Visitors to Kuching are often bewildered by coffee language. ‘O’, ‘kosong’, ‘C’, ‘susu’, ‘guleng’, ‘peng’, ‘panas’ – it’s like a secret code known only to initiates. However, the no-caf, skinny, soy, low-foam, grande caramel macchiato patter had largely passed this little corner of the world by – until recently. The ubiquitous chain coffee house which homogenised the rest of the world’s shopping streets in the 90s was largely only seen here on TV (thank you, Friends and Frasier) as Kuching residents chose kopitiam over coffee house.
But now, Starbucks has landed and with it has come a host of hip new coffee joints where Columbian roast is more likely to feature over the local brew, and very definitely at imported prices. If you are searching for that early evening java jolt or that late night chamomile calmer, the choices suddenly abound. So whatever your wish – cappuccino, frappucino, macchiato, expresso or even a soothing cup of cha – here’s our choice of vendors of those magic beans…
Bing – Jalan Padungan
There’s a Bing on every corner it seems – Kuching’s answer to the Seattle chains; the trailblazer of that dark brown and bright orange colour scheme that is now everywhere. Bing is a touch of Bali – enormous Buddhas, tinkling water features, overstuffed sofas and tropical frangipani are the formula that gives each that restful ambience. Try the one on Jalan Padungan, the original (I believe!) and the best (I believe!). It has a charming, secluded garden out the back for lovers and smokers alike! Aside from the coffee, which is the usual range of Italian favourites, Bing serves a truly addictive Panini – I’m sure they put something in the sauce. Just brace yourself for the bill!
The Coffee Factory – Jalan Penrissen, 8th Mile ,The Coffee Clinic – Song Plaza
Location, location, location. That is the watchword of the real estate agent. But out on Jalan Penrissen, across the road from the petrol station and in front of the army camp, sandwiched between a junkyard and a pottery, there is a new, shiny, modern palace of coffee. Strangely, the location is so out of the way that it is intriguing; it seemed worth a special trip. It is in the same block as an equally incongruous music shop, owned by the same owner who also, coincidentally, owns Coffee Clinic in Song Plaza and therein lies the draw. The two outlets are very much in the same vein – a metal mezzanine, reclaimed wood and metal garden chairs. Coffee Factory is considerably more spacious though Coffee Clinic has the benefit of outside seating and of being in town! However, the coffee menu in each is extensive – the chai spiced latte seemed particularly alluring and came with a delightful heart on the top, the pride of any barista. Really two new Kuching coffee classics.
Earthlings Coffee Workshop – City One
Earthlings may be the best reason to visit City One. On the outside, facing the car park, this coffee haven boasts an enormous range of beans from an enormous range of countries – so many that they even have a signpost pointing you as far away as Jamaica (apparently 11,000 km away). They even have the notorious Kopi Luwak – lovingly salvaged from the faeces of the Asian Palm Civet – for a hefty RM56 per cup. Reclaimed wood is again the order of the day; it seems that all coffee houses must look like the inside of a shipping crate and this one has gunny sacks of beans in front of the register to complete the effect. But the coffee is delicious – consider the ‘Warm and Fuzzy’, espresso with cinnamon and caramelized apple sauce! And the name of the place is fabulous too – take us to your leader.
WowAna – Jalan Keretapi
Now WowAna – a coffee place with a twist, actually two. In the front section, there are the suddenly trendy palettes as tables. It has a retro, somewhat 80s vibe with its louvered windows and red and black colour scheme. But at the back, it is a den of darting. Yes, darting. A row of five gleaming machines, the all-modern kind with automatic scoring and no pesky needles, line the back wall and dartboard motifs are everywhere. Twist number two is the Japanese coffee. Perhaps not the most famous coffee-producing nation but a nation renowned for its high standards at least. The coffee is tasty and the pastries even better. Try the Shepherd’s Pie – sweeter than traditional for Asian tastes but delicious nonetheless. There is even a Sarawak Laksa pie!
Coff’s – Kai Joo Lane
Coff’s is located on Coffin Street, as it is affectionately known (Coff’s/Coffin/Coffee – get it?), on the ground floor of the magical Lane Building, once the law offices of the lawyer and local design leader, Yap Han Boon. On the outside, they benefit from his eye in old-style louvered belian blinds and classic green airbricks. But inside, they pay homage to another design classic: Apple. One wall is a shrine to all things retro techno but, of course, Apple only. Otherwise, the interior is pared down, verging on sparse, but with wifi and the computer vibe, it is an ideal place for a quiet coffee while you catch up on some reading. Unlike the others, this place actually features Sarawak beans, so if you’re an Apple enthusiast, then grab a coffee and drink it all in!