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24/06 Sunday 03:04PM

The Rise & Rise of Cafe Culture

You know it, love it, need it: coffee. Whether you drink it first thing in the morning, chug it down at 1 AM typing away on your laptop like I am now, the world can simply be divided into those who relish their daily cup of joe, versus ‘I’ll have Tea’.

For a compact country of just under 500,000 inhabitants having on average at least one coffee a day (a standard Americano will set you back roughly B$4.00), the business of coffee is booming in Brunei. Even Starbucks is paying attention, having expanded rapidly with three chains opening in the last two years.

Local instagrammer @faiqairuddin created a poster of the Coffees of Brunei, featuring old favorites like Jing Chew’s Kopi O which pairs perfectly with a fresh-out-the-oven Roti Kahwin and nothing else, right down to the country’s hipster havens at Another Café and High Frequency where the snap-worthy single color crockery and wood tables make for social media magic.

That’s a lot of readily available caffeine. But why the heck do we love that sweet brown beverage so much? You could chalk it up to the simple fact that food takes up a huge part of the Bruneian identity, and it’s not just the youth who want a piece of the latte art action.

More often than not I see elderly couples,sometimes on their own or with their adult children, enjoying a coffee and bite to eat, at my usual coffee haunts. It’s refreshing, and totally adorable,because really, who doesn’t love old people doing whatever they want?

I’m pretty sure that even though they might not understand why these young folk pay to drink coffee out of fancy paper cups (daily!) and spend their hard earned money on meals they could have had at home, they definitely feel the good vibes in the air as people sit around them, their lives carrying out in front of one another like an old familiar movie.

Part fashion boutique and part café, Rack and Brew, is one of the newer establishments that is embracing its diverse crowd. Case in point, its owners are sister duo Dilys and Denise; one a 20-something graduate, the other an established serial entrepreneur. They collectively have friends popping into the Gadong venue often, but also greet what I assume to be 70-year old patrons like they are old pals. “The coffee is important. That, and the ambiance, because good coffee and a good setting make people happy to hang out with their friends and family. That’s what we’re aiming to provide our patrons,” says Denise.

Games and Lattes is an even newer baby to the block; an addition to the themed café industry, the universal appeal of board games brings in everyone from families of five to groups of adults who clearly want to kick each other’s butts at their games of choice.


Mizuki Tan, co-manages the business with four others, and tells us that she’s not actually surprised at how popular the more modern cafés are with older and elderly patrons. “They have a lot of free time and like to explore the food industry in Brunei, so they’ll come in and usually have a coffee. But we encourage them and all our patrons to explore the different games we have.” There is also no cover charge for kids under ten years old as we want families to enjoy more time together, she adds.

Maybe that’s the appeal.  Grab a coffee when you need to get a little social, before you hit the treadmill of work, or tuck yourself in a nook with a book while a cold, neglected coffee becomes the first signal of ‘me-time’. It’s the pivotal point where life takes a sharp right into possibility, and comes out looking like a great memory.

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