The Battle of Ipoh White Coffee

There’s a reason why white coffee is synonymous with Old Town. It all started here.

Ipoh is well-known for producing the best white coffee for many years. In fact, the town is also famous for being one of the pioneers of white coffee in the world. Until today, Ipoh is a popular stopover for people to enjoy the local delights and of course, to take a quick sip of that famous pak-ko-pi (Cantonese name for white coffee).

The term ‘white coffee’ doesn’t mean that the coffee is white in colour but rather it refers to the unique way of roasting, brewing and stirring techniques that gives it its distinctive, finer taste of coffee.

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
The historic Ipoh Town Hall is one of the few well-preserved colonial buildings in Malaysia.

Tracing back to history, the white coffee originated from Leech Street (now renamed as Jalan Bandar Timah) in Ipoh Old Town, hence the name ‘Old Town White Coffee’. There were two coffee shops (or kopitiams) known to be among the ones who pioneered the white coffee, namely Sin Yoon Loong Coffee Shops and Nam Heong White Coffee. For generations, there has been an endless debate among the coffee connoisseurs, tourists, and locals alike about which has the better taste.

As an Ipoh-born boy, I admit it that, to a certain extent, I feel somewhat ‘disgraced’ to have never tasted the original white coffee (although I have tasted the one from Old Town White Coffee a couple of times). Saving the regret for later, on my recent trip to Ipoh, I made it a point that I must drop by these two coffee shops to enjoy a cuppa white coffee. And here come my verdicts.

Sin Yoon Loong Coffee Shop

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
Sin Yoon Loong is known to be the first to introduce white coffee in Ipoh.

Operating for more than 80 years, Sin Yoon Loong is one of the oldest traditional Hainanese coffee shops in the old town of Ipoh and known to be the first to serve white coffee in town. Many years down the road, despite the business being passed from one generation to another, the senior citizens who have been going to this shop for decades still insist that their flavour has not changed since those days.

The shop is also known for the crowd on weekends, so me being smart, I decided to go on Monday. And guess what? The crowd was still insane! Luckily we took a Grabcar there or else I’d be circling the street just to find a parking space.

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
It’s always full-house, especially during lunch break.

Luck was on my side that afternoon as a table was immediately available when I stepped in, right after the previous patrons finished their lunch. I settled down and quickly ordered one hot and one iced white coffee.

I tasted the hot white coffee first, and blimey, it was wicked good! The texture was frothy and smooth to the lips, giving you palate-pleasure in every sip of oomph-ness coming from the caffeine.

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
Hot white coffee served in a vintage cup and saucer.

The cold one? Even better. Maybe not as frothy as the hot one, but the ice balanced the sweetness and definitely quenched the thirst right away.

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
What a better way to quench your thirst with a glass of iced white coffee.

Texture: 8/10
Flavour: 9/10
Presentation: 10/10

Sin Yoon Loong Coffee Shop
15A, Jalan Bandar Timah,
30000 Ipoh, Perak.

Nam Heong White Coffee

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
Have another round of white coffee here at Nam Heong, located just across the road.

Located on the same road, just opposite Sin Yoon Loong Coffee Shop is another talk-of-the-town Nam Heong White Coffee. Its business is somewhat similar to the opposite coffee shop except that around 20 years ago, they began marketing their white coffee with the name of Old Town White Coffee (not related to the bigger franchise).

Backed with over 60 years of history, Nam Heong White Coffee has grown tremendously with four outlets across West Malaysia – Ipoh Soho (Jalan Sultan Iskandar Shah), Da Men Mall (Subang USJ 1, LG Floor), Starling Mall (Damansara Uptown, Petaling Jaya SS21, Ground Floor), and Pavilion Elite Mall (Bukit Bintang, Jalan 166, Level 8).

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee

Good thing that it was just across the road as the coffee shop was also full-house when I arrived. There were stalls selling dim sum, curry noodles, and char kuey teow located at the entrance and the side of the shop. 

As soon as I got a table, I ordered the similar – one hot and one iced white coffee. The texture of the hot white coffee was almost as frothy as its competitor across the road but the taste was a little bit sour. The sourness was present in the iced white coffee too. Personally, I prefer Sin Yoon Loong’s better, bearing in mind that there are claims that true coffee leans more towards the sour end of the spectrum.

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee

Texture: 8/10
Flavour: 7/10
Presentation: 8/10

Nam Heong White Coffee
2, Jalan Bandar Timah,
30000 Ipoh, Perak.

Old Town White Coffee

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
The ambiance of Old Town White Coffee reflects a revamped traditional Ipoh coffee shop.

Operating under Old Town Group, the company’s first breakthrough product was blended 3 in 1 instant white coffee mix in 1998. Seven years later, the company ventured into the food service industry with the opening of their first Old Town White Coffee cafe outlet in Ipoh and officially made a significant impact on the image of Ipoh Old Town, putting it in the map of the world.

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
Have a cup of white coffee and you’re good to go for the rest of the day!

The white coffee served at Old Town White Coffee had a lighter colour compared to that of Nam Heong and Sin Yoon Loong. Also, now that I’ve tasted the one at Sin Yoon Loong, the taste here was so-so; the hot one was still rich in flavour while the cold one was a bit bland (excessive ice, maybe?).

white coffee, nam heong, sin yoon loong, ipoh old town white coffee
The signature toasts and a cup of hot white coffee to kickstart the day.

Texture: 8/10
Flavour: 8/10
Presentation: 10/10

To cap it all, between the three, I like Sin Yoon Loong the most. Turns out, the other two were not as good as I thought, especially Nam Heong.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of preference. No matter which side you’re on, it’s more than just coffee to us; it’s part of Ipoh’s history. Ultimately, it’s part of Malaysia’s history – and that is something we should be proud of. 

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*All images by UPPRE. 

Basir Zainuddin

Basir Zainuddin

Of coffee, music, and sea breeze.
Basir Zainuddin

One thought on “The Battle of Ipoh White Coffee

  1. Good write up on the history. Do you know that Old Town White Coffee, the franchise, has trademark “Old Time White Coffee” for their own use? If you try to market your coffee products with this “Old Town White Coffee” wording on it they will come sue you. But the way I see it is they should not have been granted the trademark in the first place. We in Ipoh associate Old Time White Coffee long ago to those that we get in Sun Yuen Loong or Nam Heong etc. Not the franchise..

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