BAKING SANS GUESSING
UNLIKE cooking, where a recipe can be easily tweaked and a dish will still turn out tasty, baking is more of a precise science. Add too little or too much of an ingredient and your cake could turn out less than perfect.
Batterful, a new baking subscription service takes the guesswork out of baking. Each month, subscribers get a box filled with pre-portioned ingredients, a recipe menu, bakewares, such as muffin cups, extra materials such as parchment paper or bamboo sticks, and an online video guide for the recipe. You will however, need to have your own baking equipment.
Co-founder Gary Thong says that he and his business partner Ted Chong noticed many successful meal kits available for subscription in the United States. "For Singapore, we wanted to find an untapped niche using a similar business model," he says. Mr Chong and Mr Thong, both 26, are avid self-taught bakers and so they decided to choose a baking subscription service. "We also realised that this business can provide tremendous value to people who bake," says Mr Chong.
Each month, the Batterful website shows four recipes that are available. Subscribers pick a recipe that they want to try, and get a Batterful box delivered to them. The subscription costs from S$19.95 a month, with a S$2.95 monthly delivery fee. Subscribers can cancel their subscription any time.
"We have customers who have ordered more than one recipe by subscribing twice," says Mr Thong. "Moving forward we plan on allowing customers to choose multiple recipes in one subscription."
He adds that with Batterful, baking is more convenient, as there is no hassle of planning what ingredients are needed, and having to head to the supermarkets to get them. Batterful uses only natural and organic ingredients for their boxes, from brands such as Bob's Red Mill, King Arthur's and Waitrose.
As ingredients are pre-portioned, there is less wastage. "Many bakers find that they need to buy a tonne of a certain ingredient just to use less than a teaspoon of the said ingredient. Through our pre-portioned service, we eliminate this problem," says Mr Thong.
They work with professionals, such as The Fabulous Baker Boy cafe and baking enthusiasts to create the monthly recipes. "Every single recipe that we provide has been tried and tested," says Mr Chong.
The difficulty levels of the recipes range from easy to intermediate, says Mr Thong. "However, with our step-by-step guides, including an online video for each recipe, anyone can make them."
Mr Chong adds that they make difficult recipes easy for their customers to create. "Naturally, because of this feature, we predominantly target casual bakers and people who are just beginning to learn baking. With that said, the convenience which Batterful provides can also easily attract advanced bakers who just want to try out new recipes with the ingredients delivered to their doorstep."
Some of the recipes are Apple Sage and Rosemary Crumb Cake, Strawberry Clafoutis and Berry Delight No-Bake Cheesecake. Apart from providing subscription boxes, Batterful also occasionally holds baking events with The Fabulous Baker Boy cafe. "What we want to achieve is a tight-knit community of avid bakers," says Mr Thong. "We want to bring our subscribers together and let them share their baking experiences and at the same time have a chance to see a professional at work and learn from them."
THE founders of Inner Matcha, a green tea subscription service, say the company was started out of necessity. Co-founder Cheong En Liang says that he and his business partner and long-time friend, Jordan Tan, were both heavy coffee drinkers. "With that amount of caffeine that we were both drinking daily, crashes and jitters were becoming habitual," says Mr Cheong. "We realised that we needed to find an alternative, something that still had the same coffee kick, but without the less desirable effects and addiction," he says.
The duo, both 27, were introduced to matcha. "Not only is matcha healthier, it also kept us fresh and awake throughout the day, unlike coffee," says Mr Cheong.
They have both given up coffee. "I still have untouched bags of coffee beans/grounds lying around my house," says Mr Cheong. "Even Jordan's French Press is being repurposed to be used in experimenting on new matcha recipes."
They were intrigued by its benefits and went around Singapore looking for good quality matcha that was also affordable. "Sadly, we could only find either very expensive matcha from boutique stores or low-grade matcha from supermarkets," says Mr Cheong. "Our inability to find what we wanted made us both realise we were on to something, and as aspiring entrepreneurs, started Inner Matcha."
The two continued their search for high quality yet affordable matcha. "We began sampling and tasting countless matcha varieties from dozens of suppliers in Japan," says Mr Cheong. They got suppliers' contacts through Mr Tan's mother who used to run a Japanese food import company, and sampled close to 60 different qualities and types of green tea powder. The two also frequented trade fairs, to cross-reference samples and accumulate information about matcha and various teaware.
After numerous cups, they finally found a supplier from Ise Bay in Mie Prefecture, which has over 800 years of history in harvesting top ceremonial grade green tea leaves. "Our supplier not only had the type of tea we were looking for, but he also aligns himself with Inner Matcha's vision, which is to spread the word about matcha," says Mr Cheong.
Matcha is made from green tea leaves that are ground into a fine green powder which is then dissolved in boiling hot water, as opposed to traditional tea which is brewed using tea bags or loose leaves and are seldom consumed in the process. As a result, the nutritional benefits are 10 times higher for matcha as compared to a regular cup of green tea. Some of matcha's benefits include having 137 times more antioxidants than regular green tea, and being able to lower bad cholesterol while increasing the good cholesterol. Matcha is also widely believed to increase the body's rate of burning calories, while helping to improve the body's defence system. Inner Matcha offers three grades of matcha: Morning Matcha, Vitality Matcha and Culinary Matcha.
Morning Matcha is good for those who want to make matcha a part of their daily life, says Mr Cheong. It comes with the right amount of froth, and with a mild sweetness. Vitality Matcha is made using the first harvest of young leaves, and it has a bittersweet flavour profile reminiscent of dark chocolate. Culinary Matcha is made for blending, baking and cooking, ideal for lattes, smoothies and cakes. The powder is made of a coarser grind.
A typical monthly subscription starts from S$24, which gets the customer a fresh tin of matcha every month. Mr Cheong says the best way to enjoy the matcha is to sip it from a tea bowl. Water that is heated to 85 deg C is used. He recommends using a bamboo whisk to press down on the powder, and then moving it in an "M" motion to create the froth. "Simply whisk it and then sip it," he says. To complete the matcha drinking experience, Inner Matcha also has a range of teawares.
"Our most popular product is the Inner Matcha Starter Kit, which consists of all the utensils you need to make a perfect cup of matcha green tea," he says. By next quarter, the founders hope to include a pre-mixed custom matcha latte blend that will come in a satchet form.
"This will be made from actual organic matcha, instead of just processed matcha flavouring," says Mr Cheong. "We also have plans to expand our teaware section with one-of-a-kind ceramic artisan crafted bowls from Japan."
HEALTHY SNACK ATTACK
DO you chomp on potato chips or indulge in an iced coffee drink topped with whipped cream to keep your hunger pangs away? All that will leave you feeling full, but you may end up gaining undesirable pounds.
Enter Made Real, a subscription service that curates wholesome yet yummy snacks that meet health goals and nutritional needs.
Here's how it works: You fill up a quiz to find out your frequency of snacking; the category of snacks you like such as nuts, seeds or dried foods; your health and fitness goals and food allergy or dietary preferences. Using the answers, Made Real puts together a box with six recommended snacks, that can range from dried fruit to a little bag of granola and a packet of nuts.
"Using the thought process of a nutritionist, we tailor-make the snack boxes for each individual based on his/her health and fitness needs and dietary preferences. Our vision is to simplify the process by which people seek nutrition advice and products," says Roslyn Teng, 20, co-founder and chief marketing/operations officer of Made Real.
The other members of Made Real are Robin Lim, co-founder and chief executive officer, Ray Song, chief technology officer and Iwani Mawocha, user experience/user interface designer.
Made Real started in 2014 as a social project to spread awareness on balanced living and disordered eating.
"We did content and events for about a year and were spending a huge portion of our time building the brand," she says.
But even before starting Made Real, she and Ms Lim had a strong, personal interest in health foods, and say they are both health freaks. "We found the convenience, novelty, and wholesome aspects of subscription snack boxes in Australia and the United States compelling. We thus decided to take this idea and implement it here," says Ms Teng.
"Our aim was to deliver carefully curated snack boxes to meet the needs of busy individuals who value high quality foods and an active, wholesome lifestyle," she says, hence they launched the subscription snack box service.
Made Real works with a mix of local and regional producers, and are focused on featuring independent, craft food producers. Most of these producers can be found in specialIty or health food grocers, online stores, and pop up events, but Made Real takes the guesswork out of snacking healthily.
"We help you skip the hassle of researching on nutrition, and then implementing this to your own dietary needs by providing a wholesome, tailored and convenient product," she says. "Above all, our snacks are minimally processed and make for more nutritious alternatives to the vast majority of supermarket snacks."
Customers can choose to have their snacks delivered bi-weekly or monthly. Each box is priced at S$24.90, and the snacks vary with each delivery.
"With a subscription, you will receive snack boxes catered to your needs on a regular basis, so motivation levels to eat healthy are kept high," says Ms Teng.
To date, they have more than 2,000 people who have signed up for the service, and they are mostly women between the ages of 18 and 34.
"We want to empower people with the ability to design not only their snacking habits, but also their overall nutrition, fitness, wellness and lifestyle as a whole," says Ms Teng. "We are starting with a snack box but we believe that the sky is the limit in improving our health and lifestyles."
THE PERFECT CUPPA
FOR heavy coffee drinkers, not having their joe may leave them feeling tired, cranky and just not in top form.
The founders of Hook Coffee, a coffee subscription service, say that their customers never have to worry about running out of coffee ever. But this is not the ordinary three-in-one coffee.
Hook Coffee aims to make freshly roasted speciality coffee conveniently accessible to everyone, by mailing the coffee to the customer.
Its founders Ernest Ting, 25, and Faye Sit, 24, decided to start their own coffee business while doing their master's in London. The couple who are heavy coffee drinkers, saw an enormous potential in serving the home-brewing segment of the market with artisanal coffee, but done in a convenient format. That resulted in the start of Hook Coffee, which has over 800 subscribers since it began in January.
Hook Coffee sells five types of coffee, with the most popular being the Sweet Bundchen from Brazil and Kopi Sutra from West Java. "They are naturally chocolatey and are slightly darker roasts, which the masses are more familiar with," says Ms Sit. Customers start by doing a quiz to build their personal sensory taste profiles. Some may like citrusy notes, while others like berries, chocolate or caramel. Then they pick how strong they usually like their coffee.
"Our recommendation engine helps customers decide which coffee to get, based on how they brew, and enjoy their coffee," says Ms Sit. "Every time the customer rates a coffee he or she has tried, the engine gets smarter at recommending coffee for the user."
Then there is the Coffee Calculator which helps customers choose and manage their delivery frequency suited to their drinking habits. "Based on the number of cups of coffee they drink in a week, we will recommend them the optimum delivery frequency, so they do not have to worry about getting more than they need, or running out unexpectedly," says Ms Sit.
While the recommendation engine does its job, customers can also choose to have the beans they want, or ask to be surprised with a different coffee each time. They can also choose between whole beans, ground coffee or coffee drip bags. If they request for ground coffee, the beans are ground on demand and can be calibrated to work with various brew methods such as the Espresso machine, French press, AeroPress, Dripper and Stovetop Moka Pot .
Whole beans and ground coffee cost S$18 for a 250g bag, and this makes 12 to 15 cups of espresso or 15 to 24 cups of coffee via other brew methods. The coffee drip bags cost S$18 for a pack of 10. And unlike traditional subscription models, Hook Coffee does not tie its customers to any contract. "Subscribers can edit, pause or cancel their subscription at any time. Customers can also place one-off orders if they are less frequent coffee drinkers or simply need more coffee," says Ms Sit.
The couple also pride themselves on sending out coffee within seven days of roasting, "so that the coffee will reach customers at their peak," says Ms Sit.
Hook Coffee will soon introduce Nespresso-compatible capsules. "We anticipate very positive response and traction for the capsules," says Ms Sit.
HIGHLY EXCLUSIVE SAKE
WITH about 1,500 sake breweries in Japan, each of them producing dozens of labels, knowing which sake to drink can be mind-boggling.
Taichi Abe, founder of sake subscription service, Sakemaru, hopes to make that task a little easier.
"The world of sake is rather complex. There are factors such as the grade, temperature and preservation methods that affect each sake," says Mr Abe, who is also a sake sommelier. "Sakemaru was started to break down the complexity of sake."
Through Sakemaru, he introduces "small and unknown but good breweries in Japan". He says that these sake producers may not have the budget or know-how on how to promote the sake on their own.
For S$50 a month, subscribers get a 720ml bottle of seasonal Junmai or Jumai Gingo grade sake. Unlike sakes which are found on the shelves, Sakemaru's sakes are unfiltered and unpasteurised, and they are very rarely available, even in Japan. Filtering and pasteurising prevents the taste of sake from degrading, but Mr Abe says the resulting sake then lacks individuality.
"An unfiltered and unpasteurised sake has an aroma that is fresher and cleaner, a taste that is complex. The colour is also a little yellowish because it has not been filtered. Some of this type of sake is a little sparkling, as the yeast is still alive in the bottle," he says.
"To preserve Sakemaru's sakes, we recommend refrigerating the bottle of sake immediately upon receiving it, and to drink it up quickly once it has been opened," says Mr Abe. He assures that the sake from the breweries is always kept chilled until it reaches the customer.
According to Mr Abe, the taste of sake also changes according to seasons. In winter, which is sake brewing season, the sake produced is a "little sparkling and tastes very fresh", says Mr Abe. In spring and summer, sake is matured in the brewery, and "the taste is a little softer and smoother," says Mr Abe.
In autumn, when the sake has matured for more than six months, "the taste is very mild and rich, totally different from the sake that has been brewed in winter."
Some of the breweries where the sake comes from are Tempoichi Shuzo, a 106-year-old small brewery in Hiroshima, Kikuzakari Shuzo, a family run brewery from Iwate Prefecture and Mikunibare Shuzo, a 131-year-old brewery in Ikuji Kurobe, famed for its water quality.
The sakes from Sakemaru are available exclusively through them. Sakemaru also offers a snow dormitory cellar service for its customers. "The snow dorm is located in North Japan which always has snow even in summer," says Mr Abe. Historically, the Japanese built snow dorms to store their meats and vegetables.
"For Sakemaru, we put our customers' sake in the snow dorm for them to mature for a year," says Mr Abe. "We deliver the aged sake to them a year later. The snow dorm is cooled by natural snow, and the temperature is kept between zero to 5 deg C throughout the year.
"Under this perfect condition, the taste of sake tends to be sweeter and milder than fresh ones," says Mr Abe. The use of the snow dorm cellar is inclusive in the subscription price.
Mr Abe declined to reveal the number of subscribers he has, but says, there are more men than women. "A majority of them are in their 30s," he says.
In the future, he hopes to be able to offer personalisation services for customers, by creating new sakes for them. "And hopefully, we can also connect our customers to the breweries directly," he says.
In Singapore, restaurants and sake shops have been bringing in different sake labels. "But unfiltered and unpasteurised sake is still new in Singapore," says Mr Abe. "I believe drinking this type of sake will be a typical experience soon."
If Benjamin Tan had his way, all whisky lovers would be sampling lesser-known whiskies not in a bar, but in the comfort of their homes.
Whisky Butler, a subscription service, which Mr Tan is a co-founder of, allows consumers to do just that.
"We believe that the whisky drinker is a curious drinker. They are adventurous and want to try a variety of whiskies with a rich heritage and story to tell behind their making. And we want to introduce these whiskies to our customers, to provide an educational journey in whisky and to allow different expressions of appreciation towards whiskies," says Mr Tan, 31, who left his consultant job to run Whisky Butler full-time.
Mr Tan recalls that a few years back during a whisky-tasting session with friends, the idea of an online whisky tasting club came up. "We wondered, besides at bars, where could people get to try a wide range of whiskies without having to purchase a full bottle," says Mr Tan.
He also realised that everyone's palate is different when it comes to whisky tasting. "You may be able to pick up some tasting notes that another person can't although it often doesn't deviate too much from the many published tasting notes found online," says Mr Tan.
"Therefore, an online tasting club would also give the opportunity to develop one's tasting palate with an open mind instead of just drinking the regular club selection of whiskies that are often more marketed or generally recognised."
For a monthly fee, subscribers get four 20ml tasting-size whiskies that come in a gift box. Each set of whisky is specially curated by a dedicated team of whisky connoisseurs, and comprises whiskies from around the world. Accompanying each whisky is a tasting guide that introduces the history and making of the whisky, as well as a description on the tasting notes. The Whisky Butler team decides on which whiskies to include by taste, availability and the cost to acquire. "If it fits in with our monthly theme, we include it into our tasting box," says Mr Tan.
For example, this month's tasting box contains whisky from Glenfiddich, one of the largest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland, including samples of the special Gallery collection, which are the 22 Year Rum Cask, and the 23-year-old Refill Hogshead. Mr Tan admits that with the ubiquitous online market, most whiskies from the Whisky Butler can be found elsewhere. "But it may not be easily available in Singapore in a sampling quantity," he points out.
Subscription rates start from S$74 a month for a 12-month plan, or there is also the S$88 monthly, "pay-as-you-go" plan. Full bottles and exclusive bottlings are also available at special member-only prices.
Mr Tan says that as the local market is still new to whisky appreciation, he believes his subscription-based model for whisky sampling is the right fit for the Singapore market.
He says the member base has been growing steadily and on target. The boxes have been popular with companies too, as they are given as corporate gifts to clients.
With more than 10,000 varieties of whiskies on the market, Mr Tan, who is also a big whisky collector, says it will take subscribers well over 15 years to receive the same whisky again.
"I hope to one day build up a large enough customer base to offer exclusive single cask bottling that are available only for members," he says.