These days, choices are aplenty when it comes to drinking coffee in Kuala Lumpur. Besides Kopitiam, after 2010, specialty coffee shops started taking root all over Kuala Lumpur’s affluent neighborhoods and upscale malls. To immerse in Kuala Lumpur’s coffee culture, we suggest you explore at least one of the old-school neighborhood Kopitiam and a few specialty coffee shops like Bean Reserve and Sprezzatura. If you’re busy and can’t get around the sprawling city, your best bet would be hotel coffee shops.
Neighborhood Kopitiam for traditional black coffee
Kopitiam is made up of two words. “Kopi” is a Malay word for coffee and “Tiam” is a Chinese Hokkien word for shop. The word itself shows the diversity of language and culture in Kuala Lumpur. Kopitiam or coffee shop first started in the 1900s when Chinese men of Hainan descent were leaving or losing their jobs as cooks for British families. At the end of the colonial era, most of these men either found themselves without a job or wanted to venture out on their own with their new found skills. The skills of serving coffee with toasts and eggs for breakfast.
Kuala Lumpur’s old-school Kopitiam, unlike the new version air-conditioned Old Town Kopitiam chain stores, are often found in open air food markets, or at a packed storefront sharing space with a few food stalls. The place isn’t air-conditioned and is usually cooled by ceiling fans. Most have round Formica tables and plastic red, green, orange or blue chairs. Usually, you’ll have to share a table with strangers because of limited seats.
Kopitiam’s coffee beans according to Kopi Hang Tuah, a Malaysian roasting company since 1958, “are roasted with sugar and margarine to enhance the aroma and flavor.” The majority are Liberica coffee grown in Malaysia.
When at a Kopitiam you must have kopi-o. A kopi-o is a cup of black coffee with sugar. You can ask for kopi-o iced (iced black coffee with or without sugar) or Kopi Susu – black coffee serves with condensed milk and sugar. These are very sweet coffee that go well with local food. To brew this coffee, the vendors place coffee grounds in a cloth sock strainer (take a look at the photo) and pour hot water onto the ground. To serve, condensed milk or sugar are added to the cup, followed by the hot coffee.
Traditional Kopitiam only serves kopi-o and kopi susu with toast and half boiled eggs (almost raw). These eggs are eaten with white pepper and soy sauce. The toasts are crustless white bread toasted on an open charcoal grill. The toasts are smeared with a thick layer of margarine and kaya (a local jam made of eggs, coconut milk, sugar, and pandan flavor).
1. A storefront at 65, Jalan 20/7 Petaling Jaya
Throughout Kuala Lumpur, there are storefronts serving up cheap meals at any time of the day. Some are open 24/7. A local friend brought us to one in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur to try out kopi susu (black coffee with condensed milk and sugar) and a bowl of laksa curry. It’s a perfect combination and is suitable for anyone who likes hot and spicy food.
These storefronts are not air-conditioned and all transactions are in cash only. No tipping is necessary.
While in Chinatown on Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur, at 9 a.m. the food stalls were still closed. We walked to a small alley by a vendor selling piles of old shoes and used clothes, and found a coffee stall. The couple had a stack of brown eggs and bread wrapped in paper. They served traditional black coffee in the traditional Kopitiam cup and saucer. These cups are thick and stout looking chinaware made for the working class. Each cup of coffee was 74 cents.
Chinatown has an extensive variation of street food. Kopi-o pairs well with deep fried shrimp fritters (cucur udang) like the ones shown below. The vendor cut these round delicacy into bite size pieces, placed them in a clear plastic bag and added a touch of sweet chili sauce inside. You can ask for more chili sauce if you prefer more spice in yours. To eat, just use the long wooden pick that comes with the order.
3. Kedai Kopi Lai Foong on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock
Highly recommended for its stir fried flat noodles and barbecue meat, this 100-year-old Kopitiam has the best kopi-o made traditionally by the old gentleman at the corner. Unlike the more modern storefronts, Kedai Kopi Lai Foong still uses the marble top tables like traditional Kopitiam and wooden chairs. Some of these broken wooden chairs are being replaced by red plastic chairs.
Specialty Coffee Shops
Hip coffee shops are popping up all over Kuala Lumpur, often designed like specialty coffee shops in Melbourne, Australia. These are places fitted with multiple electrical outlets for your phones and laptop and Wi-Fi for you to connect with friends. If you like the coffee, you can buy a bag of freshly roasted whole bean to brew your own at home. It’s the place to go for the ambiance and the aroma of coffee sans loud noises.
4. Bean Reserve
Located in Bangsar, the cafe district and one of the affluent neighborhoods in Kuala Lumpur, Bean Reserve sits among the city’s best restaurants, clubs, cafes, and shops since 2015. Bean Reserve is a coffee shop and a coffee roasting company. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and according to the company:
Aside from serving coffee, we roast them too. As coffee is seasonal, we source coffee from a variety of origins throughout the year. We offer single origins as well as our own variety of espresso blends.
Apart from the usual espresso-based drinks, Bean Reserve recommends their specialties:
- Nitro coffee (both black & white) which is our nitrogen-infused cold brew on tap
- Cereal milk and espresso soft serve
- Chai latte
To get the perfect nitro coffee brew, Bean Reserve steeps their coffee from a variety of origins for at least 12 to 18 hours before serving it on tap. Nitro coffee is the perfect type of caffeine needed in Kuala Lumpur, a city with an average temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Another tropical weather treat at Bean Reserve is their soft serve. Both cereal milk and espresso soft serve are made onsite.
Location: 8 Lengkok Abdullah, Bangsar Kuala Lumpur, 59000
Started in 2014, Sprezzatura roast coffee beans in the coffee shop next to the bar counter. This allows customers to have the full coffee experience. Currently, the company sources their green coffee directly from their partner farmers in Sulawesi and Flores Indonesia. They also source other origins from US and European coffee traders. The good thing is they rotate their coffee blends regularly and are always working closely with coffee farmers. Sprezzatura said:
When we taste a coffee that we like, we want to know where it comes from and who grows, picks and processes it.
Sprezzatura also supplies their freshly roasted coffee to some of Kuala Lumpur’s popular specialty coffee shops. Among the many top sellers in the coffee shop, latte tops it all.
The coffee shop is open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on weekends and selected public holidays.
Hotel and Resort Coffee Shops
When you’re busy and can’t get around to the kopitiam and specialty coffee shops, you can opt for coffee at a hotel’s coffee shop. Of course where you stay is important because not every hotel has an ideal coffee shop.
6. Majestic Hotel KL
The luxurious Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur is the best hotel for a history buff or anyone who likes a cozy hotel with rich history and plenty of places to relax with a cup of coffee. For morning coffee, go to Contango, a 250-seat dining room next to the main entrance of the hotel. Afternoon coffee at the Colonial Cafe will make you feel like you are living in Kuala Lumpur’s colonial era.
A buffet breakfast includes the regular coffee and also specialty coffee made to order. There’s no limit- drink as many cups as you like. Over 50 types of Malay, Chinese, Indian and western foods- cold and hot. And some are made-to-order. Black coffee pairs well with nasi lemak – a Malay breakfast food.
7. EGG Cafe, Sunway Resort
Located at Sunway Resort, EGG Cafe is an independent restaurant and light meal outlet. Sunway Resort is known for their all-you-can-eat dining. If you need a break for heavy meals, go to EGG Cafe. EGG is short for Eight Gourmets Gala, which is eight eateries in one place. One of which is Chateau de C.A.F.F.E.I.N.E.E.S, a cafe serving coffee, wine, beer, and cocktail.
Tea time special is available all day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For RM12.90 (about $3), get a macchiato or latte, sandwich or cake, or muffin, and a plate of fruits.
We learned so much about the people, culture and coffee history in Kuala Lumpur by drinking coffee in just seven places. Could you imagine if we visited more places? Are you a coffee enthusiast in Kuala Lumpur? Do you have a favorite coffee shop? Let us know so we can produce better content for the community. Thank you.