Old Town White Coffee Restaurants

Coffee is quite a popular drink in Malaysia, and while all the big international chains have a significant presence in the country, the local favorite by far is Old Town, which sells a local specialty called "white coffee".

Coffee and toast
Coffee and toast: Two specialties of Old Town White Coffee

For the uninitiated, white coffee does not refer to coffee with milk or cream, although it's often served that way. In Malaysia, it refers to the way the beans are roasted. As contrary to the popular image as it may seem, it was the Chinese who were generally the big coffee drinkers in Malaysia. The Chinese traditionally roasted their coffees with lots of butter (or other fat) and sugar. This makes the roasted beans very black, from the burnt sugars, even when only lightly roasted. Sometime in the late 1950's (although it may really have been much earlier) a small coffee shop in Ipoh, north of Kuala Lumpur, started roasting his beans without the sugar. This results in a much lighter color for the beans, hence the term 'white' coffee to distinguish it from the traditional black beans. The 'white' is apparently the best translation of the Chinese word for the roast.

How ever it actually came about, white coffee became very popular throughout Malaysia, and there are many local varieties in addition to Ipoh. Melaka and Penang both have their own white coffee makers. However, the Ipoh Old Town brand is still perhaps the most well known, no doubt due in part to the more than 160 shops nationwide using the Old Town name.

The signature Old Town coffees served in the shops are now made from the company's own instant coffee line, which you can also purchase in almost any supermarket. That said, the coffee isn't too bad. It's quite mild but does go down well. It's also quite cheap, although the servings are very small. Most Old Town branches also serve food. There's a long list of toasts available as well as some more substantial dishes. I've tried a few different things at Old Town, and while the food isn't anything special, it's quite good for a light meal or snack.

Old Town branches are located in most of the major shopping centers throughout Malaysia, as well as many stand-alone branches in busy business districts. See the Old Town White Coffee web site for locations and current specials.