They call me Mr Kiam Siap (Hokkien for miserly). And with good reason. For the last year, I’ve been bringing potential dates to these places, to make it look like I have more money than I actually have.
And ladies have come away impressed.
Whether you’re looking for that quiet place to work, or that great ambience, this is the ultimate list of cheap cafes that make you look rich, but don’t leave you too poor.
After all, who wants to pay $18 for eggs Benedict? Or $6.50 for that Ethiopian brew, which doesn’t taste all that better than the Kopi-O from your uncle downstairs?
You’ve probably been in those times when you’ve silently winced at the bitter coffee you’re drinking, and then hearing your friend wax lyrical about how the blend hits the correct note (cue: you start rolling your eyes), and then wondering if there’s something wrong with you.
Sure, it looks Instagrammable, but beyond a quick scroll past, and then a later trip to the toilet, those $18 would be better spent elsewhere. Especially when it looks like a recession is looming.
But before we start, we want to add here our principles in sharing a great haunt.
These are not:
- chains such as Yakun
- hawker centres
Rather, they are ones that offer you great food and coffee, for a fraction of the price. Our requirements for this list has been:
- Coffee that costs below the industry average of $3.50 for an espresso, and $4 for a long black
- Cafes that have a heart
- Cafes with great service staff, that don’t chase you away (oh, you don’t want to know those cafes.)
Before that, we share how we’ve found these places, so that you too can find them.
If you are in the CBD… you need to check Chai out.
Stop paying for that rip off $6 coffee with the ‘sweet notes’ from Guatemala.
You might try bluffing yourself, telling yourself that you’re there for the ambience.
The cafe is crowded.
And you would probably find a better ambience by the Singapore River, with the riverfront wind passing you by.
Tea and coffee that starts at $1.40.
It’s even cheaper than some coffeeshops.
It will be hard to get a seat though.
There’s even hot food!
Order the cheapest thing on the menu (like the $2 babyccino!)
One of the easiest hacks to have a coffee with a friend is to order the cheapest thing on the menu, like the $2 babyccino.
Whilst I don’t recommend this for dates (who might eye you warily and wonder if you’ve the money to ever support them), I do definitely recommend this for friends.
You can spend time with them, without going way above the budget.
Just know how to sip though. You may find it difficult to drink 10ml for long.
Kohi Coffee (Joo Chiat) – for the $2 babyccino
One of our favourite places is Kohi Coffee at Joo Chiat. Nestled between the beautiful Peranakan shophouses of the 1970s, it’s a perfect place to get coffee.
What’s more, the hole-in-the-wall concept and the nearby bar tables can offer you a chance to have a conversation with the barista, whilst having your coffee.
I work at the coworking space upstairs, and know that this area is often filled with tourists, and expats who want something off the beaten track. But at the same time, there’s often seating around, even though there can be a crowd.
This is because of how Kohi has marketed itself as a to-go coffee concept, with no ceramic cups for you to drink your coffee.
All you get is a takeaway cup.
It may not be the best for the environment, but it ensures that there’s a steady turnover and efficiency in their operations.
It’s worth checking.
Find the cafe that’s off the beaten track
Walk 5 minutes further from the mall, and you would probably find a lonely cafe, with the staff assistant sitting bored, behind the counter.
Mall rentals are expensive. And those rental prices are passed on to you, the consumer. But for those who dare to take a stall further away, they tend to have cheaper prices.
Crane, at Claymore Connect (Orchard)
This is hands down, the cheapest coffee you will find in the heart of Orchard. With an espresso costing $2.80, you’re not going to find anywhere that’s cheaper.
If you’ve never heard of Claymore Connect in Orchard, then you’re not alone. It’s a shopping mall connected with Orchard Hotel, and it’s probably the deadest shopping mall you will ever find in Orchard.
There’s hardly a crowd within the mall. If you want some place quiet, this is the perfect place to have that long, 5 hour, HTHT with your friend.
But that also means you get to have cheap coffee, surrounded by great craft and books.
Find the cafe with a heart
There are increasingly many social enterprises that are popping up with cafes. Some of the players in the field include those like Bettr Barista, which offers youths from delinquent backgrounds the chance to be a barista.
Beyond just paying for your coffee, you might be pleased to know that your money is going towards a youth’s life.
Find the cafe in a religious organisation or charity
Charities do great work. And with the grants they get, and the (sometimes) subsidised rental, they get the chance to pass these savings onto you. Sure, their coffee may not be the fancy, strong smelling grounds you get from elsewhere, but it’s still worth having.
Brawn Cafe (Near Bishan Park, at Pathlight School)
Brawn Cafe was started by Mayor Denise Phua, and later moved to Pathlight School, where it now currently takes in students as its waiters. This is a cafe without WIFI access so it does make it difficult to work here if you want to.
It is definitely worth visiting, especially when you see how hard the students work to serve you and make coffee to your liking.
It fills you with a warm, fuzzy feeling within.
The Corner Store (Odeon Katong)
Located beside a thrift shop, you will be right at home buying a coffee after shopping for a bargain. With coffees that start under $3, you will be right at home.
The Barn is run by Cornerstone Community Church, and has a relatively cheap coffee, if you’re around the area.
Its opening hours are as follows:
- Tues – Fri: 11 – 4pm,
- Sat: 12pm – 6.30pm,
- Sun: 8am – 12.30pm
Bettr Barista (Yishun, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital)
Ah, I love Bettr. From the day I went for a training with them (and had at least 7 coffees, all on their tab), I’ve fallen in love with them.
Their coffee is made by baristas trained in their academy, and who are also youths with a troubled past. Knowing that your coffee goes a long way to supporting these youths, and helping them to see that there’s a life outside of crime, can help.
The Living Room (Bishan, Zion Presbyterian Church)
Walking into The Living Room, reminded me of my times back in church in the U.K., where there were the classic Health and Safety reminders around the church, and the classic – classic Formica tables.
I love it as a place to work, although it’s quite a trek from the main station in Bishan.
Huggs is the largest homegrown coffee chain. And whilst I did say that I didn’t want to include chains, Huggs is special. When you walk in, you will find a warm atmosphere. Smiling staff.
The coffee also offers a good blend and East and West, not forgetting its roots as a Singapore grown company. Here you will see your regular Kopi O at a price that’s close to the regular ones you have at Yakun.
Whilst they may be more expensive, Huggs Collective has a beautiful members lounge where you can enter to work and study. Whilst there are occasional students that make (quite alot) of noise, the lounge does make you feel rather special.
Finding a cheap cafe, is about finding somewhere close
Ultimately, finding a place with air-conditioning, saving you from the sheer humidity of the Singaporean sun, does need some paying for.
Whilst these prices may seem just $0.50 off the regular places you see at Coffee Bean, you would realise that the 50 odd coffees you have with different people would eventually translate to a $25 saving.
And there’s honestly nothing better than discovering your next hideout.
Who wants more Starbucks, crowded with your typical office worker?
Not me. You too?
Come along. There are better places to enjoy that deep conversation you’ve always been looking forward to.