently good product is important to paying customers.

Nice attempt to identify yourself with the masses though. Represent! 🙂


Witt commented on August 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm

By the way, Ivan, your blog’s spiel about food photography is a little inaccurate:

“The environment in which I usually shoot in is in a restaurant with several hungry people waiting impatiently while the food gets cold. It is stressful with uncertain but always bad lighting conditions; rather similar to front-line war photojournalism…”

Despite your overuse of the word “in”, what you should have said was: “I pour my fat, uninvited mass through the door of a stranger’s establishment; an establishment where that stranger has expended a lot of time and effort to create something from nothing. I peruse the menu, ordering something effete which I do not want to eat, but which I hope will make me look adventurous when I later post it on blog where I keep an inventory of my eating habits. I then proceed to annoy the shit out of everyone else around me by taking countless photos of the food and drinks I have ordered. After showing utter contempt for the serenity of others, I then wheel myself home and declare how much better the stranger’s establishment could be, if only I were in charge.”

You stupid bastard. You are the Ignatius J Reilly of Singapore. If ever I see you produce a camera in a restaurant again, I will not hesitate to take it from you and fuck you up with it. Yes: I was there, and at the time I thought you looked like a cunt. Your stupid fucking blog just proves it.


ivan commented on August 11, 2011 at 5:59 pm

@Witt: Oh dear, you offer a threat of physical violence when all you have is a grammatical idiosyncrasy? I hope not all Australians are like you.

What is it that you do do? 😛

I hope you realize that your scholastic pretensions here only serve to undermine whatever dignity you have left from your last comment.

Finally, touchy fella like you would do well in following your advice to lighten up.

p.s. I think “Your fucking stupid blog” sounds better no?


Lanuginoso commented on September 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm

LOL @Witt … @Ivan feel the love feel the love! Someone is actually stalking your blog Ivan!

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