Ipoh Craze for Coffee

Cover Story

By Susan Ho


A typical morning scene in the old days in Ipoh would see oldies in flip-flops, singlets or T-shirts, ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ huddled together, discussing the previous day’s events, reading the paper, drinking their white coffee or ‘Kopi O’ and eating toasted bread with kaya in shabby coffee shops around town. Switch to 2014 and the scene is very different. Smart hip ‘Cafes’ are popping up like mushrooms, patronised by a much younger crowd, the hip trendies who are changing the face of Ipoh’s coffee culture.

Is Ipoh Turning Coffeeholic?

The shabby coffee shops are still around where ‘Aunties and Uncles’ still gather but the oldies too are being wooed or certainly led to fresh pastures by their children. With the proliferation of new cafes and new techniques in coffee brewing, the cloth drip bag in which Ipoh White Coffee was brewed is soon going to be seen only in museums.

Art of the Barista

In its stead, we see fancy coffee machines, serving up Cappuccinos, Lattes and any number of new-fangled names that creative copywriters dream up. And we now have specialists in the art of coffee. Some have actually been trained abroad where they earn the title of ‘Barista’ and some create marvellous works of foam art in the coffee. And Ipohites are willing to pay for the privilege of having their designer coffee in a trendy environment.

These uniquely designed cafes are usually filled with romantic vibes of soft music, exposed brick walls, simple furniture of wood, antiques, wall murals, menu written on walls in chalk and items that give a vintage feel. Or they can be minimalistic, colourful with interesting wall art. They are simple yet cosy for everyone to feel right at home. These Cafes are usually patronized by both young and old and are ideal for hanging out with old time buddies for a cup of coffee in a quiet environment. It is not surprising to see such places packed with people on a daily basis.

Different Extraction Methods

Some cafes use a capsule coffee machine, which is standardised, simple and fast to produce a cup of espresso. These machines brew espresso from espresso capsules, which is a single-use container of ground coffee with flavourings. The flat top of the capsule is pierced when it is inserted into the machine and compartment lever is lowered. When the machine is activated, it pumps high pressure hot water into the narrow end of the capsule. The brewed coffee then exits the capsule through rupture holes and flows through a funnel nozzle into the coffee cup.

Other cafes however use a semi auto espresso machine. It brews coffee by forcing boiling water through ground coffee and a filter to produce thick concentrated coffee called espresso. It doesn’t have grinders, therefore baristas will have to grind their beans before brewing a cup of coffee. This device has a steam wand which is used to steam and froth liquids to include milk for beverages such as the latte and cappuccino. Baristas will have to adjust the fineness of the grind, the amount of pressure used to tamp the grinds and the pressure itself to vary the taste of the espresso. Some baristas pull espresso shots directly into a pre-heated cup or shot glass, to maintain a higher temperature of the espresso.

Producing great espresso is not easy. It requires patience, effort, understanding and skill. The keys to getting good espresso from a quality espresso machine include: using high quality, fresh coffee; correctly grinding the coffee with a high grade burr grinder; correctly packing the accurate amount of coffee into the basket; and extracting the coffee at the correct temperature. Keeping the equipment clean is a crucial part of ensuring consistency in process and product.

Latte Art

To give a cup of coffee more excitement and pizazz, Latte Art has been introduced to cafes. So what exactly is this “latte art” that everyone is craving for? The barista prepares coffee by pouring steamed milk into a shot of espresso, giving it a pattern or design on the surface. They draw on the top layer of foam to create a pattern. Latte art is difficult to create consistently due to the demanding conditions required of both the espresso shot and milk. It takes a lot of practice to master. The common designs include a heart shape, a rosette or fern. Some advanced latte art techniques are that of the tulip, wave heart, swan, scorpion, cats, bear, etc.

Different Brews from Different Crews

On the menu, you will always find skilful baristas whipping up Cafe Latte, Cappuccino, Americano, Cafe Mocha, etc. There are also different types of coffee. There are hand drip, syphon, ice drip, AeroPress, espresso, etc. Besides coffee, these cafes also offer some light bites such as waffles, bread, Danish, pies, cakes, pastries, desserts, etc.

Some cafes provide fresh roasted beans for their house blends. Some cafes however, use other sources such as Illy. If you are looking for something special, you could go to these places for their specialties. Ben & Lynette has Vietnam coffee, Burps & Giggles has double-shot espresso, Bread Espresso Dessert provides interesting coffee art, Harold’s Bread serves caramel latte, JJ Cafe serves flavoured latte, Something’s Brewing serves Australian blend coffee and Roquette Cafe serves hand-drip Ethiopian coffee.

Alvin, a barista, thinks that the coffee culture is only having a kick start in Ipoh and the shops are still trying to find a way to attract more customers. He also commented that most customers only enjoy the latte art because of its curiosity value and what is presented right in front of them. He feels that they should learn how to enjoy the drink and understand how it is made. He adds that people will have to be educated about it, than to just follow the trend of observing the art that is on the surface.

What’s What in Coffee Culture

There are many brewing techniques such as AeroPress, Espresso, Ice Drip, Vacuum Pot, Hand Drip, Cold Brew, etc. In Ipoh, you can easily find Hand Drip, Cold Brew and Espresso coffee brewing at cafes. So what exactly are the differences of Hand Drip, Cold Brew and Espresso coffee?

Hand Drip is a method which involves pouring water over roasted, ground coffee beans contained in a filter. Water seeps through the ground coffee, absorbing its oils and essences; then passes through the bottom of the filter. The used coffee grounds are retained in the filter with the liquid dripping into a collecting vessel, which is the pot. Brewing with a paper filter produces clear, light-bodied coffee. It could also be called filtered coffee.

Cold brew or cold press refers to the process of steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for an extended period. The cold-press process requires grinding. Coarse-ground beans are soaked in water for a prolonged period of time, usually 12 hours or more. The water is normally kept at room temperature, but chilled water can also be used. The grounds must be filtered out of the water after they have been steeped using a paper coffee filter, a fine metal sieve or a French press. The result is a coffee concentrate that is often diluted with water or milk, and can be served hot, over ice or blended with ice and other ingredients such as chocolate.

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