Just five years ago, Kuala Lumpur was in danger of becoming yet another city with a ubiquitous coffee chain on each corner. But something has shifted, and in the last couple of years, people have slowly been won over by the independent coffee shop movement. Baristas passionate about their art have been preaching their cause, and the yearly national Barista Championships is a hard-fought battle. Because Malaysians are so wedded to their shopping malls, you won’t even need to look far for some of the best coffee in town — it’s right there, in between the supermarket and the cash machine.
As you might gather from the name, espressolab started as a serious venue for coffee experts to experiment and perfect the ultimate espresso. They source their beans — both single origin and blends — from all over the world, trading directly with the farmers. When they realized what a good thing they had, though, the owners decided to expand. The original (and best) espressolab outlet is a small, functional space tucked away in Publika’s galleries. If you’re more of a people-watcher, try the outlet at The Gardens Mall, located on a lively pedestrian bridge. There’s also a mini espressolab outpost in the Times Bookstore in Bangsar Shopping Centre where, in true civilized fashion, you can peruse the news and sip a latte at the same time.
Popular legend has it that owners of Artisan Roast were the ones to spearhead the independent coffee movement in Kuala Lumpur. They’ve certainly spread their net wide in the last few years, with outlets and sister brands in both the city and the suburbs. For the best brew, head back to their original shop in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, a slightly ramshackle place with jars of homemade muesli and plates of homemade cakes sitting out on the counter. Despite the quirky appearance, they take their coffee very, very seriously — so seriously that neither sugar nor syrup are allowed on the premises, so ask at your peril. Artisan Roast Mandheling beans (sourced from Sumatra) are roasted at its sister outlet, RAW Coffee.
Coffea Coffee is a recent import from Korea, land of the chic coffee chains. The menu boasts both an impressive roll call of beans and an array of inventive choices for the non-coffee drinker — try its famous peanut butter latte or the exceptionally smooth green tea latte. However, Coffea is most famous for the Madonna and Maestro lattes: the first is a mild, fruity blend while the second is rich, full and slightly chocolatey. Savor either (or both) in the cozy, wood-panelled café in trendy suburb Bangsar. 8 Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar
If you’re not fussy about ambiance and are willing to trek a little, Top Brew does some of the best coffee in the city. It’s a bare-bones shop in the new development, Plaza Damas 3, with only a few photos of the owner and his girlfriend as decoration. There are just a handful of small tables, and if you’re in luck and the owner JH Yee is calling the shots, he’ll serve you a latte. The shop has a rotating guest list of beans (from places such as Ecuador and Ethiopia), with special single origin days. C-0-7 Plaza Damas 3, Sri Hartamas
Photos courtesy of Artisian Roas and Top Brew