Coffee in Malaysia

Not unlike in China, Malaysia has traditionally been more of a tea-drinking nation, but coffee has been on the rise, as coffee culture grows more popular, particularly amongst young professionals, and coffee shops are mushrooming up all across the country.

Here are some facts and figures about the the history and recent growth of coffee culture in Malaysia:

  • Traditional Malaysian coffee, called “kopi,” is for some an acquired taste. It is made by pouring boiling water through grounds held in a cloth “sock” or filter, and is thick, strong and bitter. Kopi can be drunk hot or iced, and is often mellowed with sweetened condensed milk.
  • Liberica, a coffee variety native to Africa that’s considered inferior in taste to arabica and robusta, is thought to have been introduced to the Malaysian peninsula in the 1800s. The plant is still cultivated in small numbers, mostly in the central and southern states of Selangor and Johor.
  • Malaysian kopi’s distinctive burnt flavor comes from the butter and sugar that the beans are roasted with.
  • Whatever today’s coffee connoisseurs might make of kopi, the traditional coffee beverage is a cherished part of Malaysian cultural heritage.
  • Kopi is served in “Kopitiam” (“tiam” is the Hokkien Chinese word for shop) — traditional Malaysian coffee shops that also serve Western dishes like toast and eggs, and Malaysian standards such as fried rice and noodles.
  • Since the early 2000s, an array of kopitiam-inspired coffee chains with nostalgia-inducing names have sprouted across the country.
  • In a February 2014 article in Business Insider Malaysia, it was reported that “the mushrooming of coffee shops has even spread to Southeast Asia, and very visibly in the past two years, in Kuala Lumpur.”
  • “Coffee shops are a rising star in the specialty eatery industry and the fastest growing niche in the restaurant business, elevating the taste by offering brewed coffee and specialty espresso drinks like cappuccinos and lattes,” the Business Insider Malaysiaarticle reported.

For those keen to experience Malaysian coffee culture first-hand, here’s a quick glossary of “kopi” and how to order this national beverage:

Kopi:               hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk

Kopi O:           hot coffee with sugar only

Kopi kosong: hot coffee with no sugar and no milk

Peng:              added to any of the above will get you the said version in a glass, over ice

Kaow:             added to any of the above will get you an extra strong cup (or glass).