Bringing good coffee to Singapore, from plantation to cup

The story of one of Singapore’s most successful boutique coffee brands starts 5,000km away in Far North Queensland.

On a business trip to Cairns some 20 years ago, Chris Wanden was on a drive along the coast when his guide told him that the area’s tablelands had been used to grow tobacco in the past.

With a distinctive dry and wet season, it was also ideal for growing coffee beans, which coffee-loving Wanden quickly noticed. Within six weeks, he had done his homework, spoken to farming officials, found a group of coffee growers, and purchased a piece of land there to start his own coffee plantation.

A high-flying corporate professional then, the decision may have been made on a whim but Wanden instinctively knew then that it was “the right thing to do”. From the outset, he wanted perfection in his coffee, and that meant being involved at every part of the process.

“I didn’t want anyone taking my coffee and screwing it up. You can take a great coffee and turn it into dishwater very quickly. I was determined to make sure the coffee that I knew was great on the plantation would be just as great in a cup in front of the consumer.”

So, he left his job and threw himself into the business full-time in 2002. With no experience in agriculture, retail or food and beverage to speak of, Wanden opened his first Dimbulah cafe, looking to cater to the “stressed investment bankers” of Singapore’s CBD.

While you won’t find Dimbulah on too many social media listicles of the best cafes in Singapore, it is a strategy that has paid off, as the brand sells an impressive 100,000 cups of joe in a month. Today, all 11 Dimbulah outlets, including the newest one at Tanjong Pagar Centre (TPC), are located within the town centre.

The Kiwi-born entrepreneur attributes their success to the quality of Dimbulah’s signature coffee, a labour of love that is brought to the consumer “from plantation to cup”. Describing the Dimbulah taste as chocolatey and with a lingering sweetness, Wanden explained that all the variables on the plantation are carefully controlled to arrive at this exact flavour.

 

In other plantations, workers are typically paid by the basket, and this often means they are less discerning about the quality of coffee cherries that they harvest for processing. In contrast, Dimbulah’s coffee cherries are harvested once a year by a two-man team who collect five tonnes of fully-ripe cherries over a week.

Wanden explained: “What you really want is all the coffee cherries in the same cup to be of the same level of ripeness and with the same sugar content, so you’ve got a really good quality cherry.”

Dimbulah achieves this by closely regulating its plantation’s flowering schedule. Irrigation is carefully controlled, aided by the region’s consistent dry and wet seasons.

“It’s extremely rare for someone to be in the agriculture business like we are, and take the same product into the retail business. In Singapore, we’re the only one who does that.”

Dimbulah’s coffee beans are shipped out of Australia, roasted in a warehouse in Singapore every week and rested for 10 to 12 days before they are used. Likening the process to wine-making, Wanden said: “Just as all the flavour components blend together for a richer flavour in time, coffee is the same.”

Partial to a good flat white, Dimbulah’s founder enjoys his cuppa with low-fat milk, so he can appreciate the true flavour of the coffee.

A note to those who love a cold brew, though — you won’t be finding any trendy or avant garde types of coffee at Dimbulah’s stores. Wanden believes in the quality of coffee kept in its purest form, which is the version that comes out of the espresso machine.

While the coffee items are the same at every outlet, Wanden actively ensures that each new outlet would be better than the last.

On the back of this philosophy, he declared the cafe located at TPC to be one of Dimbulah’s best yet. Surveying the cosy space, Wanden pointed out the outlet’s full bar service and hot kitchen capabilities which could offer customers more than just a coffee fix.

“I took the very best of what we did at Chijmes, I took the very best of our specials from last year that our customers liked, and developed a really neat menu here.”

After launching a full dinner and drinks menu in February this year, the TPC outlet also has a spanking new outdoor seating area that will give its loyal customers yet more reason to drop by in the evenings.

Wanden said: “From opening to late at night, there is always something here that will make you happy.”

 


 

Check out Dimbulah Coffee at
Tanjong Pagar Centre, 7 Wallich Street, #01-03, Singapore 078884.

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