TEA is out. Everybody in KL drinks coffee. If you don’t like coffee, that’s not a problem. There’s so much milk, froth and flavour added to your latte, you won’t even taste the coffee at all.
Gone is the elegant tradition of tea drinking. Gone is the era of teapots and matching bone china cups. Ladies order coffee with their high tea in the sophisticated setting of a five-star hotel lobby these days.
Then again, hotel lobbies are out of fashion, too. Instead, we meet at coffee shops; for a first date or a business meeting.
Coffee shops are all the rage. New establishments dedicated to the black bean pop up at every street corner, in every mall and every neighbourhood.
Coffee places have come a long way. What used to be mere waiting halls with noisy patrons, noisy machines and black, bitter brews have morphed into stylish hangouts for a most discerning clientele.
There is a KL café for every taste. Lavish greenhouse styles, with rare varieties of ferns and exotic plants, remind you of bygone times of colonial rule.
Cosy reading corners with deep leather sofas, book exchange facilities, fake fireplaces and grandfather clocks give you a sense of quiet literary indulgence.
Black and white floor tiles, rattan furniture and solid wooden tables may attract the more down-to-earth patron. Or maybe you feel most at home in a minimalistic industrial chic decor with concrete walls and unfinished ceilings.
While cafés are in vogue all over the world, and some international franchises have made a name for themselves as everybody’s office suite, Malaysian lone wolf entrepreneurs have gone above and beyond in their efforts to provide a unique coffee experience.
Nowhere else is the coffee-bar landscape so diverse, so individual, so tailored to styles, themes and hobbies as it is in the Klang Valley.
Do you like pink unicorns? There’s a café for you. You are the heavy metal biker gang type? There’s a saddle-shaped bar stool waiting for you somewhere. You want to bring your cat along? There is not one, but several establishments welcoming your pocket-sized tiger.
Besides the unbridled creativity of the interior designer, what is it that attracts so many of today’s young, hip crowd to these street cafés?
Is it a casual gathering opportunity with like-minded friends? An avenue to advertise your uniqueness, your belonging to a particular tribe? Or is it the strong pull of free Wi-Fi? Regulars sit hunched over at a table hammering away at a keyboard, one earplug in, the other one hanging over their shoulder.
Excel sheets are flipped back and forth, presentation slides rearranged, notes whispered into a mobile phone. A cup of Java is there somewhere too, partly hidden by business plans and other papers.
The coffee seems to be an afterthought; the café is the office space, the calling card of the trendy KL business nomad.
However, a new trend is emerging within the Malaysian coffee drinking culture; the third-wave coffee. Single-origin beans, sustainable sourcing, fancy apparatus with cryptic names are in high demand.
Choices are endless. A barista worth her or his salt needs to distinguish between Alajuela beans of Costa Rica and Yirgacheffe, washed coffees of Ethiopia, and everything in between. A barista needs to know how to prepare concoctions ranging from Affogato and Cappuccino to Cortado, Macchiato, Ristretto and a little thing called a Red Eye.
What the Klang Valley café staff excel at, however, is Latte art. A heart or a fern leaf drawn on your milky froth is not exceptional. But a dual-colour panda bear, your zodiac sign or even a Chagall painting, artfully etched onto the foamy top of your cup is worth a social media posting.
The creativity and skill demonstrated on Malaysian coffees are truly second to none.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times