From traditional Malaysian coffee shops that have stood the test of time to brand-new third-wave cafés, these are the best cafés in Kuala Lumpur.
Coffee culture in Kuala Lumpur began with Hainanese kopitiams (coffee shops), where folk would while their days away over kopi (coffee) made from Liberica beans roasted with margarine and sugar. Then, restaurants serving ‘Italian-style’ coffee and international franchise cafés were introduced to the city. These days, Kuala Lumpur also boasts an amazing selection of independent, third-wave coffee shops where both coffee and food are served up with flair. Here’s our pick of the must-visit spots in KL.
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In 2010, food and beverage entrepreneur Benjamin Yong sold his Delicious café brand, starting afresh with the aptly named Plan B. The edgy café was inspired by Ben’s university days in Melbourne, Australia. Plan B undoubtedly began the Aussie-style café wave in Kuala Lumpur, but in the past decade the brand has blossomed and evolved into more, calling itself ‘your new local’. There are currently three Plan Bs in the city, with the one in Publika boasting a welcoming space with a comfortable, lived-in vibe. On the menu you’ll find tempting brunch offerings and heartier mains to take you through lunch and dinner. Plan B’s coffee is blended and roasted by Melbourne’s famed Brother Basil & Co.
Tucked away in the living room of Kuala Lumpur’s latest luxury boutique hotel KLoe, the city’s newest coffee bar is a tranquil cocoon in the heart of town. The earth-toned colour palette and rich textures of the interior create a homely atmosphere. The menu is concise but appetising, with well-thought-out selections such as an egg salad with Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise on bread or house pastrami with pickled onion and mustard, as well as refreshing salad options, granola bowls and a daily rotation of cakes. Along with espresso-based brews, Lucky also serves coffee done Malaysian-style – curated by their much-established, much-loved sister joint, LOKL Coffee Co.
In a bungalow surrounded by greenery just five minutes from Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Twin Towers, RGB is a roaster, coffee bar and healthy eatery rolled into one. Founder Li Chan has created a number of comfortable spaces in which customers can enjoy their java, be it in the air-conditioned dining room or out in the open-air area. “We try our best to be health and environmentally conscious,” says Li. “And this reflects in the menu and ethos at RGB. There’s no single-use plastics, and vegan options are available for most of our dishes.” The basil olive fried rice is particularly recommended – try it followed by an oat mylk piccolo latte. The team at RGB, which stands for ‘rather good beans’, have been roasting their own coffee since 2011, with beans sourced regionally.
Butter+Beans began as a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur’s sleepy Section 17 neighbourhood in 2012. Today, the café is double its original size, but still retains its original charm. The brand serves blends roasted by Common Man Coffee Roasters alongside cakes and French pastries. In 2020, Butter+Beans introduced healthy meals featuring heirloom grains from Langit Collective, created by chef and nutrition consultant Li Goh. Owner Jenifer Kuah says: “We wanted to bring this conversation about the importance of biodiversity, plant-based meals and supporting local producers to the table, and what better way to do it than through delicious food and coffee?”
First and foremost a designer, Lisette Sheers of Nala Designs had been transfixed with the idea of operating a café. When Nala Designs was taking off in 2015, she took the plunge and started Dr.inc in the space beneath her office, offering good coffee, tasty meals and a space that featured in countless Instagram posts. Dr.inc was later sold, but its new owners were so inspired that they renamed it Lisette’s. Now, with Nala Designs in six countries, Lisette has revisited her café idea with Nala Kampung Cafe, a cosy little setup in her kampung (Malaysian elevated wooden house). Lisette’s Dutch grandmother’s apple cake is always on offer, along with one main dish, such as vegetable couscous, and the coffee is smooth and robust, sourced by Jeremy Chin of Outcast Coffee.
In 2012, three friends with little experience in the food and beverage business started their café journey with Tray Cafe. Cosy and intimate, Tray’s approach is to provide wholesome, honest food – which is evident from their teeming display of baked goods. Fragrant hummingbird cake, dense chocolate brownies and boozy Black Forest cake are just some of the offerings, while the kitchen also serves favourites such as the Dutch baby pancake with berries, a killer roast rib-eye fajita and Malaysian staples such as the Hainanese Chicken Chop. Owners Dinesh, Victor and Allison are very much hands-on. Dinesh says: “Our emphasis is real food. This means unpretentious cooking; good ingredients, big on flavour – much like the soulful, uncomplicated food of our mothers, which to us will always stand the test of time.”
They say that prison wardens used to live in the 1920s semi-detached house on Jalan Galloway in old Pudu (a stone’s throw from the now-closed, historic Pudu Jail) where VCR sits today. Now, the neighbourhood is partially gentrified and is permeated with the smell of roasting coffee, which drifts from the interior of VCR – no doubt part of the reason why the café is always brimming with a crowd. Inside the restored building, the space is industrial, with high ceilings and eclectic wood furnishings that wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyn. Begin your day with their superb coffee blend and Turkish-style eggs and you’ll be set. Note that VCR is home to some friendly neighbourhood cats.
Founded by Mirwan Badri in June 2013, Sprezzatura is not just a specialty coffee shop – the roaster also supplies coffee wholesale to bakeries, cafés and restaurants throughout Malaysia. The café is charming, with a warm, welcoming, buzzy vibe reminiscent of coffee shop Central Perk in the TV show Friends – which makes sense, considering that Mirwan says he went into the business to spark conversations. Besides the quality coffee, Sprezzatura is a draw for its simple, yummy sandwiches and quirky messages encouraging zero-waste practices handwritten on the glass doors.
As the brainchild of Malaysian Barista Champion (2016 & 2018) Keith Koay, One Half is part coffee bar, part bakery. Starting out as an artisan in pursuit of coffee perfection, Keith has since ventured into baked goods, and says: “We went into sourdough bread and pastries because we believe coffee and sourdough share the same philosophy, both driven by fermentation to unlock the flavours, but requiring skill to craft, and time to perfect.” The café shares a space with Ilaika, a multi-label boutique showcasing beautifully curated homeware, stationery and skincare by Malaysian brands. The space is vibrant, filled with greenery and simple furniture, allowing the coffee, pastries and boutique display items to take centre stage.
Everything at Roast Factor Glee is done with key tenets in mind: made-from-scratch products, top-quality ingredients and a quest for perfection. In the past eight years, owner Shyue Chin has taken it from strength to strength, hand-roasting coffee beans in small batches, introducing levain-raised breads, even engineering her own Danish-style sausages when she could not find any on the market with the requisite ‘snap’. A Scandinavian influence runs through the offerings at the café, thanks to Shyue’s Danish husband, and her creations, which are always wholesome and delicious, are organic where possible. Custom-made wooden furniture, black pendant lamps and sacks of coffee beans accent the industrial-chic, cement-finished space, while the slanted glass façade lets lots of natural light in.
Barely six months old at the time of writing, Sunbather is a lovely little café in The Sphere, a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur’s Bangsar South neighbourhood. Many things catch the eye on entering, from the clean Scandi aesthetics to the unique, hand-illustrated menu. They serve yōshoku (Japanese-influenced Western food), with breakfast plates, ample sandos (sandwiches), hambagu (burger patties) and parfaits that are not just Instagram-ready, but also delicious and satisfying. Everything is sourced from high-quality producers or made with no preservatives. An elevated little nook in the corner is perfect for adults who want to lounge, or little ones on a café outing.
In 2010, Artisan Roast Cafe swapped their shop among central Kuala Lumpur’s skyscrapers for a spot sandwiched between a bank branch and a mechanic. Some say that when they moved from the city centre into the suburban Taman Tun Dr. Ismail township, Artisan Roast were at the forefront of the wave of independent coffee shops in Kuala Lumpur. In those early days, the queue to get coffee stretched out the door. Crowds are more manageable these days, but the coffee is just as good. Founders Michael Wilson and his wife Amira Mohamed aim to continue their work with the roastery and wholesale business, as well as their Three Little Birds café across town, while also focusing on their new venture, Seniman Kakao, which produces speciality chocolate in a fair and sustainable manner from Malaysian-grown cacao.
‘Hidden’ and ‘unexpected’ are two adjectives that best describe Wild Sheep Chase, a quirky little café on the second floor of a row of shophouses in the Taman Desa neighbourhood. Influenced by Taiwan’s modern tea cafés, the space is clean, with natural light bathing whitewashed walls and furniture, emanating calming vibes that encourage customers to hush and take in the serene surroundings. Operating since 2015, the café is known for delicious soufflés, both sweet and savoury, which are made to order in portions good for one. The vanilla and Valrhona chocolate soufflés are both executed to perfection. The café’s seasonal tweaks on local desserts are also done well, served alongside fragrant teas and aromatic coffee.
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