Where to go for that authentic Malaysian coffee experience, whether you’re a regular drinker or not.
The Malaysian kopitiam culture has existed long before the invasion of international coffee chains and the hipster cafe wave. These kopitiams, or traditional Malaysian coffee shops, may not be as sleek or as flashy as their modern counterparts, but their offerings are not to be underestimated. You’ll be impressed not just by their distinctively Malaysian brews but also fares to munch on, both light and heavy.
Not to be confused with the similarly named Kluang Station chain of restaurants (which is of a different franchise altogether), Kluang Rail Coffee began its life in 1938 as the humble railway canteen of the railway station in the sleepy town of Kluang in central Johor. Just as how the management of the outlet has remained with the Lim family well into the third generation, much pains has been taken to retain the original atmosphere and the extremely affordable prices. Their coffee is favourably described as medium- bodied and not too bitter, and the flavourful charcoal-grilled toast makes a perfect companion.
Billed by the locals as Muar’s own ‘Starbucks’, Sai Kee has been brewing their coffee since the 1950s. What sets their coffee apart is the use of a rare homegrown variety of Liberica beans, grown in coffee plantations in Muar, also in the southern Malaysian state of Johor. Liberica beans, which originated in Africa (hence also known as ‘elephant’ beans), has a sweeter, non-acidic taste profile. These beans are roasted and brewed to make their famous homemade 434 kopi ‘o’, or black coffee. You can have your coffee in-store or take home a variety of 434-branded coffee products including their signature Elephant Bean brew. Fun fact: The ‘434’ were taken from the final 3 digits of the founder’s phone number in the 1960s.
You will find pretty cafés in abundance in the bustling tourist city of Melaka, with Calanthe Art Café being one of the older kids on the block, operating at Jonker Walk since 2005. However, the café’s real claim to fame is really for being the only such establishment that proudly serves 13 varieties of coffee originating from Malaysia’s 13 states. Everything else on their extensive menu is also worth trying, like their highly raved about brownies and caramel slice.
As one of the more famous go-to breakfast places in Ipoh, the ‘you snooze, you lose’ approach applies when it comes to getting seats: they fill up quite fast on the weekends and public holidays. Their locally brewed Ipoh white coffee is a must- have, either hot or cold. For a complete Ipoh breakfast experience, add in either one of these signature dishes: chee cheong fun, telur goyang toast or laksa siam.
A long-time favourite of both locals and tourists passing through the Malaysian East Coast towns, this coffee shop’s famous blend of Kemaman coffee has been a staple and must-try for decades. Rich, smooth and aromatic – the coffee is best served with their signature kaya toast (made with Hai Peng’s specially made kaya - or coconut jam) or nasi dagang, which is a local rice dish that is made by steaming over coconut milk and served with fish curry.
Tucked inconspicuously at the edge of Kuching’s Carpenter Street, this tiny coffee (and tea) shop in Sarawak’s capital city seats about only three to four tables at a time. Known to the locals as purveyors of Kuching’s best brews, their small roster also includes Taiwanese oolong and green teas. Sourced from Java, Sumatra & Sarawak, their coffee beans are freshly roasted daily. A must-have is their Sarawak blend, of course, which you can also buy bags of to take home, if you wish to replicate the taste on your own.
With such interesting coffee shops around Malaysia serving the best of authentic Malaysian coffee, be sure to drop by one the next time you’re in the area and hankering for a cuppa!