Cafe-Hopping like a local: Specialty Coffee Shops in Kuala Lumpur
In major Asian cities cafe-hopping is considered a sport, You'll hardly find anyone taking the first sip without snapping a picture and posting it on Instagram first. I drove right into that culture and discovered some excellent specialty coffee shops in Kuala Lumpur that make great backdrops for photos too. As you can read on my blog page, coffee in Malaysia is normally a strong, bitter brew of mostly Liberica beans. Thankfully, the third wave is spreading as fast in KL as it is in other big cities in the region and the days of adding tons of sugar to make your cup drinkable are counted. Check out these incredible spots for a good cup of coffee and something for the eye!
When you’re a coffee lover like me, you’re not only heading to VCR for their great coffee, but to get a chance to meet one of the baristas too. No, I don’t have a crush on baristas, but three (!) of them scored high during the Malaysian Barista Championships in 2016, the same year I visited their shop. This year barista Kenneth reached 3rd place in the 2017 Malaysian Brewers cup. I was so hoping to have my latte poured by Jeffrey Tan when I visited in 2016, 1st Runner-Up of the Latte Art Championship, but no such luck. The excellent breakfast - VCR offers several options like brioche, French Toast & granola – and great coffee, of course, compensated for him not being around.
VCR is located close to the bustling Berjaya Times Square, one of KL’s major shopping malls. When stepping inside the café, though, it is calm and inviting, intensified by the dark brown wooden and steel furnishing. Two floors and an outside seating area give space for many coffee fans; so don’t worry about not finding a seat.
You can tell by their coffee equipment and machines that VCR are very serious and professional about brewing coffee. During the time of my visit VCR had beans from regional roasters such as the Roast Things based in Bangkok but in the meantime they have started to take roasting into their own hands. Try all the different options by sipping your way through the menu!
By the way, maybe you’re luckier than me with spotting the champions by visiting their other café location in Bangsar.
2, Jalan Galloway
Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Pulp by Papa Palheta
This coffee shop was recommended to me by a friend from Ninepress in Singapore. Pulp is not only the satellite shop of Singaporean coffee business Papa Palheta, but also their flagship store in Malaysia. And, what an impressive one at that! The mobile counters and the whole store concept design enables the customer to step real close and have a sneak over the shoulders of the baristas at work and ask questions about brewing methods and recipes, like I usually do.
The flagship store is a combination of café, retail store and roastery with a show-/cupping room as well as a workshop area for the maintenance of their espresso machines. If you’re visiting this shop on the weekend make sure to take part in one of the cuppings they host Saturdays. Nevermind if you can’t make it, Pulp always offers 4-5 filter coffees to try-taste: Small cups are provided to help yourself, too. Amazing approach to try their excellent beans, ranging from filter to espresso options.
29, Jalan Riong
Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur
Merchant’s Lane is like walking into the past while nibbling on fusion food and drinking coffee so good it must be from the future! Once upon a time a brothel was situated in the very space - if the colourful walls could talk they'd tell fascinating stories I'm sure. I fell in love with the incredible set-up of Merchant's Lane, especially the menionted walls with peeling paint that might be as old as the traditional shophouse building itself. Co-founder Ken Ho had the mission to maintain as much of the original appearance as possible while adding antiques and Malaysian Chinese elements that make for a cosy atmosphere.
When you walk up the narrow staircase leading to the cafè for the first time you have actually no idea what the rest of the space beholds. Once a big space flooded by natural lights appears in front of your eyes you'll know you're in the right place. Stepping out to the terrace you'll find yourself inbetween green plants - a real treat in the concrete jungle that is Kuala Lumpur.
Merchant’s Lane's menu is just as colourful as the coffee shop itself. Foodies are raving about the modern dishes with traditional touch. One of the specials is their famous Rose Honey Milk, it’s a combo of rose tea, milk froth and honey, with a garnish of rose petals. Coffee-wise they are currently featuring beans by HotShots Coffee Roasters who are based in Kuala Lumpur.
150, Jalan Petaling
Central Kuala Lumpur
Grind 22 Bangsar
This coffee shop is an experience of its own kind: I entered the space, that wasn’t easy to find from the road to be honest – they themselves call it a coffee hideout - ordered my latte, sat down and was involved in a conversation almost immediately: “How was your day?” is one of the simple questions every customer is asked upon entering. Grind 22 is a community place. When I talked to co-owners and friends Raqib Darul and Zool Raimy, they told me about their concept of making customers new friends. They also organize and host events to support their approach.
The café itself is a very welcoming space in a cozy neighborhood off the busy city center of KL, with a lush outdoor area in the back. Apart from specialty coffee they serve local coffee specialties with home made syrups such as Baba and Nona Lattes. Raqip told me the little story behind these interesting creations: “My mum has a whole pandan pokok in her backyard so she gave me some to use. We experimented a bit, we made the syrup, experimented with the sugar level and then eventually we created the Baba Latte.” The other homemade specialty is the so-called Nona Latte, a gula melaka Latte. Both of these coffee drinks are served with traditional Malaysian biscuits. Regular espresso based drinks are prepared with a dark to medium roast by Aim coffee. It’s a blend with beans originating from Sidamo, Brazil, Mexico and Ethiopia. They roast it 18 and ½ minutes at just over 300 Celsius. In your cup you’ll find delightful aromas of chocolate and honey with soft background acidity.
The conversation continued. I ended up staying for 3 hours and made at least 10 new friends! If you’re café hopping through KL, you might want to consider some more time for Grind 22 as you could end up staying all day. Newsflash! Grind 22 are going to move in 2 months time and the new location will be announced soon!
22, Lorong Maarof
Bangsar Park, Kuala Lumpur
Feeka Coffee Roasters
You might have already guessed it, the name ‘Feeka’ is lent from the Swedish word ‘fika’, which translates to taking a break with food. And that’s what the people behind Feeka Coffee Roasters, who opened in 2013, want their customers do; catch a breath from the bustling KL city life. The old town house in which the café is located is like an oasis in busy Bukit Bintang. As the slogan that is written on one of their walls suggests – Less is more at Feeka. The interior design is left to its purest form, hence the bare walls, pale tones and simple furnishings.
The owners of Feeka Coffee Roasters aim for the Nordic approach – i.e. light roasts - with an excellent selection of coffee beans . The counter is dominated by a Kees van der WestenSpirit but for those who seek filter other brewing options, such as Aeropress and Chemex, are available too.
19, Jalan Mesui
Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur