However, I would rather not substitute my regular order with the watered-down taste of an iced coffee. What can one do to get a decent fix of chilled caffeine in this city?
I head to Typica Café in Pudu, where they have siphonists instead of baristas and handcrafted coffee is the order of the day. If anyone has an answer for me, these passionate coffee aficionados would.
It’s a good day and I catch Sum Leong, the ever-busy owner of the café, in action making another cup of siphon coffee (read: hot coffee) for a happy patron who doesn’t seem to mind the weather. Given her experience, I ask her why she still takes the trouble to smell and check the progress of the ongoing brew; wouldn’t she know the exact treatment each type of bean requires from practice?
“The beans have a life of their own,” she says. “What I mean is that the character of the beans will change from day to day. For example, the cup of Sumatran Typica that you had yesterday was quite acidic. This morning I made a cup from the same beans and already the acidity is more muted and its body is fuller.”
This mutability of the bean’s characteristics means that, while the siphonists always try to customise every cup of coffee to their customers’ palates, there will always be interesting flavours that emerge depending on the bean and the day of the week.
What would they recommend then for coffee drinkers seeking some refuge from the hot afternoons that have been plaguing the city’s dwellers of late? Sum Leong suggests trying their ice drip coffee.
Ice drip coffee? Isn’t that the same thing as iced coffee?
“It’s quite different, actually,” Sum Leong assures me. “Usually, iced coffee is made from hot brewed coffee which is then chilled or had ice cubes added. Ice drip coffee is made using the cold brew method, which means hot water isn’t used to brew the coffee at all.”
But how does one make coffee without using hot water?
She points me to a tall contraption standing on their wooden countertop. At first glance it looks like a science fair experiment gone wrong or an hour glass that has been stretched beyond its natural height.
“This is a Japanese-style ice drip coffee tower. At the top, there's the large glass vessel where up to three kilograms of ice can be placed. The next level contains a pot where we add freshly ground coffee. The slowly melting ice above allows the water to flow slowly through this bed of coffee. The resultant cold brewed coffee then drips down into the waiting carafe at the bottom.”
It all sounds simple enough once she explains it, but why the need for such a tall device? Is it merely for show? The curly mouth-blown glass tube from which the coffee drips down from looks particularly theatrical.
Sum Leong explains that the height of the tower allows the extraction process to be slowed down; it’s for the same reason that the curly dripping glass tube is used. In fact, there is a dripper mechanism which can be adjusted to produce only one drop of coffee per second or less. All of these factors ultimately create a very concentrated coffee liquid.
“You mentioned earlier you prefer coffees which aren’t too acidic. With ice drip coffee, the brewed coffee has very subtle acidity taste-wise but a more rounded body. Naturally fruity coffees may also demonstrate more of their fruity characteristics using this method.”
At Typica Café, the entire ice drip coffee brewing process takes about a day, producing about 20-25 cups of coffee at the end of it. This cold brew coffee is then kept in the refrigerator for up to a week to allow the coffee to ferment further, creating a more complete and settled flavour.
When served, the coffee concentrate has to be diluted further either using water or ice. I have my Colombian ice drip coffee served shaken cocktail-style with some ice. The coffee is then poured into a chilled cup garnished with a single coffee ice-cube (this to ensure the drink isn’t diluted as the ice melts).
I take a sip and immediately taste the difference. Gone is the usual bitter-sourness produced by hot brewing. Instead this coffee is smooth and full-bodied, without any of the harshness one gets when coffee is heated and then cooled with ice or cold water.
The perfect drink for an eternal summer’s day.
GL-08, Ground Floor, Shaw Parade Plaza, Changkat Thambi Dollah, 55100 Kuala Lumpur (Tel: 03-2145 032811). Business hours: 11am to 9pm Sundays - Thursdays; 11am to 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays; closed on Wednesdays. Website: typicacafe.blogspot.com