Best coffee in KL
Kuala Lumpur's coffee culture is an expanding landscape of imported beans, state-of-the-art machines, hip baristas, and silky smooth pours. Here are the 10 best coffee shops in KL that call the shots. By the Time Out KL team. Photography Amir Rashid and Stacy Liu
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Coffee Stain by Joseph (pictured above)
We like Coffee Stain’s medium body espresso; its intense, long finish is a result of a delicate blend of beans from Papua New Guinea (for the smooth acidity), Guatemala (for that touch of sweetness) and Colombia (a balancing act to round off the flavours). The beans – especially roasted in Singapore, with a KL-based Japanese master overseeing the tasting and blending – are brewed using a top class Nuova Simonelli machine. Like your coffee pure? Then try the single origin coffee prepared by siphon, dripped, or brewed using the really cool, hourglass-shaped Chemex manual coffeemaker. There are around ten different beans available at any time, but we suggest you watch out for the highly prized Panama Geisha, an auction-favourite known for its light body, honey and citrus flavours, and a surprising jasmine-like aroma. It’s not always available, but when it is, be ready to part with RM60 for a taste (price may vary according to market).
The variety of beans here is one of the strengths of this tiny café that sits within Publika’s Ben’s Independent Grocer. Their house blend is a roasting of Indonesian, Brazilian and Ethiopian beans, and the purest form of this dark, acidic brew is an espresso. The finish with every sip is rich and inky with bitter chocolate tones and a fleeting tang. If a long black suits you better, go for one of their many single origin blends expertly pulled by their informed baristas.
The Departure Lounge
One of the first cafés in KL to bring in speciality coffee, The Departure Lounge is often hailed for its consistently smooth latte. Though the flavour profiles are not deeply intricate, the now-infamous Five Senses beans from Western Australia are reliably good. The kind of good that will have you ordering more cups, without causing the dreaded overwhelm. Every time we visit, the baristas are able to froth the milk to full-bodied precision and to a comforting temperature without the bubbles.
Top Brew Coffee Bar
A perfectionist with an intimate knowledge of roasting and bean profiles, owner JH Yee knows how to baby a Nuova Simonelli Aurelia II and work magic with a steam wand. Using beans from Five Senses and Lighthouse (a Penang roaster), the latte is capped with just the right amount of velvety foam for the espresso to segue into. Three minutes of action, two shots for an extra punch, one perfect cup – it’s a sublime moment that can only be created by this barista championship holder who spearheaded the latte art movement in KL. Their café name is not at all misleading – this is indeed the top brew in town.
The Koreans are taking their coffee seriously and the evidence is in Madonna – a sweet European-style roasted blend made up of five single origin beans (Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Brazil and Sumatra), which translates well as a base for a latte. The foam – perfectly uniform in texture – is a lead-in to the coffee that strikes with a zippy tang and concludes with a bouquet of fruity notes. For something bolder, you’ll like Maestro – it has a full-bodied flavour and mellow chocolaty aroma that drag on until you chase it down with the second sip. The K-cup has arrived; no wonder people are pouring into this Korean-Malaysian franchise.
espressolab directly trades their coffee from farms around the world, and blends and roasts the beans inhouse. The result is complex, perfectly balanced notes that strays from the acidic tendencies of KL coffee houses. The latte in particular is milky with a full foam, but pleasingly well-rounded and silky on the palate. If pulled by the friendly house baristas in the Publika outlet, this might just be one of the best-executed cuppas you’ll taste in the city. Eschew the sugar cubes, and go with a book.
There’s a reason this neighbourhood coffee joint was voted ‘Best Place for Coffee’ in our Time Out KL Food Awards last year. Artisan Roast places importance on handcrafted coffee good enough to drink on its own, as proven by their full-bodied espresso with just the right amount of acidity and sweetness – there’s no such thing as syrups here. They personally roast their beans at RAWcoffee (of which the founders of Artisan Roast also have a stake in; go try RAW’s cappuccino – see p16). However, don’t expect the same blend all the time as it constantly changes, with the Sumatra Mandheling blend the most frequently used. There may be a second, swankier Artisan Roast outlet in Bangsar, but we suggest you go back to the mothership in TTDI to sip your latte on rickety chairs amidst a lo-fi DIY setting.
Serious coffee aficionados concerned about how coffee beans are sourced can take comfort in knowing that Typica gets its beans directly from farmers. Aside from offering beans from the usual places like Costa Rica and Ethiopia, a highlight of the café is the Chamek Liberica Coffee, locally grown in Johor, which they use to make their siphon ice drip coffee. Called the ‘forgotten’ coffee, the beans give off a nutty aroma with a fruity-sweet aftertaste (the baristas liken it to the taste of cempedak.) Those looking for a sweeter, refreshing concoction can opt for the Gula Melaka ice drip coffee.
Mollydooker's Coffee Bar
The coffee bar's tiny space in a corporate building does not insinuate a lack of ambition, but rather a niche hideout for those in the loop. The beans used here alternate between single-origins from Brazil and Colombia, with roasts from East Timor and Mandheling sneaking in once in a while. The Brazilian roast is a dark sinister one, better ordered in an espresso or long black. Meanwhile the Colombian is more fruity with a distinct roasted aroma. Sip your coffee with a slice of chocolate chip-studded banana bread or a jar of Sweet Montage pudding, all while the barista's indie playlist reverberates off the walls.
Real and Wholesome (RAW)
If you work in the city centre, chances are you regularly depend on RAW to salvage your mornings. Like Artisan Roast, RAW’s blend constantly changes as they like to follow coffee harvests from around the world, and rest assured the folks here take extra care in ensuring that their beans are free of the ‘nasties’ they claim most commercial brands might have. Hand roasted on site, the beans produce antioxidants and a better flavour by being roasted at lower levels using an energy efficient, infrared gas lamp rather than an open flame roaster. Technicalities aside, sugar is not necessary in your latte or cappuccino; their carefully sourced beans create enough natural sweetness for one very smooth-sipping experience. Bring your own tumbler to get RM2 off your coffee.