What Is It + Bonus Recipe

I recently visited a Vietnamese restaurant, which introduced me to the phin and the bold flavor of Vietnamese coffee. After becoming enamored of this style of coffee brewing, I discovered Ipoh white coffee.

Home Grounds team has tried out this recipe a couple of times now, and we’ve struck the perfect balance of sweetness and boldness. Read on to learn more about this unique coffee from Malaysia, its history, and how to make it.

Ipoh White Coffee History

Ipoh white coffee was born out of the need to bridge a cultural divide to do business (1). During the early twentieth century, Perak, Malaysia, was a booming tin-mining state, and many companies set up shop in Ipoh, Perak’s capital.

The art of doing business and networking with these companies required the Hainanese immigrants to schmooze with affluent Westerners, which meant drinking the coffee. But the Western coffee needed a bit of tweaking to fit the Malaysian culture and palate.

Soon, traditional Malaysian kopi started popping up in coffee shops, and Ipoh white coffee quickly became the city’s specialty. As a result, Lonely Planet has named Ipoh one of Asia’s top three coffee towns (2).

What Is Malaysian Kopi?

Malaysian kopi is a blend of robusta and liberica coffee beans, which are double-roasted to bring out more caramelized flavors (3). This double-roasting process is what gives Malaysian kopi its characteristic flavor profile.

First, the coffee beans are roasted normally. Coffee roasters use a city to full city roast to give the coffee beans the perfect balance of acidity and full-bodied richness. Because robusta and liberica coffee beans can have earthy, fruity, and floral notes, some roasters opt for darker roasts.

Next, the flavor of the beans is enhanced by roasting them a second time in a wok combined with margarine and sugar. Sometimes this mixture contains sesame seeds and ghee. It’s roasted till it takes on the color of deep caramel.

This coffee mixture is poured onto trays, dried into slabs, and crushed into fine caramelized instant coffee powder – the base for traditional Malaysian kopi.

The caramel and nutty flavors of Malaysia kopi are an excellent base for many southeast Asian coffee drinks like Vietnamese iced coffee (aka cafe sua da), Kopi Sanger, vegan Thai iced coffee, or our Black Tie coffee recipe.

For even more coffee recipes for your afternoon coffee pick-me-up, peruse our exhaustive list of various coffee drinks from around the world.

What Is Ipoh White Coffee?

Ipoh white coffee is traditional Malaysian kopi sweetened with a spoonful of condensed milk. This canned milk has a creamy mouthfeel and tastes like sweet milk with a hint of vanilla and just a hint of nutty richness.

The term “white coffee” is a bit of a misnomer because the color of this brewed coffee isn’t actually white. Its name comes from the literal translation of the Chinese phrase used to describe this type of coffee, in which the “white” part refers to the milk.

Ipoh White Coffee Recipe

Though the ingredients are simple, the technique is the key to holding this drink together. Using the Vietnamese phin produces a coffee with a bold flavor and full-bodied mouthfeel that stands up well to the condensed milk.

Because Malaysian kopi is a regional specialty, you may not be able to find it locally. Our white coffee recipe uses ghee and dark brown sugar to mimic the buttery, sweet, and caramelized flavor of traditional kopi.

What You’ll Need

  • Four tablespoons of fine-ground, dark roast robusta coffee
  • 6 ounces of hot water (between 197-203 degrees F)
  • One cup of dark brown sugar
  • One cup of boiling water
  • Two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk, or to taste
  • Gee, to taste (optional)

A few notes:

  • Use a darker roast coffee to mimic the bold flavor of kopi. For the most authentic flavor, stick to robusta and liberica coffee beans if you can find them.
  • Special equipment you’ll need is Vietnamese phin coffee maker

How to Make Malaysian Ipoh White Coffee

Though the ingredients are simple, the technique is the key to holding this drink together. Using the Vietnamese phin produces a coffee with a bold flavor and full-bodied mouthfeel that stands up well to the condensed milk.

Because Malaysian kopi is a regional specialty, you may not be able to find it locally. Our white coffee recipe uses ghee and dark brown sugar to mimic the buttery, sweet, and caramelized flavor of traditional kopi.

1. Prep Your Serving Mug

Place two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk in a 6-ounce serving mug. While this is the recommended serving size, feel free to vary it according to what you like.

2. Brew Your Coffee

Set your Vietnamese phin over your serving mug. Place four tablespoons of finely ground coffee into the brew chamber of the phin, spreading them so they’re evenly distributed. Place the metal filter over the coffee bed, gently pour six ounces of hot water over your grounds, and cap it to trap the heat.

Pro tip: Place the metal filter over your coffee bed gently. You don’t want to compact the grinds into the perforated holes on the underside of the phin.

3. Make A Simple Syrup

Place one cup of water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Then add one cup of dark brown sugar and stir well to dissolve.

Pro tip: This makes much more simple syrup than you need for this recipe, but you can keep leftovers in the fridge for weeks. It is a great addition to many coffee drinks, especially chilled drinks that don’t dissolve sugar.

4. Assembly

To assemble your white coffee, add half a tablespoon of simple syrup into the mug of brewed coffee and stir. If you’re adding ghee, stir in a teaspoon at a time. The finished white coffee should be slightly buttery, with a syrupy-creamy mouthfeel, and bold, caramelized, flavors.

Final Thoughts

Ipoh white coffee is a deliciously buttery and sweet drink that complements any decadent coffee cake or Malaysian specialties like curry mee and nasi lemak.

Have you tried it? Let us know in the comments if you followed our recipe.

FAQ

You can find instant Ipoh coffee powder in some Asian supermarkets, or you can travel to Malaysia for the real thing. A multicultural city like New York is a good place to find it in a coffee shop. Check out the Malaysian cafe on Canal Street called Kopitiam (4).

Yes, you can make a vegan version of Ipoh white coffee by substituting coconut milk for dairy milk. You can substitute either palm oil margarine or store-bought vegan butter for the ghee.

Ipoh white coffee is frothy from a technique called pulling. Hand pulling kopi—or any Malaysian drink—involves pouring the drink from one glass to another from as high off the table as possible. This demonstrates the server’s skill, but more importantly, helps to blend the ingredients in these multi-layered drinks.

  1. Avran, D. (2019, September 10). Intriguing and interesting inception of Ipoh White Coffee. Free Malaysia Today (FMT). https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/leisure/2019/09/10/intriguing-and-interesting-inception-of-ipoh-white-coffee/
  2. Lonely Planet Food. (2018). “Lonely Planet’s Global Coffee Tour” – Google Books. Google.com. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Lonely_Planet_s_Global_Coffee_Tour/FddYDwAAQBAJ
  3. Get to Know Your Local Coffee Scene. (2022). Malaysia.travel. https://www.malaysia.travel/explore/232-get-to-know-your-local-coffee-scene
  4. Tishgart, S. (2016, January 27). Why You Should Definitely Try Malaysian-Style White Coffee. Grup Street; Group Street. https://www.grubstreet.com/2016/01/kopitiam-white-coffee.html

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