The traditional coffee shop – more commonly referred to in its Hokkien term, kopitiam – is a common fixture in the daily lives of most Malaysians.
The sights and sounds that we are used to seeing in our neighbourhood coffee shops are part and parcel of the Malaysian experience. To a great extent, our memories and perceptions of the kopitiam are what make us Malaysian.
To showcase this, we spoke to five Malaysians from different walks of life to understand what the kopitiam means to them.
“I’ve been going there my whole life”
It’s part of daily life for me, I think. I’ve been going to one near my hometown in Muar since I was young. That time, kaya bread was only 50 sens, you know? We didn’t have many choices when it came to food last time, unlike these days – but I don’t think any of your café food is as good as the kopitiam’s. Can have full meals there, can “yum cha” there (Cantonese slang that implies “catching up over tea”), can “keng gai” there (Cantonese for “chit chat”), can “yum zhao” (Cantonese for “drink beer”). I still go to kopitiams to catch up with my friends.
- Mr. Wong (63), Retiree
“A simple, no frills place”
The one thing I like about coffee shops is that I can meet friends there while having really good food at reasonable prices. And you don’t need to dress up – I like that also. It’s a simple, no frills place, but you get food that’s even better than most five-star restaurants… in my opinion lah.
People who work in coffee shops are friendly too, especially if you visit the same place frequent enough. Where else can you find people who readily call you “lengzai” and “lenglui” (Cantonese for “handsome guy” and “pretty girl”).
For my friends and I, there’s nothing more satisfying than a plate of Hokkien mee and sambal stingray. Then you ‘balance’ it with cold beer – syok!
- Keong (35), Financial Consultant
A taste of home
When I was still living in Malaysia, my family and I would have breakfast at the coffee shop near our house every Sunday. It’s something that I miss since I’ve started working in New Zealand.
The Sunday coffee-shop-breakfast is a family ‘ritual’ since I was young. I remember we would all order our food first, and then my dad would walk over to the nearby newspaper stall to buy his newspaper. He’s also the last person to finish his breakfast because he would be busy reading and not eating!
I must visit that coffee shop every time I’m home for the holidays. The chee cheong fun, nasi lemak, char koay teow, curry me… Argh! I miss it so much!
- Yen (24), Product Manager
A community space
The kopitiam in my neighbourhood where I grew up was that place where you’d see neighbours and friends. And you’d be able to just join their tables with each other and have conversations.
The kopitiam near my current house is a place where my family, extended family, and neighbourhood friends go for dinner with their families. So we always end up there together unplanned – what ensues is us friends and family of the same age staying back and just having beer and catching up. Chicken wing + beer = best supper ever!
- Rusell (33), Entrepreneur
First sip of coffee
The coffee you get from kopitiams has always been my preferred type of coffee. As a young girl, I used to follow my grandpa to one particular kopitiam, where I sat next to him listening to him talking to his friends. That was where I learned how to drink coffee, because my grandpa would let me take a few sips from his cup.
Even after trying latte and cappuccino, I still prefer the kopitiam coffee. It’s cheaper and tastes like my childhood. Kopi peng ikat tepi is the best!
- Bee (38), Sales Executive
Unfortunately, coffee shops are suffering losses these days – but you can help
Earlier in March, the Malaysian F&B Operators Alliance reported that many eateries are losing money. This is caused by the massive drop in footfall during the Movement Control Order (MCO), as people could not dine out and many prefer to prepare their own food from home out of health concerns.
When asked about how coffee shops are faring, Datuk Ho Su Mong said that operators are suffering “up to 30% in daily losses”. The President of the Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors General Association (MSCSPGA) said that business is still sluggish despite most coffee shops being allowed to have dine-in customers.
To help them stay afloat, Carlsberg Malaysia pledged RM3.5 million in subsidies to 1,000 small and medium-sized coffee shops nationwide. The money is meant to subsidise their utilities payment for up to three months.
Our investment of RM3.5 million intends to smoothen their recovery as business picks up by defraying their burden of fixed operating costs.Carlsberg Malaysia Managing Director Stefano Clini
You can also help your neighbourhood kopitiam weather through this tough time by purchasing food or drinks from them. Collaborating with MSCSPGA, Carlsberg is offering their large bottles of Carlsberg Smooth Draught at RM1 off, plus RM0.50 from every bottle sold will go to the kopitiam’s utilities subsidy fund. Those who are interested can purchase some from participating kopitiams or hawker centres to enjoy from the comforts of their own homes.
Preserving jobs and a piece of our culture
A number of jobs and people’s incomes are tied to the survival of a kopitiam. Beyond that, it is also a space where our collective experience of growing up in Malaysia exists. Hopefully, through simple gestures like tapau-ing from your neighbourhood kopitiam, our children can continue to enjoy the kopitiam experience in the future.
Tapau from your favourite kopitiam today, or show your support through any of the F&B outlets participating in Carlsberg Malaysia’s initiative.
I have an unhealthy obsession with chocolate, gummy candy, and "Confucius says" jokes.