Looking back at the history of our Malaysian coffee culture, we can see how its rich traditions have been passed down through generations by experiencing new flavours and ideas through just a cup of coffee. It also reminds us about the dedication of a handful of workers who produced such powerful tastes in the coffee to keep it authentic.
Coffee has played an imperative role in Malaysian culture since the 19th century. Due to the influence of British colonisation during the 1820’s, Malaysians were often more exposed to tea as the main beverage rather than coffee. It was later in 1898 when coffee culture started to grow as Chinese immigrants moved to Malaysia. A tradition arose of dipping Chinese doughnuts or biscuits into a cup of black coffee as breakfast before heading out to work. It was also during this time that people embraced the arrivals of branded retail outlets into local areas around. Local coffee shops began to expand not only focusing on selling their products but also adopting new marketing plans to attract all generations. The coffee shops started to become the main meeting points for locals to gather, as well as a place to have a relaxing business meeting.
Traditional Coffee in Malaysia
Coffee culture stirs up images of cappuccinos, lattes or even cold brew. Malaysian coffee culture however includes a wide range of primordial brewing techniques. Traditional Malaysian coffee which is called ‘kopi’ in Malay is made by pouring boiling water through grounds which is held in a traditional cloth filter. It’s usually drunk hot or iced, either with or without condensed milk or with a heavy amount of sugar. This trend started during pre-World War II, where locals would sit around marble-topped tables gossiping at the shophouses with ceiling fans while sipping on their morning coffee. But it doesn’t stop there, many traditional styles of coffee are still popular in Malaysia to this this day, including:
Ipoh White Coffee
This coffee goes back again to the 19th Century to the small town Ipoh which is located in the Perak Province of Northern Malaysia. The iconic ‘white coffee’ was introduced by adding condensed milk to black coffee. It has its own trademark in how it is brewed instead of focusing on the type of beans that are used. It has a mixture of arabica, robusta and liberica beans and is roasted in palm oil margarine to add a unique texture and flavour.
Kopi Tarik or Teh Tarik (Pulled Coffee Or Tea)
Kopi Tarik was created by the Indian-Muslim immigrants from the Malay Peninsula. They set up drink stalls at the entrances of the rubber plantations to serve the workers after World War II had ended. They brewed it by ‘pulling’ again and again repeatedly until a layer of froth is formed over the drink before serving. A proportion of condensed milk is used to give the drink more froth and better flavour.
Kopi-O (Hot Black Coffee With Sugar)
The beans used in kopi-o are the bitter-tasting Liberica beans that were introduced sometime in the 1800’s. Kopi-o has an extraordinary burnt flavour from roasting coffee beans with butter and sugar. This unusual roasting method was used to mask the strong taste of the coffee. This drink brings out the bold and robust flavour of the beans and is served by adding plenty of condensed and evaporated milk.
As the trend of socialising in coffee houses began to grow, the number of coffee outlets in Malaysia began to swiftly increase. Malaysian coffee culture draws the attention of all generations so that the many different types of coffee products intertwined in their daily lives.
Traditional Way to Roast Coffee in Malaysia
Fifty to one hundred years ago, coffee beans were roasted in a mill. The workers gathered wood from abandoned houses or construction projects to roast the beans in a traditional way until they became dark brown. The coffee beans were mainly liberica beans as well as robusta, which produced a strong and earthy coffee taste.
Malaysia has its own unique roasting method which is unfamiliar to many brewers as we are the only country who roast their coffee twice. This results in the beans having a nutty character and being low in acidity. This idea was developed by Chinese practice when the coffee beans were roasted in the usual way. The beans were later mixed with melted sugar and margarine until the beans became caramelised with sugar before grinding it into coffee powder after cooling.
By using this traditional procedure, the coffee will produce a special aroma and taste with a tad burnt and slightly bitter flavour. Most Malaysians find that this traditional way of roasting coffee allows the beans to become highly aromatic and heavy in body. Now, that’s a deeply satisfying brew of coffee.
Thanks to the growth in the coffee industry, many brewers have been trying to create new recipes to keep up with the coffee drinking trend with the idea of a new approach using an old trade.