Rising 87 meters above the Chow Kit area of downtown Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s tallest mural: a Dayak woman whose imposing headdress is adorned with flora, fauna and tropical fruits, while balanced precariously atop a ripe papaya and young durian is a bowl of glistening noodles dotted with plump shrimp. Painted on the south side of the RED by Sirocco Hotel on Jalan Kamunting, “Courage to Dream” by Sabah-born Kenji Chai aims to encapsulate Malaysia’s diverse cultures. It’s an ideal setting for the business at its core: Yut Kee Restaurant, one of KL’s oldest and most popular. kopitiam.
A combination of the Malay word for coffee and the Hokkien for store, kopitiam have long been part of the country’s national daily landscape. In the late 1800s, when Chinese from the southern island province of Hainan and the southeastern province of Fujian emigrated to what was then British-controlled Malaysia, many found work in the hotel industry. After the post-World War II economic downturn made their jobs scarce, some seized the opportunity to start their own cafes and small restaurants. Today, kopitiam are an integral part of Malaysia’s multicultural identity, and for visitors to the country, sipping a cup of rich, velvety kopi at an intergenerational business such as the nearly century-old Yut Kee is a memorable experience.
“Malaysia is made up of many races, but you can put aside whatever differences you have when enjoying coffee and a meal,” says third-generation Yut Kee owner Mervyn Lee. “Therefore, kopitiam people from all walks of life still walk through their doors. You can go alone or with others, you don’t need to dress up or down, you go as you are. Lee says travelers are always welcome: “Malaysians are generally known for their hospitality, for their kindness, and we are more than happy to make recommendations. »
At Yut Kee, kopi brewing traditions are passed down from generation to generation.
However, it is useful to know how to order coffee like a local. Lee explains that in the Hainanese style, at the end of the roasting process, a combination of sugar and margarine is added to the beans, which are usually Robusta but sometimes a blend. This gives them a “smoky, oily veneer, that deep black color and distinctive richness.” Although the beans may differ, this style of roasting is typical throughout the country. kopitiam, but the most important thing to remember is that the resulting bold, chocolatey brew is served with sweetened condensed milk by default. Unsweetened black coffee is Cafe O is emptywhile an unsweetened white cup – mixed with evaporated milk – is the cafe is empty. For black sweetened with sugar, ask black coffeewhile for the white with sugar it is coffee C. When a sweltering afternoon calls for icy refreshment, simply add peng until your preference ends.
Straight out of the old town
If Peninsula Malaysia were to have a traditional coffee capital, it would be Ipoh, the capital of the northwestern state of Perak. In the 1800s, attracted by the tin mining boom, migrants from southern China began roasting Robusta with palm oil margarine to give it a milder flavor with light hints of caramel, which lightened the color. Stirring the cup with condensed milk further softens the hue, hence the name “white coffee.” Operating since 1937 in the heart of Ipoh Old Town, Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong is a pioneer of the city’s iconic beer.
Ipoh in the state of Perak could be considered the traditional coffee capital of Malaysia.
Ipoh’s heritage district is also home to OLDTOWN White Coffee, one of Malaysia’s most popular white coffee brands. Founded in 1999, its products are exported to over 30 countries and there are nearly 200 cafes in Malaysia and neighboring countries, including Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.
A heavenly trio
Although the comfort and affordable foods offered vary from region to region of the country, kopitiamtwo items are likely to appear on every menu: kaya toast (known locally as rich toast) and half-cooked eggs. Countless Malaysians – as well as Singaporeans whose kopitiam the culture is also deeply rooted – I ardently agree that coffee, Kaya toast and eggs make up the most delicious breakfast trio in the world. Popular throughout Southeast Asia, SO is a luscious, silky spread made from coconut milk, egg yolks and sugar, sometimes flavored with pandan.
The traditional combination of kopi, kaya toast and eggs is a must-try when visiting Malaysia’s kopitiam.
Although preparation methods differ, the bread is traditionally toasted over charcoal then generously coated with SO and sandwiched around slices of butter. Eggs are served in soup and, with a few shakes of white pepper for smokiness and a few drops of dark soy sauce for savory flavor, they become the perfect companion to crispy, sweet toast. Tucked away in a lane of Campbell Street, in the heart of George Town, Penang, Toh Soon Cafe still toasts its bread the traditional way. Locals and travelers form long lines for the Compact of kopitiam classic beers and tasty toasts.
Liberica’s time has come
Although these ubiquitous restaurants are considered the birthplace of local coffee culture, KL is home to a thriving specialty sector driven by cosmopolitan cafes, world-class baristas and whimsical coffee bars. Some of the most notable venues include One Half in Taman Paramount, founded by three-time Malaysian barista champion Keith Koay; Toothless Coffee, the city’s only omakase coffee bar; and Piu Piu Piu, an individual stall sequestered on the second floor of the Zhongshan Building Creative Center in Kampung Attap.
The rising star of the Malaysian specialty industry is the rare species Café Liberica. Originally from Liberia, West Africa, it is now mainly grown and consumed in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, accounting for less than 1.5% of the global coffee market after Arabica and Robusta. Liberica’s larger, denser cherries have long been overlooked by the rest of the world due to their relatively low yield. However, as climate change impacts the higher altitudes favored by the world’s two favorite coffee species, this hardier tree – which grows well in warmer lowland regions such as Johor state, in the south of the Malaysian peninsula, and the highlands of Sarawak in Borneo – is praised by some. coffee specialists as one of coffee’s best hopes for survival.
“Other coffee species among the 130 known species are being explored to find those that best adapt to harsh climates. Only liberica is suitable for growing in hot, humid low-lying areas and can be mass-produced,” says Dr Kenny Lee Wee Ting, co-founder of Earthlings Coffee Workshop, a dynamic and dedicated collective that supports local producers and offers coffee specialties. education and operates a cafe in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. For many years, he and his associates have worked to optimize the quality and quantity of liberica grown by the region’s indigenous communities since the mid-19th century. “Sarawak has a rich history of growing liberica,” he explains, “and so it’s a destination that coffee lovers shouldn’t miss. »
Coffea liberica is a rare species that is gaining popularity in Malaysia.
Another enticing destination is My Liberica in Johor, Malaysia’s only seed-to-cup liberica producer, run by second-generation coffee farmer Jason Liew. Twenty-five years ago, Liew’s father planted liberica after his entire lime crop was stolen one fateful night. Since it cannot simply be plucked from the tree as it requires processing, he considers liberica a safer alternative. Today, the company produces 43 varieties of specialty beans and other coffee products, operates four cafes, organizes tours and tests innovative processing methods in collaboration with Saša Šestić, 2015 World Barista Champion .In 2021, with a blend containing My Liberica beans, Hugh Kelly placed third at the World Barista Championships.
So, what does Liberica taste like? Naturally, it depends on the processing method and roasting, but Dr Kenny Lee Wee Ting says that when processed well, “you can taste notes of jackfruit, mango, dried figs, melons and lots of gentleness.” Liew agrees: “Liberica is special for its softness and body. It is full-bodied, very round. Mixed with other coffee varieties, it can play a good supporting role without overshadowing them. It also goes well with milk. Unlike many arabica beans which cannot mask the taste of milk, liberica will bring out very distinctive flavors. From the nostalgic ambiance of national treasures kopitiam For the bright future of its specialized industry, Malaysia is every coffee connoisseur’s dream.