Malaysia in search of good Coffee

Bright sunny Sunday morning and coffee! Oh, what a combination! Correction! Anyday paired with good coffee- oh what a combination!

“Every ingredient is essential. Right from how you pour the water, what temperature is the water at, grind size of the beans….” I never miss a chance to learn about coffee. Here I was at yet another at-home-coffee-brewing session in namma Bengaluru. “Next one, Barbara estate. Have a sip and share the tastin…” before the barista could complete his question.  I blurted “Cocoa and almonds” he could tell I am one enthusiastic cutlet, in this case, an espresso shot! 

India has a steaming coffee culture. But, my love for this mysterious drink developed on my trip to Vietnam. The Vietnamese method of brewing coffee using the fin filter intrigued me.  The flavours were very different from my usual cappuccino from Costa coffee (Yes, until 2014, that was the only coffee I drank). A couple of days in Vietnam and I was legit overdosing on ca-phe. After this, I made it a point to try different brewing methods and roasts from every country I travelled to. 

So when I was travelling to Malaysia, It had to be no different. Our journey began in Kota Kinabalu from where we went on to Sandakan, Sepilok then over to Kuala Lumpur and Cameroon highlands. Well, if you thought remembering those names was challenging try ordering the right Kopi (Coffee) in Malaysia!

If you can tell the difference between Kopi-C and Kopi-O-kosong-gau- God bless you! But if you can’t, I am sure by the end of the blog you will be an expert at ordering coffee, at least in Malaysia. 

I arrived in Kota Kinabalu after a 12-hour long flight, with 2 connections. Jetlagged and how! I somehow checked in and made my way to the nearest food court. After 15 minutes of trying to find something vegetarian on the menu, I settled for a bowl of noodle soup. 

After slurping the warm soup down, I badly needed to cool it off! So, I headed to one of the shops selling beverages “Ummm what’s the difference between Kopi-c and Kopi-o,” I asked the lady at the shop. It was a simple set-up, with a dozen of washed milk-shake glasses on the top shelf, and 3 blenders on one of the sides. They had a life-sized menu card printed on either side of the stall, with photos of dishes clearly taken off from the internet. 

“It is coffee,” she said matter of factly. I tried again this time I spoke real slow with a crazy lot of hand gestures “I mean, how are they d-ee-ff-e-rent?” 

“Kopi-peng nice!” her thumbs-up was not quite reassuring, but I thought, why not! Let’s try it. And that kids, is how I met your..  had my first encounter with Malaysian coffee. Kopi-peng was 80% coffee, 20% condensed milk and ice cubes- sweeeeet heavens! 

After a long day of island hopping, I ended up at Radha’s restaurant in Kota Kinabalu. Little did I know I’d end up having all of my dinners here! Owned by a lady named Radha, this restaurant served the best vegetarian food I had in Borneo, Malaysia! She was sweet enough to throw me a feast on my last night. 

Covered in sweat, sand and sweet memories I said, “So I will have a Kopi-C. COLD!” “No, Kopi-c best warm,” the waiter said with a what-a-noob look on his face! “But, I want it cold” 

“You want good coffee? Have it warm!” That was it, I didn’t have much to say! Aye aye captain, warm it is! Kopi-c was a steaming cup of brown liquid – coffee, evaporated milk and sugar. 

Towards the last leg of my journey, I visited Kuala Lumpur and thought of trying out some third-wave speciality coffee. Headed to the Sunday market – a place where you will find everything you need and much more! Also, a great place to try some local fast food and sweet treats. 

I passed stalls selling animals, souvenirs, dream catchers, bags, sweet treats some more dream catchers. Somewhere in that maze of all these “items”, I found a Kopitiam – coffee shop – with a bunch of old plastic furniture strewn around, the setup looked very 70s, a rather unassuming shop. A big wooden signboard in Chinese and in Malay hung over it. I thought of spending some time here, before heading to the third-wave speciality cafe. 

The shop is run by a woman (like many shops in south-east Asia, feminism to the win!) she took my order; Kopi-c-peng-kosong which is basically coffee evaporated milk with ice cubes. Yes, irrespective of what the waiters at Radha’s recommended, I needed a cold drink in that sweltering heat! (Make sure you carry enough sunscreen and aloe vera gel!)

A man next to our table was eating, what looked to me like, toast and jam. After having a smoothie bowl for breakfast, and tasting tons of sweet treats at the Sunday market I was still tempted by the toast and jam! I couldn’t help but stare, I mean it looked delicious! “Have that?” asked the owner pointing at the dish and flashing a crooked smile. It sounded more like an order than a question to me. So I gave in and showed a thumbs-up, after all, Malays had not gone wrong in placing an order for me to date. Turned out it was toasted bread, butter and kaya – a local coconut jam- comfort food for Malays.

I had a bite of the toasted bread with butter and kaya and the last sip of some good old Kopi. While the old uncles read the newspaper and others play cards. Somehow they all know one another, they greeted one another with hugs and bows. Almost everyone flashed a smile at me, wondering what is a stranger doing at their local hang-out spot! Well, guess the stranger found her perfect cup of coffee! Not at a speciality coffee store but at a local kopitan.

It was a good idea not to try that speciality coffee. After all, every ingredient is essential. Right from the vibe of the place, the warmth of the waiters, the chatter of locals, the gratifying joy of feeling you belong here …” 

I found this Kopi guide extremely helpful! Check it out.