For a perfect cup of coffeeStory by FAM LEE KEN
How far would you travel for a cup of coffee ? How about 207km? I did exactly that one fine Saturday morning when I took the long and scenic route to Ipoh.
The trip was spurred by a recent article on white coffee, and I was bewitched by the prospect of tasting the much-touted brew right where it was made. I have tasted the 3-in-1 stuff before (where powdered creamer is always used in place of milk), but never the real McCoy.
According to the article, it seems that the descriptive “white” is only relative, compared to the normal local ‘kopi’ grounds where the beans are roasted with a little margarine and burnt sugar until they turn black. Beans reserved for white coffee are similarly roasted but spared the caramel treatment, hence its purer aroma. I was well and truly intrigued.
Only another coffee lover could be persuaded to make a round trip of eight hours and 407km with me just for a cup of coffee. In this case, it happened to be my husband. It must have been something like 20 years since I have set foot in Ipoh.
Lunch in Tanjung Malim
We set out at 11.30 in the morning and stopped at Tanjung Malim two hours later. Our hitherto gung-ho spirits took a back seat to a weakness of the flesh. It was time for lunch. Tanjung Malim is a town dotted with some of the finest Indian Muslim restaurants. We stepped into one. I ordered two warm and lovely capatis (pancakes of wholemeal flour), each the size of a dinner plate, not the palm-sized servings found in Kuala Lumpur. He had nasi kandar and two enormous pieces of very crispy batter-fried chicken, washed down with iced teh tarik.
What attracted us was the restaurant’s dhal curry. It was rich, thick and chockful of soft yellow dhal made from a recipe that has been unchanged for generations. It was a tasty, fulfilling lunch that cost only RM8. Ah, the joys of discovering simple culinary delights along much bypassed routes.
On the Java trail
We finally reached Ipoh at 4.15pm. We wanted Ipoh “old town” but had landed in “new town” first. It was drizzling already.
We asked for directions at a coffeeshop. “Jalan Bandar Timah? Go straight along the main road until you come to a bridge, cross the bridge and turn left. Look out for ‘the tower’, you’ll find the shop at the end of the road, just next to the tower,” a kind soul volunteered
We stopped for directions a third time and were told to double back.
We doggedly pursued the Java trail until we were almost certain our elusive destination was only a stone’s throw away. We stopped for directions once again, this time at an ironmonger’s. An old man with an abacus in his hand came out of the ancient-looking shophouse and gave us the clinching set of instructions: “Jalan Bandar Timah is just the next road,” he said, pointing to a parallel road adjoining a side lane. We parked the car at the bottom of a block of flats called Kinta Heights. Then it dawned on us that “tower” meant this block of flats. .
Ye Olde Kopitiam
There were dozens of coffee-shops around, many just next to each other. We were looking for a genuine, old-world kopitiam which could even be a little on the dingy side, and found it in Sin Yoon Loong, a restaurant in a pre-war shophouse. No neon signboards, no advertisements, no trace of modernity whatsoever. The packed interior and endless stream of customers braving the rain for a cuppa convinced us we had made the right choice. It was 4.30pm, just in time for tea . . . er, coffee. We tried to locate an empty table. There were none. We joined two strangers who were already seated at a table and ordered two cups of white coffee (what else?). We also ordered SYL’s butter-and-kaya toast, a treat that undoubtedly complements their famous coffee.
Privacy seems to be a small price to pay for a cup of white coffee here. You’ll quickly notice that SYL is not a place to sip and idly watch the world go by . . . there’ll be people standing around eager for your seat even before you’re halfway through your coffee. Nor is it a place for quiet conversation.
You can hardly make yourself heard above the din. The coffeeshop has neither the ambience nor location to justify its popularity.
Getting the fix
People from far and near come here and keep coming here for one thing and one thing only – the coffee. Sin Yoon Loong exists unashamedly for the singular purpose of providing coffee junkies their coffee fix. Arguably, the best white coffee fix around.
Every cup of coffee is expertly made and manipulated by hand (it is given a tarik or ‘pulled’ pour as a parting gesture) so that it lands on your table at perfect sipping temperature. You can take a sip immediately without fear of getting burnt. No need for any high-tech decanters with thermometers.
Service was pretty quick, considering the crowd. We took slow, hard-earned sips of the coveted brew and decided that it was worth every kilometre. Not too sweet or milky. Just sheer liquid aroma that puts it on par with the finest Arabica brews in the world.
My husband lamented in half-jest, “Maybe, we shouldn’t have taken this trip. Now my favourite coffee back home will never taste the same again.”
Sad but true, when you’ve tasted the best, anything close comes in a poor second.
Looking at the scores of customers enjoying their coffee, a question came to mind: If a nondescript kopitiam like Sin Yoon Loong can serve a perfect cup of coffee complete in itself, why can’t Starbucks, San Francisco’s, Gloria Jean’s do the same?
Of the untold thousands who have had a SYL White, none has ever instructed: “less sugar, please” or “more milk, please”. They have no need to. They have found their cups of perfection. W