4 Cafés to Check Out in Malaysia’s George Town

George Town welcomes visitors with one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant food scenes. After a decadent meal, don’t forget to have a delicious cup of specialty coffee at one of these four cool cafés.

BY TANYA NANETTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT

Photos by Tanya Nanetti

As the main city on the Malaysian island of Penang, George Town inspires love at first sight.

Its UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center, a fascinating relic from the past, is a perfect mix of old Chinese clan houses, Hindu temples and colonial buildings. Just outside the center, skyscrapers and large shopping malls remind us that we are, after all, living in the 21st century.

The food derives from ancient traditions that often mix Chinese, Malay, and Indian. At the same time, a new wave of world-class restaurants is slowly taking over the local dining scene. Specialty cafés have also taken hold, making George Town a coffee lover’s paradise.

Slow Coffee Person Slow Bar is your best bet for information and inspiration from a knowledgeable coffee brewer.

Slow Coffee Person Slow Bar

Within a couple of weeks of starting our trip to Southeast Asia, I realized that here, if you are looking for a specialty-coffee shop, you will often find it under the name ”slow bar,” a place where coffee is brewed slowly and where special care is taken in everything about the coffee.

And (Coffee Person) Semhz Lee’s slow bar is exactly that: a tiny café, filled to the brim with coffee tools, coffee magazines, and old coffee bags.

The menu is short and no-frills: just delicious coffees—often roasted by a European roastery—a couple of homemade pastries and homemade kefir, and some interesting signature drinks. Behind the counter, Semhz’s coffee knowledge and expertise is ready to be shared with anyone interested in learning more about what’s on the day’s menu, and about coffee in general.

If you want to spend some time with quality coffee, ring the doorbell and hope to find a free seat. You will not regret it.

A large plant in front of stairs, with the coffee bar in the background along the wall.
Inside Ome by Spacebar Coffee.

Ome by Spacebar Coffee

Not far from the shore and the famous ”clan jetties” of Penang (the floating village on stilts founded in the 19th century by Chinese immigrants) is Ome by Spacebar Coffee, another fine local specialty-coffee operation. At the time of our visit, they were brewing delicious beans from Asia and Australia.

Offering a variety of single origins for both filter and espresso, delicious cakes and a cozy industrial space, this spot is perfect for reading a book or chatting with friends. You can easily spend a couple of hours while seeking shelter from the daily afternoon downpour.

And if you’ve already had too much coffee, don’t despair! Ome also sells an incredible selection of natural wines, probably like no other in town.

Coffee tray with two drinking vessels and a glass server and coffee info card.
At Coffee Lane, you can choose between three roast profiles, with blends and single origins roasted in-house.

Coffee Lane

Housed in a beautiful historic Chinese store in a row of colonial buildings, Coffee Lane welcomes customers to a warm space, all wood and dim lighting, with a large shelf full of bags of coffee for sale, as if to emphasize that coffee is indeed the core business here.

And of course it is, as a quick glance at the menu can confirm. You can choose from three roast profiles (classic, new wave, and aromatic) and for each profile there is a base blend and many different single origins. Just show your interest to the friendly baristas and they will come to you with many bags of coffee—all roasted in-house—to pick up exactly what you are looking for. We chose a medium roast Indonesian for the latte and a lighter Kenya for the pourover, and had a chance to try an extra sip of the Sumatra. All very good.

Johny in a photo, caught mid-laugh, as he stands behind the coffee bar.
Johny Koay of Mundane Coffee Break is the current Malaysian AeroPress champ.

Mundane Coffee Break

Away from the historic center and rather hidden in the alley behind Pulau Tikus Market, Mundane Coffee Break is a gem that absolutely must be discovered.

Opened in August 2023 with the aim of connecting the local community with the world of specialty coffee, Mundane is a simple yet special place.

It has a small but perfectly executed coffee menu, a small selection of super tasty cookies and pastries, and a cozy place with a few tables and a few stools at the counter. And above all, it has Johny and Sin Li behind the counter, perfect hosts with their humility, kindness, and professionalism.

And did we mention that shy Johny is the current Malaysian AeroPress champion? That’s one more reason to leave Old Town and explore the local coffee scene a little further afield.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend.

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