Sip Blog

Written by coffee lovers, for coffee lovers

Humans of Sip: Interview with Lim Wei Jie from Foreword Coffee

Nestled in one of NUS UTownai??i??s colleges is Foreword Coffee, one of the latest additions in Singaporeai??i??s coffee scene. Opened two months ago, this humble cafe has more to it than what meets the eye. It is a social enterprise started by two NUS students ai??i?? Anderson Ang, currently in his fourth year, and Lim Wei Jie, who has now graduated. Whatai??i??s more impressive is that Wei Jie, the ventureai??i??s coffee mastermind, had only gotten in touch with coffee about a year ago.

As a psychology major with an interest in social entrepreneurship, Wei Jie had no knowledge of coffee until he embarked on a student exchange trip to Amsterdam in his third year of university. To say that the trip was a turning point for him would be an understatement, as it sparked a huge passion for coffee with no signs of fading anytime soon.

Returning home with his newfound love, he began to purchase coffee brewing equipment to practice coffee-making himself. At the same time, he started a coffee interest group in his college, to share what he learnt with like-minded friends. As more peers dropped by to enjoy his self-made brews, his dorm room soon turned into a makeshift cafe.

Wei Jieai??i??s professional-looking dorm room while he was still in university. He uses the same coffee machine (ECM Synchronika) in his cafe, workshops and pop-ups, due to its portability and efficiency. (Image by Foreword Coffee)

His learning did not stop there, however, as he had decided to open a cafe with Anderson, his schoolmate and close friend. With little experience of working in cafes, he bridged this knowledge gap by taking barista training classes, acquiring professional brewing and roasting skills along the way, and talking to fellow cafe owners and baristas ai??i?? all on top of his school commitments and final year assignments.

After months of hard work and preparation, the duo successfully opened Foreword Coffee in August this year, serving coffee in the very college that Wei Jie lived in.

How did your trip to Amsterdam spark your interest in coffee?

I visited a lot of cafes and was intrigued by their third wave coffee culture, whereby cafes had their own small roasteries, focused on hand brews and emphasized their coffeeai??i??s origins and processing methods. That sparked my interest in the coffee industry and I began my barista training in Amsterdam.

Were there any particular experiences that inspired you?

One memorable experience was when I tried hand brew coffee for the first time, at a cafe called White Label Coffee. As I tasted the coffee, I was surprised to find flavours that one normally wouldnai??i??t expect, such as blueberry! That blew my mind, and kindled my passion for hand brew coffee.

Another experience was people-watching at my favourite cafe in Amsterdam, Coffee Bru, where I spent a lot of time at. I remember the sights of families there ai??i?? children interacted with each other, while their parents conversed over coffee and pastries. Witnessing such relaxed moments was a delight to me, hence Iai??i??m very fond of those memories.

Why did you start Foreword Coffee?

My partner, Anderson and I wanted to start a social enterprise that will empower persons with special needs. As we felt that they didnai??i??t have enough visibility, we wanted to provide opportunities for interactions with them. Hence, we decided to start a cafe, not only because I love coffee, but also because we want to help stretch their abilities by employing them as baristas. By doing so, we hope to highlight the strengths of persons with special needs and break any assumptions about them.

The cafe uses sustainable paper cups.

What inspired the name of your cafe?

Our name has two inspirations. The first comes from ai???forwardai??i??, in that we want to be forward-looking, as we strive to increase our knowledge and be innovative.

The second inspiration comes from ai???forewordai??i??, which is a short introduction to a book. Like a foreword, we hope to serve as an introduction to persons with special needs, allowing our visitors to chat with them and see past their conditions, rather than judging a book by its cover.

What are some challenges youai??i??ve faced in starting your own cafe?

One challenge is finding enough manpower. Iai??i??m the only full-timer here, so itai??i??s hard to get enough staff on duty sometimes, which makes peak hours difficult to handle.

Iai??i??ve also had to learn many things from scratch, such as how to import coffee from overseas, due to my lack of experience in running a cafe.

However, Iai??i??m thankful for the people whoai??i??ve helped me along the way, be it by sharing their knowledge on cafe operations and roasting with me, or by supporting and encouraging me.

Whatai??i??s the reason for your practice of serving fresh coffee?

The main reason is that we want to practice sustainable consumption. Serving fresh coffee allows us to roast in small batches, thus we can roast only what is needed. It also prevents the coffee from going stale, which happens when coffee is left for too long after being roasted, and hence we can minimise its wastage.

Besides that, we want to serve coffee when itai??i??s the most flavourful! During cupping sessions, coffee is normally cupped between 8 to 24 hours from the time of roast so as to keep its aroma and flavours. Thatai??i??s why we serve coffee within 72 hours from its time of roast, as we want to ensure its quality.

Pouring a Japanese Iced Brew -- made by passing hot water through coffee, and letting it drip onto ice to cool. Buying cannabis seeds legal in uk

Why the focus on coffee beans from Asia?

We felt that since we are located in Asia, it would be great to use more coffees from our neighbouring countries! Thereai??i??s lots of good coffee being produced in the region, so rather than just serving your usual African and South American coffees, weai??i??d like to feature more of our Asian counterparts as well.

We also want to contribute positively to farmers and local communities in the region, by reaching out to coffee growers and working with co-operatives that support their local communities. For example, weai??i??re working with a coffee company in Yunnan, China, that builds bridges and improves the roads for local villages, and also teaches their farmers the proper techniques to grow high quality coffee. We believe that coffee producers can have a large impact on their communities, and thatai??i??s why we import directly from farmers and co-operatives around the region.

Why do you use only single origins in your brews?

Thatai??i??s because we want to maintain a consistent taste throughout our coffee. If a blend is used, you might get varying flavours across different cups of coffee, as the proportions of coffee origins used may not be constant.

We also use single origins to highlight the story behind each cup ai??i?? from the farmer who worked tirelessly to produce the beans, to the region where the coffee was grown. We believe that this will encourage people to appreciate the effort and passion that goes into each cup of coffee.

Yunnan Banka coffee, used to make my Japanese Iced Brew. The baristas at Foreword engage their customers by letting them smell the coffeeai??i??s aromas, and sharing more about the coffee, before brewing it.

Which items on your menu would you recommend for someone new to your cafe?

I would recommend our drip coffee! Itai??i??s more flavourful and less intense than an espresso shot, so you get to appreciate the coffeeai??i??s taste more distinctly. Another reason is that weai??i??ll be training persons with special needs to brew drip coffee, so we want to encourage our guests to enjoy a cup of coffee poured by them, and get to know them at the same time.

What single origin coffees are you offering now?

Weai??i??re currently offering coffee from China, Laos, Ethiopia and Guatemala. In addition, weai??i??re currently exploring samples from other countries like Thailand, Indonesia, and Philippines!

Which coffee is your personal favourite?

I like the coffee from Yunnan! I didnai??i??t know they produced coffee at first, but when I got to try their coffee, I was surprised by its notes of chocolate and stone fruit. Many customers were surprised by its taste, too, so Iai??i??d highly recommend it!

What have been the most rewarding parts of running a cafe?

To me, the support that weai??i??ve gotten from our friends is the most rewarding! They were very enthusiastic about our venture and would come down often to have a cup of coffee and chat with us, which makes me really happy! Weai??i??ve also received much support from the college alumni, staff and students here, hence Iai??i??m really thankful.

Besides that, our cafe has transformed the area into a hangout spot, when it was previously rather quiet! Whenever visitors come to have coffee and relax, and especially when professors bring their children along, it would remind me of the slow life I witnessed people enjoy at cafes in Amsterdam. The fact that we can bring people together and foster a sense of community is what heartens me.

In line with environmental sustainability, Foreword supports the Bring Your Own campaign. (Image by Foreword Coffee)

What are your views on the coffee industry in Singapore?

I hope to see more collaborations and open sharing of knowledge. To me, the competition is not between cafes in Singapore, but rather, between us and our foreign counterparts. While we donai??i??t grow coffee, I believe that we roast coffee well and hence have the potential to make a name for ourselves in the global coffee scene. Thatai??i??s why I hope that through open sharing, such as those in barista championships and informal workshops, the whole coffee industry here can get to know each other and work together to enhance our local coffee scene!

What plans do you have in the future for Foreword Coffee?

We will develop the curriculum of our year-end training program, where weai??i??ll train persons with special needs with the support of SG Enable. By next year, most of our baristas will be persons with special needs.

Cost compazine On the coffee side, weai??i??ll be importing coffee from Thailand next year, straight from the farmer! Weai??i??ll also continue our ties with the producers in China and Laos, and serve more coffee from them. In addition, weai??i??re exploring the coffees from Indonesia and Philippines, and may bring in those as well.

(Image by Foreword Coffee)

Foreword Coffee
8 College Ave East #B1-C1
Singapore 138615

Opening hours: 10.30am - 6.15pm (Monday to Thursday), 10.30am - 5.15pm (Friday), closed on Saturday and Sunday

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