From gold filters to brilliant baristas, the storm brewing in Malaysia’s coffee cups

Coffee shops have sprouted up all over Malaysia but what’s causing the trend? Source: Phil Botha/Unsplash

MALAYSIA probably won’t be the first to spring to mind when thinking of nations with a vibrant coffee culture. But all that has changed, as more specialist coffee shops enter the scene to cater to new and discerning tastes, and a growing community of coffee connoisseurs.

The culture of drinking coffee itself has evolved tremendously in just a few years; Malaysians used to frequent the local kopitiams for a simple cup of teh or kopi tarik (pulled tea or coffee) and complain heavily when, no thanks to rising inflation, prices of their favorite butter-roasted kopi ‘o’ is hiked by a few sen or ringgit.

But today, spurred on by a growing middle class and millennials returning from their studies abroad and looking to replicate their experiences back home, more local urbanites have become willing to spend on lifestyle. This ultimately means forking out a pretty penny for a cup of that awesome new specialty blend served at that cool new cafe in town that’s been appearing on everyone’s Instagram feed.

As Kok Jit Weng, 24, Barista and coffee academic from Pulp coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur explains:

“If you studied in London for example, you have coffee shops like Taylor Street Baristas and Monmouth Coffee. So, when you come back here [Malaysia], you’d be a bit more determined to look for something similar.”

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Rocket fuel, wakey juice, liquid energy, or brew, whatever way you may refer to it as, coffee features as a staple element in many cultures all over the world, and although Malaysia may be late to the booming coffee scene, they are certainly making up for it in diversity and uniqueness.

“Here at X Coffee, we carefully select out beans and understand our customer’s needs,” Fizhal Athirah, assistant manager at X Coffee in Q Sentral, Kuala Lumpur told Travel wire Asia.

Because of Malaysia’s delayed arrival to the coffee party, roasters, shop owners and baristas can take the best parts of each the most thriving coffee cultures from around the world and create incredible flavors and experiences guaranteed to entice both locals and foreign tourists alike.

For example, at X Coffee the beans are sourced from Peru, Dominican Republic, and Bolivia, to name a few, then the hand-brewing process takes place in a gold-plated filter “to bring out different character”, Fizhal added.

“Customers want to learn and associate this method with the coffee they’re tasting.”

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When did Malaysia put its mark on the coffee culture sphere?

Malaysia waltzed onto the coffee culture map around four years ago when they entered barista and latte art competitions. Last year saw them clinch seventh in the world Barista championships, and they took the brewing world by storm.

“I certainly hope that we’ve made our mark, that has been my wish,” Daniel Liew, Academic Director at Barista Guild Asia,  told Travel Wire Asia when we spoke to him at the Café Malaysia Event.

“We made this possible by outing us on the world stage, it wasn’t easy, but I think this year we’ve made an impact and now countries are like ‘wow, when did Malaysia come in, how come they’re number seven, and what is it that they’ve been doing?’”

Originating as a home brewing experience and combing condensed milk, butter and sugar to make a sweeter cuppa, Malaysia has come a long way to enjoy espresso-based products that are now available all over the country, especially Kuala Lumpur.

This first wave of coffee was outshone by capitalist franchises, such as Starbucks which have created a “fan base for the coffee culture and today we have grown in terms of leaps and bounds of how we like our coffee,” added Liew.

Malaysia’s growing coffee culture has spawned a mushrooming effect of specialty brew cafes to open up across the nation. This has been a crucial part of heading into the third wave of coffee culture and breaking through the other side.

According to Liew, the third wave was all about the aesthetics of coffee culture, “[the third wave] used to be tattoo-artists and piercings, beards and man-buns, but we’ve gone beyond that.”

“The fourth wave in Malaysia is educating the public, being able to explain the coffee, not just being a coffee geek, but helping the consumers learn about how to make that transition to understand the tastes and flavors and quality of the coffee.”

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And Malaysians are certainly looking for that new level of coffee experience.

“People are looking for the good single origin [bean], and taking the time to learn about the technicalities of making that great coffee,” Karen Choo of Cottle Coffee in Damansara, told Travel wire Asia.

The small Southeast Asian nation of 30 million people may still be a few years behind Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore in terms of a thriving coffee culture, but because the market is far less saturated, roasters, brewers, and sippers are able to embrace the wholesome experience this delicious caffeinated beverage brings to our lives.

“…each coffee has a story right? You can have an amazing coffee and it tastes great but what makes it fantastic is the service and environment,” Jit explains.

“People are investing a lot of money into their cafes to make the environment welcoming for their customers.”

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X Coffee, for example, has a minimal aesthetic, clear and decisive, simply focusing on the coffee, whereas Pulp has a Scandinavian vibe going on. Both, however, are enticing in a coffee climate, that has for years, only known Starbucks.

Where next for Malaysia’s coffee culture?

“The community here is very strong,” Liew explained, “if you look around you [at Café Malaysia], you get the feeling that everyone seems to know each other very closely. We want to help each other grow.”

Unlike other thriving coffee cultures, Malaysia has less competition among its barista-peers. Instead of out-doing each other, cafes, roasters and baristas share their new-fangled tips and tricks for incredible coffee making.

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Whichever quirky, independent coffee shop you visit in Malaysia, you can be sure they each have their own unique style and technique for brewing the perfect cuppa.

Each barista will do their utmost to educate you on the source of the bean, method of brewing and how to get the most from every sip, something you probably won’t be getting at the nearest Starbucks.