Malaysia is one of the few places I can think of that has a deeply ingrained culture of both tea and coffee drinking. For the most part, coffee (like tea come to think of it) is served up strong, milky and sweet; an anti-skinny decaff latte if you like. The quality is higher at traditional Malaysian cafes known as kopitiams, which were once common in Kuala Lumpur, but are now an endangered species.
The best bet for a visitor to get a taste of kopitiam-style coffee is at one of the local chains, the most venerable of which is Old Town White Coffee. Apart from coffee, Old Town also serves up tasty Malaysian nibbles, such as kaya (a sweet fruit paste) toast, half-boiled eggs, and laksa (spicy noodle soup). The branch in Central Market is worth a visit for its lovely decor alone.
While drinking coffee may not have originated in Italy, it is there that the habit has reached its greatest expression. Simplicity and quality are the two key ingredients of Italian-style coffee. In Italy, asking for a coffee gets you a single shot espresso. Done well, it is a superb drink: strong but not bitter, with a creamy texture. Most Italians would be deeply bemused by the strange concoctions on offer at the likes of Starbucks.
Luckily for anyone who appreciates substance over show, KL is blessed with a number of good places to sample Italian-style coffee. Espressamente Illy and Spazzio are highly recommended, as are two of KL’s most authentic Italian restaurants, Neroteca and Bar Italia.
Australia and New Zealand come a close second to Italy in international rankings for coffee culture. While not as ubiquitous in KL as Italian-style coffee, anyone hankering after a flat white will not go wanting. The helpfully named Antipodean in Bangsar is deservedly popular. Best to avoid weekends though, when it gets especially mobbed.
No mall seems complete in Malaysia without at least one Starbucks or Coffee Bean outlet, but really, why travel thousands of miles to have weak, overpriced coffee, when you can be similarly disappointed at home?
Old Town White Coffee
Ground Floor, Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2260 6000
Lot 10.00.03, The Pavilion, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2141 0028
Lot C3.11.00, The Pavilion, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2148 8388
Ground Floor, Somerset, 8 Lorong Ceylon, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2070 0530
29 Jalan Berangan, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2144 4499
20 Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar Village, Kuala Lumpur
T: (03) 2282 0411
By Pat Fama
Last updated on 26th February, 2015.