This week's post is a bit different from the normal format. It is firstly not
on a specific coffee shop, and secondly it is a bit longer than normal.
Hopefully worth reading.
I had the privilege to be in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) for the last two weeks, flying back to my family and South Africa tomorrow. Not being part of a group this time, in fact being completely on my own, I had some time on hand to explore the local coffee culture in Malaysia. I was assured that there is none, nothing, nada. The market is mostly saturated by franchised coffee shops, such as the like of Starbucks, Old Town White Coffee, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Dr Cafe Coffee. Nothing wrong with them, they serve good coffee to the customers (and tourists). Coming from Cape Town with a strong coffee culture, I just knew there must be more to it than the eye can see.
Facebook to the rescue, and after searching for a group of coffee lovers, I came across one such group, BCM (Barista Club of Malaysia). Posting a simple question that I would like to find some coffee shops that are not part of a franchise resulted in over thirty responses. I am only here over one weekend … what to do, what to do!
One of the respondents gave me a Google map (pretty cool I must say) of a list of coffee shops in the area (and some a bit further in other cities). This is something that can be worth exploring per country, building a map of local roasters and coffee shops. Check it out at http://goo.gl/ogT5l (thanks to Joachim Leong)
I managed to fit my first cup of cappuccino in on Thursday afternoon after getting back at the hotel. RAW (Real and Wholesome) Coffee is close to the Petronas Twin Towers, and the towers are close to my hotel. Something they might give some thought is better advertising, was it not for the smell of freshly roasted beans I caught when walking pass them (in the street, not in a mall), I surely had to return to the hotel disappointed, hot and bothered (it is a constant 31 degrees here). Now I also know the feeling of being led by your nose. Had a great cappuccino here and all of a sudden I knew I had to plan my Saturday, there is only so many hours!
Saturday morning I headed for Publika, a shopping centre much to the likes of a Willow Bridge, more a Lifestyle Centre. My first stop is The Red Beanbag. I am introduced to the barista, Jason, who makes me one mean cappuccino from their house blend (Guatemala, Brazil and Indonesian coffee). The coffee is soft, acidity just right, hot enough to enjoy immediately, and even some latte art on. They get their coffee from Australia, so they don’t roast themselves. A bit disappointed that it is not a local roaster, but it is still good coffee, specifically blended for them.
My next stop at Publika is Coffee Stain by Joseph. Here I find something completely different than The Red Beanbag. It has the feeling of a relaxed lab, the place is set for demonstrations, experiments, sharing and teaching. They have Latte Art workshops, make coffee using all different equipment, the works. I am enjoying a siphon coffee here, made from Ethiopian sun dried coffee. A bit too much acidity for my personal taste, but still a good coffee. The siphon gives a clean coffee that tends to have a bit more acidity.
I end the day at Publika with a coffee at Dr Cafe Coffee, headed over to Plaza Low Yat (an IT shopping centre!) and end the trip with a Starbucks. Yes, they all have good coffee, but it is the local roasters and coffee shops we need to support as well.
There is a vibe between young people in Malaysia to appreciate good coffee, to support local talent, to cultivate their own coffee culture and share it with who-ever wants to join in. I read in one article someone saying that it is young people coming back from Europe and wants to start something similar in Malaysia. I see nothing wrong with that, they are not doing it (only) for the money, they believe in what they do, they make it part of their culture, part of their life.
Doing a search on “coffee history Malaysia” pointed me to academia.edu, with a thesis by Sitinurbaya Abdul Rahman (2010) on the subject. Another document that I have to read (should be excellent material for my trip home), but scanning through it, I found a reference to an article on coffee in The Malay Mail, 1932. The article references cultivation of coffee some fifty-odd years before that (1893). Bottom line is that there is more to the coffee culture in Malaysia than the eye can (or want to) see.
I end the post with a bit of disappointment, realising that I should have done my homework a bit better, planned a bit better. There are still so many that I could have visited. One of them (Plan b. Roasters) I literally walked pass twice on Saturday, knew that I saw the name somewhere but was not sure. Then there is myespressoLAB Coffee Roasters, CoffeeSociété and Coffee in Love. I am most probably missing a lot more places, but one can only hope that the opportunity will arise one day to return and visit these fine places. For now I have to let it rest and experience the coffee culture in my own city, Cape Town.