Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Do you like coffee? Do you look for specialty or unique coffees when you travel to other places? Well, that is something I always do. Aside from sightseeing and experiencing local cultures when travelling, I like to hunt for local food too, which include local coffees and also special coffees.
Below is a list of special coffees with some additives from my travels that I would like to share. These are coffees that can be found in cafes and restaurants in Asia, not in instant coffee sachets from the shelves of supermarkets. There is a tonne of things that can be added to instant coffees, but that doesn't make it any exciting when travelling.
By the way, I am not referring to sugar, milk and ice as additives. Given a choice, I would rather not have them in my coffees, but milk is often used as "softener" when mixing strong coffee with strong-flavour additives. Also, apart from adding flavour to coffees, most additives act as sweeteners to replace the empty-calories sugar. Lastly, I never like ices in my coffee, they will dilute the coffee as they melt.
1. Caramel Cappuccino
It is common for baristas to add a trace of caramel on top of cappuccino to decorate it as well as adding flavour and sweetness to the espresso-based coffee. But in a cup of caramel cappuccino, the coffee is brewed with the caramel mixed in, not laced separately on the foamy layer. This gives the cappuccino a more uniform taste without having to stir the foam into the espresso before sipping.
Where I tried? Just Want Coffee, Blk 1 Everton Park, #01-27, Singapore.
2. Cappuccino with Cinnamon
Some cappuccinos are served with cinnamon sticks as stirrers and for its flavour. It is not something rare but not very common as well. If the cinnamon stick is soaked in the coffee for too long, the strong flavour may overpower the espresso — the taste of the cinnamon gets stronger with every sip of the coffee. Adding cinnamon powder is a better choice as the amount can be controlled to avoid inconsistency in taste.
Where I first tried? Hualien, Taiwan. I made my own from then onwards.
3. Affogato (Espresso with Ice-cream)
Affogato is an Italian coffee-based dessert, but is Greek to many people. Unless a photo of an affogato is included in the menu, most people will just stare at the word and scratch their heads. I was one of them until I saw a photo of the coffee-dessert in a cafe in Chiangmai, Thailand. That was when I ordered my first affogato, just 7 years ago.
Affogato is usually served with a shot of hot espresso and one or two scoops of vanilla ice-cream — either separately or together. Many cafes or restaurants will vary the flavour of the ice-cream or use gelato instead.
Where I first tried? Changmai, Thailand.
4. Yuen-Yeung (Coffee with Tea)
"Yuen-yeung" (or 鸳鸯 in Chinese) means Mandarin duck, which are usually in pairs.
In terms of beverage, yuen-yeung refers to coffee added with milk tea — the two most favourite beverages. The coffee can be either espresso or local coffee. The tea is usually Ceylon tea, but some cafes may use Earl Grey for additional flavour. The beverage originates from Hong Kong and is popular in Singapore and Malaysia too.
When you can't decide whether to have coffee or milk tea, go for a cup of yuen-yeung to have the best of both worlds.
Where I tried? Toast Box, Singapore.
5. Kopi Halia (Coffee with Ginger)
For a very long time, Indian-Muslims communities in Singapore and Malaysia have been serving teh halia (teh tarik, or "pulled milk tea", with ginger) but not kopi halia until recent years. The kopi (coffee) is "pulled" with condensed milk and ginger water by pouring the mixture back and forth between two vessels, resulting in a frothy layer on top. You can even try a kopi-o halia (or "halia-o") without the milk to get some kicks from the strong black coffee and ginger.
In Indonesia, the beverage is known as kopi jahe (pronounced as "jar-hey").
Where I tried? Arab Street, Singapore.
6. Gula Melaka Coffee (Coffee with Palm Sugar)
Gula Melaka coffee can be cappuccino or local coffee added with gula Melaka (palm sugar produced in the state of Malacca). The palm sugar will give the coffee a tint of coconut flavour along with a little sweetness. Natural palm sugar is also healthier than processed white sugar.
Photo? See 7.
7. Curacao Coffee
Curacao is a liqueur flavoured with the dried peel of a type of citrus fruit known as Laraha, similar to orange. Curacao coffee is prepared by adding a little of the liqueur to caffe latte. It has a slight scent of the dried orange skin above the aroma of the coffee.
The red cup is the gula Melaka coffee and the yellow one is curacao coffee. Anyway, it's the tastes that matter, not their appearance.
Where I tried both? The Stolen Cup in Malacca, Malaysia.
8. Coffee with Butter
No, I don't mean adding butter to coffee beans during the roasting process. The black local coffee is served with butter added on top. This is a traditional way of consuming coffee in Malaysia and Singapore in the old days. Big Bowl Ramen, a restaurant in Ipoh, is still preserving this traditional cup of joy.
Where I tried? Big Bowl Ramen in Ipoh Old Town, Malaysia.
9. Hor Ga Sai (Coffee with Chocolate Powder)
"Hor ga sai" is Hokkien for "tiger bites lion" (虎咬狮) — if translated literally. It is the Hokkien's way of implying things are mixed. Hor ga sai is local black coffee added with chocolate powder. It seems similar to caffe mocha but there is no milk in a cup of hor ga sai. Savour the strong aroma of coffee and thick chocolate with each sip.
Where I tried? Taiping, Malaysia. Hor ga sai is a Taiping specialty and is available only in this town.
10. Coffee with Barley
This is another specialty beverage in Taiping but served only in a coffee shop named Restoran Kakak. The local coffee is added with milk and barley to give the beverage a light barley-sweetness. It can be served hot (Kakak-re, 家家热) or iced (Kakak-bing, 家家冰).
Where I tried? Restoran Kakak in Taiping, Malaysia.
11. Durian Coffee
Most people will probably hesitate to try a durian coffee, but can durian flesh really be added to coffee? Of course not, it probably tastes horrid. I have tried instant durian coffee before and know that it is actually durian candy that was added, not the fruit itself. The good thing with durian candy is it does not have a strong smell like the raw durian flesh and is itself a sweetener. The downside is: durian candy tastes awfully artificial!
When I ordered a cup of durian coffee in a cafe in Penang, I ordered a durian crepe cake to go with it. As expected, it was really durian candy coffee but the durian cake complemented the coffee. Regardless of whether real durian was used in the coffee, durian coffee does have special flavour. And for those who dislike strong durian smell, durian candy coffee may be a lot nicer.
Where I tried? Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia.
12. Coffee with Lime
There are two ways to increase acidity in a cup of coffee — go for higher-acidity coffee beans or add lime juice to the coffee. Burmese chose the latter. A piece of cut lime will be served with the coffee and you decide how many drops of lime juice you want in your brew by giving the lime a little squeeze. Apart from mild sourness, the lime juice also adds a refreshing aroma to the coffee.
Where I tried? Yangon, Myanmar.
13. Kopi Luwak (Coffee with hmmm?)
Most people will go "coffee with cat feces"! Who would want to drink that?
The coffee beans are actually partially digested in the body of civet cats and passed out. They are then washed and roasted to become the world's most expensive coffee. I am not an expert coffee taster, so I can't describe in details on how the cat coffee tastes like. But it does taste mildly fruity and less bitter without having to add anything. It is said that those cats will always choose the best coffee cherries to eat, hence kopi luwak will always have the finest coffee beans — and highest price.
So what is this coffee added with? Civet cat digestive enzymes!
Where I bought it? Jakarta International Airport, Indonesia.
Buying a packet to make the brews yourself at home is far cheaper than having it at a cafe. Also, buying a pack when you are in Indonesia is also cheaper than buying the imported ones in your own country. However, beware of fakes. Buy known brands from trusted sources only.
If you like coffee like I do, do try the specialty coffees of cafes and local coffees whenever you travel, be it in your own country or overseas. You will enjoy the trips more than just sight-seeing.