Coffee culture and designer tea in Kuala Lumpur

We travelled right across Kuala Lumpur in search of good coffee and tea. Most of it we managed on the rather good local transport system, using a combination of buses, monorail and the light railway, though we did opt for taxis to get home from both our favourite coffee shop and tea room.

We found The Brew Culture by chance, mind you. We caught the 83 bus from KL Sentral up to the Plaza Damas part of town and felt quite smug to have found our way so far from the centre of town. But we’d gone there in search of a coffee shop that has actually closed down (the owner, a former Malaysian barista champ, has transferred to Johor Bahru, where he opened a new venue shortly after we got that far south – check out Atlas Coffee Embassy if you’re interested in tracking him down).

The Brew Culture coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur

Plaza Damas is a massive shopping mall on both sides of the main road and there are countless cafes, but Brew Culture stared down at us as we got off the bus so we decided to give it a go. And very glad we were that we did…

Best coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur?

What we liked about the guys who run this place is their enthusiasm and passion for what they do (it seems they gained their love of coffee when living in America and/or Australia, and wanted to bring something similar home).

Their basic espresso blend for our visit included Indonesian, Bolivian and Salvadorean, but if you went for the hand brewed coffees, you could choose from a number of other options, including a delicious sounding Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia.

Cake and coffee in Kuala Lumpur at The Brew Culture

It’s the kind of coffee shop where you can choose to sit on stools at the window watching the world drive by on the main street, get your laptop out and spend a few hours working, loll around in comfy sofas, or sit near the bar and chat to the baristas (owners).

Behind the bar at The Brew Culture in Kuala Lumpur

It was when we were swapping stories with the owners that we got talking to another customer by the name of Ony and ended up with a rendez vous for later in the week further south in Malaysia (that’s the great thing about coffee connections, they always seem to lead to other new experiences, but more on that in the blog to come…).

Good coffee in Kuala Lumpur at The Brew Culture

For coffee in Kuala Lumpur, we’d recommend getting on that bus to Brew Culture. The guys there did recommend somewhere more central, but we had a less positive experience there, which will lead to another blog entry later, around some of the issues that can crop up in coffee shops, so we’ll save that story for then rather than naming the other place in a negative entry).

When the guys at Brew Culture heard that we also review teas, they insisted we try their range of flower teas. The chrysanthemum tea was almost as good as their coffee, so if tea is your tipple, get yourself to Brew Culture anyway!

Chrysanthemum tea at The Brew Culture in Kuala Lumpur

But for great quality tea in Kuala Lumpur, we’d actually recommend a trip to the opposite end of town. The Tea Republic has an extraordinary range of teas from some of the big international tea suppliers (Ronnefeldt, Jing Tea, Koala Tea, and some Japanese and Canadian companies we hadn’t come across before).

Tea in Kuala Lumpur at The Tea Republic in Bangsar

They have nine signature teas (Ceylon breakfast, Earl Grey with cornflowers, a puer-based tea, an oolong, a white tea, a gunpowder, and then the ones we wouldn’t normally choose: mint, chamomile, roiboos and fruit) and if you go for the High Tea, then for about £4 (UK) you get a pot of tea, a cake and a tray of sandwiches – so it’s great value, too.

Afternoon Tea in Kuala Lumpur at The Tea Republic

We loved this place for its simplicity but also its quality. It sits in the corner of a fairly plush looking shopping mall in a more affluent part of KL (Bangsar shopping centre NOT Bangsar village!), but there was no sign of any airs and graces that sometimes go with such circumstances; the staff were friendly and open to chat with us about the teas and the background to the tea room.

The owner, we found out, is an architect, but tea is her passion and The Tea Republic her big project that takes her beyond the world of architecture. But it’s funny how often coffee and tea shop owners’ past or other careers find an outlet in their new ventures: if you look at the design for the name of this tea room as you enter the place, you can see the architect’s style in the layout and feel.

The Tea Republic tea room in Kuala Lumpur

Good luck to these guys, and keep serving up great afternoon tea to the people of Kuala Lumpur. This place is open every day from 9am to 9pm, so you have lots of opportunity to get over there for an excellent cuppa.

Oh, and don’t miss the Victoria Sandwich – a real treat that tasted almost as good as cake at home in Yorkshire…

The Tea Republic tea room in Kuala Lumpur

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A very special tea room in Bangkok

Bangkok may not be famous for its tea rooms, but that will soon change if flower enthusiast Sakul Intakul has anything to do with it. Our trip to his Salon du Thé gave us one of the most extraordinary afternoon tea experiences I have ever had.

And from April or May 2015, Sakul has plans to make this tea room even more special, but more on that at the end of this blog.

The Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok is probably not the most frequently visited tourist destination at the moment. It is some way off the beaten track to the north of the city centre, and the tuk tuk we picked up from the ferry stop hadn’t heard of it, so struggled to find his way there.

If you’re heading there – and we thoroughly recommend it to any visitor to Bangkok – get off the ferry at Payap station and take a tuk tuk to Samsen Road, Soi 28. The museum is actually signposted once you get nearby, so isn’t that hard to find.

Museum of Floral Culture in Bangkok

The museum is housed in a wonderful three-storey colonial building, set in beautiful gardens, with butterflies, exotic birds, and even a sugar baby flitting from branch to branch as we sipped our tea.

Afternoon tea in Bangkok at Museum of Floral Culture

The whole place has a floral theme and is the brainchild of Sakul Intakul, surely one of Thailand’s foremost experts and author on tropical flowers.

Flower theme to afternoon tea in Bangkok at Museum of Floral Culture

He has designed an afternoon tea, where everything you consume has come from the flowers he loves.

Quality tea in Bangkok at Museum of Floral Culture

The teas on offer include one made from Vietnamese lotus, several rose-based concoctions and the one we chose, which was a Thai flower (but I can’t decipher my notes to read what it was called!).

Sweet treats for afternoon tea in Bangkok

The sweet nibbles you get with your pot of tea are also flower – or at least plant – based: there’s lots of coconut in them, but also a range of Thai flowers we’d never heard of, cardamon from India and other creations using flowers from Japan or China.

It was really the most extraordinary afternoon tea I have ever tasted.

Museum of Floral Culture for tea in Bangkok

With Sakut’s plans to develop his venue, the menu will change slightly, but the tea selection and the basic format should remain the same.

You see, his big idea is to build a new conservatory in the middle of the gardens, with a Japanese bridge to link it back to the museum house. Inside he will serve up what he hopes will be Bangkok’s most exclusive high tea, with a maximum of 16 guests a day and one table set aside for lovers (He’s a bit of a romantic at heart).

Our only hesitation in giving this our wholehearted backing is that the prices will double. But I guess he needs to work out which way to make ends meet for a business he is clearly passionate about. And for western visitors – or for the local celebrities he currently has as customers – the £10 price tag should not be a disincentive.

We can’t wait to get back to Bangkok later in 2015 to try out the new Salon!

If you really can’t manage the trek up to that part of town, but still want a good tea in  pleasant surroundings, you might want to try Elysian Teas, which was not far from a lot of the embassies in Bangkok in Sukhumvit.

Elysian Tea rooms in Bangkok

They have three rooms: one is an air conditioned space set out in oriental style with low chairs to sit on or pouffes, or indeed mats if you like to sit cross-legged for your cuppa; you can go out into the garden if you like the heat and the flow of air; or onto the terrace, which is somewhere in between the two.

Inside Elysian Tea house in Bangkok

They have 30 or so teas on the menu, and you are invited to sniff as many as you like before choosing, as they bring round a basket full of small jars of each tea to give you an idea of what you’re about to order.

Tea samples at Elysian tea house in Bangkok

It’s a nice concept, very simply done, but it’s not really a full afternoon tea kind of place. Their food selection is based around mainly French-style patisseries with the increasingly popular macaroons (called macarons for some reason …), taking pride of place in the display units.

Tea in Bangkok at Elysian tea house

So if you’re needing a good place for tea in the heart of Bangkok, Elysian Tea House just might be the one for you.

I’d still recommend you get in that river ferry and find your way to the Floral Museum, though. Or, hey, do both as we did.

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We benefited from Bangkok’s burgeoning coffee scene

If you’re going to have a coffee in Bangkok, it’s good to get there early. At least, that’s my take on it, since I prefer my coffee hot, while the outside temperature in the Thai capital by mid morning is better suited to smoothies or other cool drinks.

Gallery Drip Coffee in Bangkok

Of course, Anita got round that problem with a big iced coffee at the Gallery Drip Coffee bar in Bangkok.

Iced coffee in Bangkok at Gallery Drip coffee

I was a bit hesitant about making this coffee shop our first port of call because I prefer to start my day with a cappuccino or other espresso-based coffee and I feared that Gallery Drip just might be all to do with drip coffee!

Speciality coffee in Bangkok at Gallery Drip Coffee

It is, but this is a great coffee shop and if you look at my coffee with hot milk, you’d barely know it wasn’t a cappuccino.

Gallery Drip Coffee is on the ground floor of Bangkok’s Art & Culture Centre (BACC). If you’re looking for it and happen to enter on a higher floor of this building, don’t be diverted to one of the other coffee shops on the way down, as we almost were. Gallery Drip is worth waiting for.

Outside Gallery Drip coffee shop in Bangkok

The coffee shop itself is not air conditioned – which can be a bit of a drawback in such a hot city – but they have fans, and if you take one of the seats on the outside of the coffee shop, you can benefit from the gallery/mall air conditioning.

What I liked most about this place, apart from the taste of the coffee, was that they go for coffee grown as locally as possible. So we had a blend of Thai coffee, grown near Chiang Mai (which is apparently their all-year-round coffee), and a bean from nearby Laos.

Inside Gallery Drip coffee shop in Bangkok

And because this is all about drip coffee, they grind each cup individually, making every coffee a personal creation or work of art by the baristas there.

The art of coffee-making in Bangkok's art gallery coffee shop

A coffee shop like this in the UK or America might tend to be a bit snobby about their coffee and how they make it, but the guys running Gallery Drip were both friendly and approachable. In fact, when I began to chat with Reggie (a DC expat now living in Bangkok), they began to join in, even offering us other brews to taste. These are genuine coffee lovers who love to engage with others who enjoy their cup of Joe.

Reggie was also a great source of ideas for where else to go for coffee in Bangkok. I had a list of places recommended by others on social media, but we either couldn’t find these, they were too far away from where we were staying or were closed on the days we were in town.

So we ended up for our second Bangkok coffee at a wonderful place called Ink & Lion.

Ink & Lion Espresso in Bangkok

This is not the easiest place to find, if you don’t know it or aren’t familiar with Bangkok’s strange street naming methods. Its address is 1/6 Ekamai 2, Sukhumvit 63.

Basically we walked up and down Sukhumvit 63 street several times before resorting to asking some guys in a London pie shop (yes, really, in Bangkok!), and it just happened that one of them knew the place.

Their description, and the best guide to getting there for now at least (December 2014) is behind the derelict Irish pub at the start of Sukhumvit 63.

Great coffee in Bangkok at Ink & Lion

I loved their coffee options, with two blends on offer for the espresso machine: one just had Thai coffee in it; the other a fantastic mix of Thai, Indonesian, Brazilian and Ethiopian. Or they had a whole range of single origins if you wanted your coffee made by some other non-espresso method.

There had been quite a mix of westerners and locals in Gallery Drip, but in Ink and Lion, we were the only westerners there, suggesting that Bangkok is developing its own indigenous coffee scene.

Inside Ink & Lion coffee shop in Sukhumvit Bangkok

Ink & Lion is quite an arty place and the owners apologised that we were visiting in between exhibitions, as their walls are normally covered in local artists’ work. But we’d guessed as much given the selection of arty magazines lying around on the shelves alongside the chess sets laid out for customers’ use…

If you’re into American-sized muffins and other cakes, you might at first think there isn’t a lot to eat here at Ink & Lion, but actually their mini scones and cheesecake are both delicious and filling.

Classy cakes with coffee at Ink & Lion cafe in Bangkok

And finally, how did they get such an unusual name? Well, the ink is linked to the arty scene the owners come from, as well as being the colour of coffee. And the lion is the motif on their rather attractive Marzocco espresso machine.

Good coffee in Bangkok at Ink & lion

Oh, and if you’re heading that way, please note that they are not open on Wednesdays.

So, we can’t claim to have reviewed the Bangkok coffee scene, with only two coffee shops visited out of the many places that have opened in the last five or so years.

But we were delighted with what we did find. We loved the fact that both venues are run by locals and both used coffee grown locally. And they both combined quality with friendliness, something that can be hard to find at times.

And thanks also to Reggie from DC (yes we shared a love for Swings and Peregrine Coffee in Washington) for his great conversation and tremendous coffee tips. Just a shame we didn’t get to try more of them!

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