Charcoal power brings out the best in food and drinks

Secret ingredient: Choo (left) and wife Tan brewing coffee and tea together with his uncle H’ng Eong Cheong (second from right) at their stall in Taman Free School market in George Town. — Zhafaran Nasib/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: No matter how efficient gas stoves are, coffee stall hawker Choo Hun Meng believes in the power of charcoal.

Or more precisely, he swears by the physics phenomenon called latent heat.

He has been serving coffee, tea and toast to the modest Taman Free School community using charcoal for the past 30 years.

“The quality of water, the degree of heat and its energy is crucial to making the perfect cup of coffee or tea.

“Water brought to boil using charcoal flames is simply different. It stays hot longer,” the 50-year-old stressed.

What Choo and his family members have been so unknowingly reliant on is latent heat.

First expressed by British chemist Joseph Black in 1762, latent heat is understood as energy in hidden form; while there are no detectable changes in temperature, there is a hidden energy in matter which turns solids to liquids and liquids to gases.

Energy that can be detected by a thermometer is referred to in physics as “sensible heat”.

Boiling water with charcoal is Choo’s way of life and he will not have it any other way.

“My family and I have been at this business for 30 years and we have always been boiling water and toasting bread using charcoal,” he said.

Choo, who took over the business from his 77-year-old mother H’ng Mooi Gium two years ago, said as it was a family business, they were content with running their stall at a moderate pace.

“Although using gas to boil water is definitely quicker, we do not want to do that.

“We will always retain this way of doing business.

“We know our customers enjoy the taste of our coffee and tea brewed with charcoal flames and we want to preserve this ko cha bi (Hokkien for traditional taste).

Choo’s wife, Tan Pek Hoon, 50, who helps out at the stall, said while they boiled water using charcoal flame, they also made toast bread with butter and kaya (coconut and egg jam) using charcoal embers as well.

“Charcoal embers make the bread very crisp and enhance the flavour of white bread.

“Our toasted bread has been a favourite among locals here for breakfast and we hope to continue serving them with these hearty toasts,” she said proudly.

One of their customers, Sabariah Mydin, 47, who lives nearby, said she had been patronising the shop for over 10 years and loved its coffee and tea.

“Even the Milo they make is good.

“It just packs that taste that reminds you of good old times and I love watching the family working together,” she said.

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charcoal , latent heat , toast bread , coffee , tea


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