Tag Archives: Malaysia

6 coffees you will try in Southeast Asia

Let’s face it, there’s no point going overseas if you’re not going to take your tastebuds with you. With food it’s okay, you can explore and still find that subtle flavour you so comfortably enjoyed back home, with a little spice or flair. But when it comes to your favourite percolated brew the choices are endless. Sometimes you can be in a country where the barista has no clue as to what a cappuccino might be, so you’re going to have to step out of that comfort zone, and find a new temporary brew.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you know know the struggle. How do you tell him you want a small cappuccino when the board only says ‘hot/cold coffee’. Or how do you don’t him no sugar, when all he has is condensed milk? You’re pot out of luck – time to get some of that tasty glucose in your drink, you’ve got no choice.

The following are seven coffees that I have had while I’ve been galavanting across my favourite part of the world, Southeast Asia. I hope this list teases out some cultural differences in the way we drink, what we drink and how we drink coffee, and it will go to show that no matter how contrasting our worlds are, I still get my morning fix of a nicely blended brew.

Turkish coffee (Türk kahvesi)

The first type of coffee, or more correctly, preparation of coffee, is Turkish coffee. I say preparation because Turkish coffee is not a specific blend or bean. Turkish coffee refers to how the coffee is prepared. I first tried this in a Turkish restaurant in Malaysia – points for being obvious as to the type of restaurant.

FullSizeRender-37.jpg
Turkish coffee and bread

My coffee was ordered with dinner, where the waiter responded “are you sure? It’s strong.” He wasn’t wrong either. The strength of the coffee is due to the fine grinding of the roasted beans, which is said to be the finest texture of ground coffee in comparison to any other. When I tried it I opted for the plain flavour, more commonly referred to in Arabic as ‘sada’. The coffee itself was served in a Turkish coffee pot made of copper with a wooden handle, this is the customary way for the coffee to be served and is poured into a small coffee cup. But before drinking it is common practice to cleanse the pallet with a glass of water.

The waiter also told me Turkish coffee is an integral element of the Turkish wedding process. The groom’s parents visit the bride’s family and the bride prepares the coffee for the guests. She spikes the groom’s coffee with salt so as to gauge his character.I later confirmed this through a friend of mine who further elaborated that if the groom loves the girl he will drink the salty coffee without so much as a peep of complaint.

Vietnamese Coffee – Iced (Ca phe sua da)

I have a severe sweet tooth and while it is an uphill struggle, I generally try to eat (and drink) healthy and limit my sugar intake. With this in mind, I became addicted to the second drink in the list, the sugary Vietnamese local coffee ca phe sua da. Vietnamese coffee shares a similar fine texture to Turkish coffee. The roasted French coffee beans are dripped through the iconic Vietnamese filter into a quarter of a glass of condensed milk and poured on ice – all of this which is done by you in the cafe, so that you experience the journey of your own drink. Condensed milk is the staple ingredient for these coffees, so you can start to see why you have no choice if you don’t take sugar.

Milk coffee.jpg
Vietnamese coffee (travelovietnam)

Ca phe sua da is a contemporary, yet nostalgic, reminder of the French influence so strongly displayed in Vietnam after its 19th Century colonisation. Especially with this style of coffee and the trend of using French beans such as Cafe du Monde. However, the Vietnamese Startbucks equivalent Trung Nguyen also does a good blend and has franchises on every corner in the main areas of Vietnam.

While I may have mentioned there was a French influence in Vietnam, the country itself has since become a world leader in the coffee export industry through its industry in the central highlands. Ho Chi Minh has had boutique cafes spring up in the past decade to take advantage of the great architecture and ambition of young local coffee enthusiasts. I spent some time in Vietnam so had the privilege of exploring a few of these boutique cafes, but my favourite for ca phe sua da, and popular with locals, was L’Usine.

Kopi Luwak – the cat coffee

stock-photo-46720914-asian-palm-civet.jpg
The civit

When I first heard of this coffee I thought someone was pulling my leg. There is no way a market can exist for coffee that has been excreted by an animal. But to my surprise it is true – kopi luwak is the end product of a bean that has been eaten by an Asian palm civet, a small cat-like creature native to South and Southeast Asia, digested, defecated, collected by farmers and cleaned and roasted.

FullSizeRender-39.jpgThe coffee is said to have higher nutritional qualities and a greater taste after it has made its way from cat to cup.

Due to the nature of supply and supposed delicacy, it is again a surprise that people are willing to pay a lot of money for this coffee as it is considered a rarity both to locals and to foreigners. Retail prices can reach more than $800AUD/€550. I brewed a Bodum full of this kopi luwak in inspiration for this article and to be honest, it doesn’t appeal to me for a $15 cup. Aside from the fact I am currently drinking coffee beans picked from an animal’s faeces, the coffee itself has a strong dull taste that leaves the mouth quite powdery.

Indian filter coffee (kaapi) or meter coffee

I first tried kaapi in Jakarta, Indonesia. Indian filter coffee is, like Turkish coffee, in reference to the mode of preparation rather than the actual beans per se. The beans I tried when I first tried it with were Arabica blend which are grown in the southern parts of India. When you order it in a traditional sense, there are a number of parts to the preparation of the coffee. That, and you have to wait as it is a slow drip coffee, slower than Vietnamese coffee too – so don’t be in a rush for a quick cup.

IMG_0598.JPG
Indian coffee drip cups

The process allows the top cup to hold on to the water a little longer so as to extract more of the coffee as it passes into the final cup – this long process creates a strong coffee. In fact, I don’t recommend having this one as an after-dinner coffee, because you’re probably not going to sleep. I have only had the privilege of having two of these types of slow drip indian coffees and both of them blew my socks off. I would say one cup is on par with two espressos – in terms of strength.

The second time I had this coffee was in Kuala Lumpur in Little India. I told the barista about my experience and he said I’d been shown half of the process – and this is where the real fun started with this coffee. He proceeded to mix the coffee with boiling milk and with a metal cup in both hands poured the mixture from cup to cup with his arms stretched out. That was where the term meter coffee clicked in my head. For a demonstration, watch this video.

Buttered coffee

I first read about this in a paleo craze article on a blog I subscribe too. It was first introduced as ‘Bulletproof’ Coffee and now it has taken over as the coffee for health fanatics. I had never subscribed to the idea of trying buttered coffee and the thought seemed like slapping god in the face and ruining a perfectly good drink. That was until I went for a coffee in a small side street market stall in Penang and was convinced by the owner to try his ‘special’ coffee. I thought to myself I had better scribble out a will on a napkin in case he drugs me, but turns out his special ingredient was a lump of butter.

So how did he come across this recipe? He said his family was not well off in India and could not afford repairs to their fridge so they were not able to keep milk. Before work each morning his father would put butter in his coffee instead of milk. Lo and behold, this man now runs a lucrative business in Penang riding on the back of his families misfortune.

To be honest the taste was surprisingly amazing. I am waiting for this to kick off in health-driven cafes in Australia with a grass-fed butter option.

Coffee in a bag

I put this one in more as a joy than as a type of coffee. Drinking coffee out of a small plastic bag with a straw slipped in the top is commonplace in South East Asia for three reasons: it’s cheaper than disposable cups, they don’t fill up the bins as much and are very convenient to hang off the handlebars of a scooter or bike – innovative isn’t it?

All of the coffees I ordered in bags were requested with a simple “white coffee” and “iced” for the local barista, FullSizeRender-38.jpgwhich, if you are travelling in remote areas such as Johor Bahru, is about the only thing one would understand in English in my experience. That is, until I learnt how to pronounce “coffee”, “white” and “cold” in malay. These are much like the finalised version of the ca phe sua da in Vietnam with the sweetened condensed milk used in the coffee. When I came back home after a number of months of relying on this coffee I had a ridiculously high sugar addiction. Despite the sweetness, which you get used to, this was my favourite type of coffee to drink and left me quite full after it.

With that said, it is almost entirely refreshing to come back to a familiar place with an alien tourist palette and go back to drinking the coffee you once drank to boost you up for a day of work or study.

What I learnt out of travelling these places wasn’t just the different ways in which one bean can be presented, but that everyone has a story behind their brew. From the waiter telling me about the Turkish bride spiking coffee with salt, being told about the cat that eats coffee beans, or the broken fridge being an inspiration for a new recipe. They all have their own personal connection with something so simple that we consume every day.

With those six coffees in mind, try to explore your own experiences with the drink, and if you have had any others write it down in the word box below. There must be plenty out there.

 

In Love in Love Lane – Penang

Work, honestly, why do we even do it? I was shipped to Penang in Malaysia for three months to work. Should I complain? I think not. Paid accommodation, new culture, new people, the best personal training ever and a great pay cheque – perfect.

FullSizeRender-34
Anwar from Micke’s Place warming up

Staying somewhere for three months is a type of travelling I am new to. Yes I had stayed in Jakarta for some time but I had never stayed in a place for so long as Penang, it almost became a home-away-from-home in a sense.

I worked on the industrial side in another area so my trips into Penang always started with a ferry ride, or a trip across the Penang river via the long go-between bridge. Still, it was only a 30 minute drive into the main area so I really couldn’t complain. On weekends and during time off I managed to stay at a lot of the affordable and nice hotels, as well as contrast them with the backpacker lodges, of which were all closer in to the nightlife. For us, a lot of that nightlife was

IMG_3579
It’s hard to resist a trishaw ride

accrued in Love Lane, which is promisingly enough the same street as all of the hostels. Love Lane is aptly titled as such for its trishaws with floral decorations and an old British officer with the surname Love falling for a lady. As cliche as it sounds, I fell in love there too – which has inspired me for future travels to the Europe. The story that I heard from a few locals as to the name was that sailors and fishermen with families in Penang would keep their mistresses in hotels on Love Lane. Perhaps my story of the trishaws and the colonial officer falling for a lady sounds better.

If you’re with a special someone, give the Insta Coffee a go. They take a photo of your face and print it in chocolate on to a coffee. It’s expensive as far as coffee goes, but worth the try.

FullSizeRender-33
Selfie Coffee

Love Lane branches off the main street, Chulia Street, in Penang and has some of the best live music venues I have ever been to, namely Micke’s Place. Even though it, and the bars next door, were small in spacing, their seating arrangement spilled out onto the street and still had people standing watching the live music. Most nights at these bars were open mic so talented travellers would join in on any jam that would be happening at the time.

The street food on Chulia generally only starts around nine or 10 o’clock at night, which seems late in the western world, but is when Georgetown livens up. One of the best places I frequented was a noodle van only a short walk from the Love Lane corner. Funnily enough, no matter how many or how few a people may be waiting on a meal, the cooks are always yelling and running everywhere – perhaps it’s just ingrained into their living.

IMG_3439
One of my favourite noodle huts in Chulia Street

Love Lane’s hostels were great places to visit, however one of the more comfortable ones we stayed in was Chulia Heritage Hotel. This was one of the many heritage-listed buildings in Penang and from the outside looked like a five star expensive hotel. Inside was a hostel with shared bathrooms and spacious rooms decked in white, and when I say white, literally everything was white. It was in a prime location to get to all of the sites in the area which will be written on in the following log.

For me, personally, going to Penang as an employee, rather than as a traveller, is a step I had to take in life to push me out of working for other people and move on to working for myself under my own ambition. If I met anyone in Penang, a majority of them were travellers that had decided to up their job and go travelling until they spent all of their money.

FullSizeRender-31
If you look enough, Penang Laksa is amazing when served with pork buns

I don’t agree with the second part: spending all of your savings on travel. That money could be used to invest in something more beneficial to help you travel for the rest of your life, and make money. Why wouldn’t you want to invest in an idea like that?

VISA Refresh – Singapore

For those of you who have spent too long in one place while travelling, you will be all too familiar with the fine art of VISA refreshing. For certain countries with restrictions on temporary visa stays (for instance Indonesia’s 30-day limit), a simple hop over the border and back through the country’s customs will suffice as a renewal on that 30-day cap.

397688_10150554812166047_1345224525_n

My stay in Indonesia, Jakarta, had come to a point where I either move on in my travels, or jump across the border and flash my passport on a fresh page to be remarked with new ink. I had a desire to stay in Jakarta as I will learning a few words in bahasa and was enjoying the local culture, but as a typical westerner I  was missing the dazzling display of Christmas festivities that I grew up with as a kid. Thankfully, just around the corner in Singapore is one of the world’s most decorated streets, so I took my visa refresher holiday for two nights in Singapore.

Orchard Road is Singapore’s main shopping district, it was also the first place I went to as soon as I left the airport. You see, Orchard Road isn’t just any normal shopping district in South-East Asia; it is the the cream of the crop of centralised hubs of 398768_10150554849216047_1573855921_nfashion and accessory labels for the south-east. Along the Road there are the age-old labels that appeal to so many in the fashion world: Gucci, Prada, Dolce, Rolex, Tiffany’s and the rest. These stores were a little out of my reach as a backpacker though, given, one jacket would be my week’s spendings on food and drinks – so I was cautious not to get too close to any stores. Singapore as a general can sting some people who have been travelling around South-East Asia. Its currency, the Singaporean Dollar, is fiscally very strong and prices are similar to those of what you would pay in a western country.378582_10150554868491047_1058724964_n

Singapore’s financial strength is a sign of its strong trade industry and its presence as the banking, finance and trade hub of South-East Asia. You can easily be reminded of this by having a look out over the port, which is always lined with moored trade shipping liners stretched out over the horizon. Even the appearance of Singapore is reminiscent of its yearning to be separate from the rest of Malaysia. The city employs thousands of street cleaners to uphold the immaculate presentation of the streets, gardens and buildings to ensure its image is unlike any other bustling city IMG_1669in the south-east. The Singaporean government has also upheld this standard throughout its communities by imposing strict laws on littering.

The clean streets and and synthetic beauty of the city revolves around the class of its landmark tourist sites as well. The Raffles Hotel is one well-kept Singaporean hotels that guests visit just for its nostalgic value. The hotel was started up by Armenian hoteliers in 1887. It is rumoured that during the Japanese occupation of Singapore, Japanese soldiers found diplomats and officials dancing in the Raffles ballroom, and allowed them to have one last dance before they were shot. However, that story remains in contention.

IMG_1698
Statue of Sir Thomas Stanford Rafflesr a caption

The other, and more recent amazing architectural feat is the hotel Marina Bay Sands, which when seen in the distance from the city, has a ship-like structure sitting on the top of it where the pool area and bar is. This ship-like structure is reminiscent of the trade vessels that are always present in Singapore’s port. Marina Bay Sands infinity pool is now the hotspot for travellers keen on taking their photo as it overlooks the amazing city. On your way to Marina Bay Sands we looked at the aquarium, which was very impressive, however it is one of those places that will always be crowded.

IMG_1664
Recognise the ship in the background? That is Marina Bay Sands.

If you’re a traveller and in need of a break from the steamy streets of Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, or any other south-east city, consider Singapore as a visa refresher. But be mindful of your finances.

River run – Malaysia

The Ministry took a 40 minute cab ride from Kuala Lumpur city to a small jungle lodge called Alang Sedayu to see the Pisang falls and rainforest track in one of the world’s oldest and well-preserved ecosystems.

We met up with our tour guide, Tim, who spoke really good english for a local. I doubted the authenticity of his name, which was more likely a sales name than anything. Tim’s pre-walk warnings consisted of the dangers of cobras, tigers, ticks and the definite invasion of leeches, a great note to start an excellent day trip on.

The walk was light and very easy, made so for the commercial side of marketing to the average tourist. Tim was well rehearsed in jokes and intermittent stops along the way, usually interrupting a walk with the line “this one time..”. One of the Ministry’s party on

FullSizeRender 4
Left to right: Tim (guide), a travel writer, Fiji.

the rainforest walk was Fiji, an Indian freelance travel agent who, if he wasn’t making several-thousand trip deals on the phone per day, was also talking about his own adventures through Indian jungle tours. They both met at an agreement on the rule of the modern-day jungle which is:

 

“if you are being chased by a tiger, indicate left with your hand and run right”.

The rainforest walk is a loop track that passes under a highway (you’re not that far out of the wild) by a large walk-through tunnel. In the rainy season (October to March) this area can get quite flooded. The Ministry recommends you don’t go immediately after this season unless you want to know how 100 leeches feel.

The tour guides are great on the walk and the level of preparation required for such an activity is none. However make sure you wear boating shoes or ones that you don’t mind getting wet as there is a lot of walking through water. The tour guide themselves wear crocs shoes, they’re surprisingly very suitable for this kind of trail.