Kuala Lumpur, or more simply referred to by locals as KL, is a vibrant city with an eclectic mix of cultures. The city’s diversity is magnified quickly after the sun sets, when the pasar malams, or night markets, emerge and showcase a convergence of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. At the end of the day, you can feel as if you've visited multiple countries within the city.
And in a city where the new, old, modern, and traditional blend into a cohesive colorful mosaic, you can expect a coffee experience well worth exploring. The coffee movement in KL is thriving, emerging beyond the traditional kopitiam mornings consisting of the usual mug of dark-roasted jet black coffee (still a treat while in the city!) into a stage run by folks eager to create and perfect the coffee experience. From a cafe that takes you back in time to cozy quirky nooks, Kuala Lumpur is sure to overdose you with caffeine.
Piu Piu Piu
Just the name is enough to evoke nostalgia of childhood—of the summer days when the battle with heat came in the form of colorful plastic water pistols. Piu Piu Piu is probably one of KL’s most hidden coffee shops, tucked away on the second level of a newly renovated arts center not too far from the heart of Chinatown. If you find yourself at the end of a street with plenty of obscure shophouses, don't be alarmed. You’ve come to the right place.
Piu Piu Piu is cozy, playful, and full of quirky knick knacks. Unagi, the barista-owner, runs a one-man show behind the counter, offering a limited but carefully crafted espresso-based menu with beans sourced from local Malaysian roasters such as Aim Coffee. Choose a latte with coconut oil for a unique taste and wash it down with his house-made signature lemon sour, a refreshing blend of preserved lemons steeped in homemade soda. Pair your drink with a homemade pastry—the burnt cheesecake is a must. Seating is limited but you’ll want to hang by the counter, where Unagi is sure to chat you up on KL’s coffee scene.
Artelier Coffee x Kitchen
Kuala Lumpur is full of malls. While I don’t consider myself much of a shopping fanatic, I inevitably found myself at Pavilion KL, one of the biggest in the city. Little did I know that tucked inside the array of high-end boutiques was a place with a big heart for coffee. Located on the 2nd floor is Artelier Coffee x Kitchen.
Masahiro Aoki, or Masa-san, is a master barista trainer who brings Japanese influences to this open cafe and coffee bar. He sources single-origin beans from local roasters such as The Hub and highlights occasional guest roasters, with a focus on Japanese roasters such as Tokyo-based Glitch Coffee and Unlimited Coffee. On the black countertop is a sleek silver Victoria Arduino Black Eagle, almost dull in comparison to the two trophies displayed proudly by its side. Staffed with a knowledgeable and friendly crew of baristas including dynamic sibling duo, Rain and Alan Lee, two finalists at the 2017 Malaysia Barista Championships, Artelier is set to impress with precise pour-overs and beautifully poured latte art. An ample selection of cakes include options such as kuro goma, tofu yogurt, matcha, and sweet potato—consider it a challenge to choose just one.
PULP by Papa Palheta
Located in Bangsar, PULP by Papa Palheta is the Malaysian flagship store of Singaporean specialty coffee roaster Papa Palheta. The shop resides in the repurposed Art Printing Works (APW) factory complex and its name PULP is a tribute to the origins of its former paper-cutting space.
Inside is a coffee playground and exploratorium. The mostly-glass walls provide beautiful natural light and highlight the industrial dark wooden panels that cover the interior. Upon approaching the counter, you pass by a modular bar where you can see baristas in action preparing coffee with a variety of brew methods, from V60 to Chemex to French press. A rotating selection of beans is available to choose from with seasonal specials ranging between 18-55 MR. The hand brews come with a card of coffee facts detailing origin, process, and expected tasting notes. While there is certainly a focus on single-origin beans, drinks such as a nitro-infused coffee named “Black Matter” and bottled cold brew are also available.
The space comes equipped with a cupping room and workshop and with a variety of whole bean bags ready to be brought home, PULP covers all bases for your coffee needs.
Just a hop and skip away from Chinatown’s iconic lively Petaling Street is Jao Tim. I’ll be honest—finding Jao Tim was more difficult than I had expected. After all, this cafe is nestled on a busy road jam-packed with businesses and no obvious sign. If you find yourself lost looking down on your phone, you’ll likely miss it. You’ll need to look up, because this cafe is housed on the top floor.
Through the golden doors and up a flight of stairs, you’ll find yourself taken back in time. The first thing you see is a walnut concierge desk with brass accents, indicative of its previous existence as a hotel in the early 19th century (Jao Tim in Cantonese means “hotel”). The exposed brick walls and art deco furniture add to its pre-war era charm. Jao Tim offers your standard beverage menu alongside more creative drinks such as “Joe Roots,” a double-shot espresso drink mixed with root beer. Though the combination sounds odd, you’ll have to take my word. No drink could have been more refreshing to unwind during a humid afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. Tea, beer, and food options are also available.
As one of KL’s most uniquely designed coffee shops, Bean Brothers is worth the drive from the city center. Originating in Korea, Bean Brothers brings the trendy industrialized look to a secluded street in the Sunway Damansara neighborhood in the outskirts of the city. With cement floors, high ceilings, hanging lights, and a spacious second floor seating area that overlooks the coffee station, this former warehouse space is indeed turned into a visual stunner. Bean Brothers offers a wide selection of single origin coffee roasted at their Seoul locations as well as the classics. With offerings such as salted egg pasta and avocado croissant, be prepared to unknowingly let the hours pass by inside the cafe.
Jessica Hernandez is a freelance journalist. This is Jessica Hernandez's first feature for Sprudge.