George Town - Barista Coffee

The earth oven used for toasting bagels at the Mug Shot Cafe, located at 302 Chulia Street.

There are more than just yummy street food, innovative wall murals and Victorian age architecture in the UNESCO Heritage quarter of George Town on Penang Island.The palate needs sustenance after walking around for half a day past quaint lanes, busy markets and busy streets.   

For a coffee devotee, you would have tried the local versions of Teh Tarik, Kopi-O and white coffee.   Australian visitors would resist going into Starbucks but may sample the cafes run by Hudson's from Perth or the Coffee Bean franchise chain shops at shopping centres.......but what about real barista made unique coffee blend cuppas?

Sighted in the UNESCO Heritage Quarter of George Town, Penang Island - Wheeler's Coffee.

There are cafes and cafes in Penang and one cannot possibly have even the best of it all on one visit to the island.     There are unique non-coffee competitors as well - Ais Kacang, Cendol, Rosewater syrup,  cooling Cantonese herbal drinks, barley drinks and more.    So how do you size up and conquer the barista coffees available in George Town?   

One technique is to go by location.  There are several streets you want to walk by to explore.  Use the cuppa to break the regime and perk up when required.   Coffees go with a meal and are great to counter balance the variety of street foods available in Penang.    Having a shot at a cafe seems to be the preferred way to get to chat and relax after hours,e especially at night, in Malaysia.  Unlike hipster espresso outlets in Australia, which close mostly by 3pm, here in George Town, you have extra hours to check out more cafes.

Twelve Cups at corner of Bishop and Beach Streets.  12, Whiteaways Arcade.

The strength, texture and flavour of the ubiquitous coffee blends can be your guide to chalking up your visits to George Town cafes.  For this, you have to do homework even before hitting the road.   Social media,  internet, talking to real people.....all these helps.

Having said all this, may we be reminded that George Town is a very navigable, friendly and rather small sized area to conquer.    Do not be the eager early riser though, for most cafes open later than what you are used to perhaps in Western countries and cities.   Retail business opens late till night so do keep in mind a different commercial culture.

The gates were closed on the morning after the big festive eve of the Birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven.The V Cafe at Sekeping Victoria with an address of 164 A and B, Victoria Street.

The offerings of creative breakfasts, cakes and brunch can figure prominently in your coverage of George Town cafes.  For example, pancakes and Japanese stuff are the surprise at Gudang Cafe, located at 5 Armenian Street Ghat.    

At China House, founded by a Kiwi couple, its Kopi C Cafe starts with fifty varieties of cakes made by the Beach Street Bakery;  China House, interesting enough, has two entrances/exits, one at 183-B Victoria Street and another at 153-155 Beach Street.  You not only can listen to live music at China House, but play Jengka, relax with your sketching skills and also have proper meals there.   There are various sections in the long and deep terrace, a good place to explore for kids, adolescents, families and hipsters.

And we must not forget ambiance, a very broad term which can cover a spectrum of impressions, feel and comfort.   It can be the peel in the wall, the bare ceiling, the types of lighting, the architecture, the odd kitchen equipment or the engagement by the baristas or staff.    

One Monday morning, we found ourselves sitting at a small canteen styled table, cozy by itself, as I found the environment as if visiting an aunt in a George Town styled town vintage terrace house  - only later did I realise the shelves surrounding our table were stocked with wares not related to the coffee business, but part of the model of a cafe and retail outlet.So there you go, you need not just pump out the coffee, you can spread the risks by offering art, clothes, conversation, specialty dishes and more.

Some cafes do look cluttered, but hey then it is supposed to look earthy, realistic and lived in like a home space.    Wooden panels, blackboards, metal interruptions and rustic looks of cafes  in Wollongong are complemented with weaves and crafts of natural materials, heritage icons and stores of grain and beans in George Town.     There seems to be variations of space, several cafes are spacious, most are small and a few even are warehouse sized.   

Gudang has an airy feel, is spacious and is easily reachable when you do the George Town Heritage Walk 9 or cycle or motor bike)

Chairs and other seating options are varied in George Town cafes, from sleek modern to stools, from smallish wooden contraptions to IKEA like foldables. Of course, there are the individuals who park themselves on a regular basis to attend to cyberspace and social media.    How do these cafes cater for them?   

Penang heritage terraces date from  the 19th first half of the 20th century.  Many of the cafes in George Town are housed in romanticised buildings that have aging roof tiles, bare unpainted walls and high ceilings.   When the colonial rent control policy was stopped by the State Government,  many people residing on relatively cheap rents had to relocate, freeing up the heritage buildings for other commercial purposes.  UNESCO came in with a significant declaration of a world heritage site for George Town (co-jointly awarded to Malacca as well) - and the rest is history, with a blooming in developments of hotels, cafes, museums and tourist arrivals (now significantly and increasingly via ship cruises).

Do we cover cafes that are most "Instagrammed", is that a wise choice?  In the end, to hark back to my question as to how best to cover these numerous cafes in George Town, I reckon the best is to just go with the flow.     If we go back to core values, it is the quality and style of the coffee made in front of you that matters most of all.   So to me perhaps the most significant development in the next stage for cafes here is in their surprising offerings.

Appreciation is expressed to Mr. Richard Liew, Mr. Philip Yeoh and a requested unnamed friend in the research, experience and opportunity leading to this blog post.

You may want to check out the other following cafes in George Town:

1.  Secawan 'n' Such at 205 Hutton Lane.

2.   Cafe 55 at 47-55 Stewart Lane.

3.   Pik'Nik Cafe, at 2, Argus Lane15-17 Nagore Road.

4.   Sitigun at 30 Nagore Road.

5.   Macullum Conneisuers at No.1 Macullum Street Ghat.

6.   DCOVA at Logan Heritage, No.4 Bishop Street.

7.   Budan's Brew Coffeebar at 2 Argus Lane.

8.  Bricklin Cafe Bar at  31A Gurdawa Road.

9.  Tavern in the Park, 125 Timah Road, Hin Bus Depot Art Centre.

For your reference:

Avenue -  Lebuh Raya

Close - Solok

Cup - Cawan

Ghat - Gat

Lane - Lorong

One Way - Sehala

Piece - Keping

Road - Jalan

Street - Lebuh