Caffeinated cartography. Photo: CaféHopKL.

Earlier this year, we published an article about the growing coffee culture in KL. Now, a group of young urbanites full of beans have taken things a step further – by creating a map of Klang Valley independent cafés on the website CaféHopKL. Their aim? To “get people out of their comfort zones to discover new, interesting cafes with good coffee.”

What makes a good independent café? In the words of Joachim Leong, the project leader, it has to be a “non-chain” with “good coffee, good service and/or a good setting.” There are over 70 cafés pinned to the online map, from established names like The Bee to tiny nooks like Mollydooker’s. In the online version, there are even a couple of pins further afield, like Burps & Giggles in Ipoh.

Joachim first got the idea for the map while working in sales and marketing. He had to meet clients in cafés all over the Klang Valley and he started to realise how many were out there. “As I visited these cafes and took pictures of the latte art and unique designs of the cafes, people kept on asking me on social media: “Whereʼs that, Jo? Is that any good?” I would reply but it would get tiresome. So, I decided to map all these coffee places on Google Maps.”

Left to right: Jamie, graphic designer; Joachim, project leader; Shean, photographer.

KL’s café culture has been growing in the last few years, largely thanks to overseas influences – with Melbourne being an obvious reference. “But there’s a Taiwanese influence as well. In some places you see more hand brewed coffee, not done by machine but using different gadgets like siphons,” Joachim points out. He adds that it’s not all about the coffee, but ambience too. Cafés have become ʻthird spacesʼ: “a space between home and work. A place where you can be ʻprivateʼ in a ʻpublicʼ space in our heavily urbanised environment.”

When asked which cafés he discovered for the first time in this project, Joachim reels off a string of names. “Departure Lounge has been around for quite some time; you’d think it was more for food from the menu and décor, but they’re quite serious about their coffee. A lot of the baristas from there have gone on to open their own cafés, like Top Brew. There’s also Await Café, a new place in Taman Desa, which I just walked past one day. I live in that neighbourhood and I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s about time a café opened up here.'”

 

“I think as more people get into this, there will be greater demand for coffee and then the big boys will know the quality of coffee has to improve.”

 

With the help of Barista Guild Asia, Joachim and his team found some sponsorship through some coffee shops, which has also allowed them to print over 5,000 paper maps featuring 28 coffee shops in the Klang Valley. The pins do not include kopitiams, he explains, because those have always been part of Malaysian culture, and he wanted to track the emergence of this more recent phenomenon. But with so many coffee shops opening, will there be a saturation point, I ask?

“I think as more people get into this, there will be greater demand for coffee and then the big boys will know the quality of coffee has to improve. Like in London, Melbourne, standards are high – people have to up their game in terms of coffee and service. So in the end it’s good for consumers. I’m excited because that means better beans coming in. Hopefully it will mean working with more farmers as well, so there are other benefits.”

However, independent cafés still have to contend with competition from the big chains. Joachim says that people are still drawn to these chains from familiarity, and that’s one reason he made the map in the first place. “I think it’s a David and Goliath thing. With so much branding and marketing, independents are always on the back foot. But then, people forget that Starbucks started as a small coffee shop itself before it went onto global domination.”

The printed CaféHopKL map is now available in the 28 cafés featured on the paper map, with a growing list of cafés pinned to the online map on their website. In the future, the group plans to expand to other cities: “the cafe scenes in Ipoh, Penang and JB are also booming!” As for Joachim, he has left his previous corporate job and is now learning more about the art of coffee himself – as a barista in training for a new café. It could be opening soon in a neighbourhood near you.

Find out more at CafeHop KL.

CORRECTION: The original article stated that “there are a total of 28 cafés in the list”. This has been amended to “over 70 cafés pinned to the online map”, with the clarification that the paper map features 28 cafés. (Updated 01/10/13).