Sweet, buttery and with a dose of history, Ipoh’s beloved caffeinated beverage is going global
What comes to mind when you hear Ipoh mentioned? Its colonial architecture, perhaps, its street art and, of course, its coffee. Roasted in palm-oil margarine and laced with plenty of condensed milk, Ipoh white coffee is possibly the city’s most famous export, earning the capital of Perak state a spot as one of Lonely Planet’s top three coffee towns in Asia. But what exactly is the Ipoh white coffee and what sets it apart from Malaysia’s other brews? Here are some things all caffeine-fiends should know.
#1. It’s not actually white.
Contrary to its name, Ipoh white coffee leans beige. Different coffee beans, a mix of Arabica, Robusta and Liberica, are slow-roasted in margarine before being ground, brewed and sweetened with condensed milk – rather than sugar. This generations-old technique creates a lighter shade, distinctive aroma and velvety texture.
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#2. It dates back to the 1800s.
Story has it that white coffee was first created by Hainanese immigrants who settled in Ipoh Old Town during Perak state’s tin-mining boom. Unimpressed by the bitter Western-style coffee their British counterparts were partial to, they reinvented the brewing techniques to suit their palates. Much trial-and-error and many dollops of butter later, the Ipoh white coffee was born.
#3. The kedai kopi of Ipoh are your best bet for an authentic taste.
Head to traditional Hainanese coffee shop Sun Yun Loong for the real stuff, or Restoran Ah Chow where the coffee is served in delicate china teacups. Its kopi o kosong, an iteration of the white coffee, is even infused with a touch of alcohol. Unsurprisingly, the brew has also inspired modern iterations – local bakery Être Patisserie has a tart called Hometown which showcases the flavours of Ipoh white coffee.
#4. It’s going global.
Ipoh white coffee has also crossed borders to cities like London and New York. In London’s Candy Café, you can find the white coffee featured on the menu alongside Taiwanese-style treats and bubble teas. Meanwhile, in New York’s Lower East Side, Kopitiam, a charming eatery helmed by Penangite chef Kyo Pang, has brought Malaysia’s most well-loved dishes to the Big Apple, including the likes of pan mee, nasi lemak and Ipoh white coffee, to name a few.
Hero image by Lester Ledesma
Where to go in Ipoh for a traditional white coffee
Sin Yoon Loong
15a, Jalan Bandar Timah
This 80-year-old kopitiam is an Ipoh institution in its own right, and often regarded as one of the pioneers for the brew.
Kedai Kopi Ah Chow
31 Jalan Bandar Timah
This kopitiam is famous for its alcohol-infused white coffee, which it serves in the classic porcelain cups. Those who love their kopi sweeter will favour this spot.
Moon De Moon
148, Hala Wah Keong, Taman Mirindi
This coffee shop is packed even in the wee hours, so try your luck! Opt for a fragrant bowl of its curry mee or chee cheong fun to go with your white coffee.
Kedai Kopi Nam Heong
2, Jalan Bandar Timah
Come for the coffee, stay for the delicious egg tarts and muah chee (rice flour topped with crushed peanuts). It has a second outlet in Ipoh Soho.
Kedai Kopi Sun Yuan Foong Coffee Shop
17, Jalan Bandar Timah
Located right opposite Kedai Kopi Nam Heong, this breakfast spot is famous for its toast and eggs.