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The Coffee Taste Profiles of Asia

23 September 2020
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Asia is a treasure trove of diverse cultures, traditions, architecture, food, and more. In recent decades, the coffee scene in Asia has blossomed, with many countries moving into the “third wave” of coffee.

In this article, find out which Asian countries have begun to show a change in their coffee taste profiles and which have remained unfazed by the influx of international coffee chains and the speciality coffee scene.

China

a cup of green tea latte with coffee art
Tea-infused coffee beverages have proven to be more popular amongst Chinese consumers. Photo from Jason Leung.

In China, tea is the second most-consumed drink after water. Coffee? Not so much. With a history of over 2000 years, Chinese tea has become one of the most important cultures in China.

As a result, the Chinese have developed a preference for coffee that is infused with hints of tea. That is why Chinese coffee brands such as Luckin Coffee and Mellower Coffee have innovatively developed tea-flavoured drinks such as Green Tea Latte to target younger consumers.

India

a cup of Southern India filter coffee topped with milk foam
India loves its coffee foamy, milky, and creamy. Photo from I Love Madras.

More widely known as one of the world’s leading producers of tea leaves, India is actually the world’s sixth-largest coffee producer. But to much surprise, the majority of locals have never actually tasted coffee!

This is because it was only in the early 2000s that coffee started gaining traction, with filter coffee being the chosen brewing method amongst local coffee establishments.

Since then, Indians have developed a preference for coffee that is foamy, thick, milk-loaded, and creamy. Some liken it to Teh Tarik (“pulled tea” from Malaysia and Singapore), where the process of pouring tea from one cup to another gives the drink its extra froth.

Ever wanted extra frothy milk for your homebrewed coffee? This milk frother will create a rich and delicate froth in seconds. 

Indonesia

a glass mug filled with coffee
Most Indonesians prefer to drink black coffee with sugar – one that is bold and sweet. Photo from R.S. Mangunsong.

Coffee drinking has become a tradition and a part of the everyday life of Indonesians – and there’s no better way to enjoy coffee than having it sweet and extra bold.

Even in its major cities like Jakarta and Surabaya where numerous international coffee shop chains and cafes operate, roadside stalls are present in almost every street corner selling kopi tubruk. Sometimes referred to as mud coffee, it is made by steeping hot water into a cup filled with ground coffee and sugar, and drinking it as it is.

If you are one that enjoys a cup that provides a strong caffeine kick, you have to try the kopi tubruk.

Find out how a particular Indonesian coffee sparked a war in the 1890s.

Malaysia

a cup of coffee served with a plate of french toast
In Malaysia, breakfast is never complete without a cup of kopi. Photo from Jon Siegel.

The coffee culture in Malaysia can be traced to as far back as the 1800s, but one thing has stayed constant – Malaysians enjoy their coffee dark. In fact, the locals take pride in their coffee beverages such as the Kopi O Kaw (black coffee, extra strong).

Want to learn how to appreciate black coffee like Malaysians? Here’s how.

As the coffee beans used in Malaysia are naturally bitter and incredibly robust with high levels of caffeine, most people drink it with added sugar or milk, and sometimes both.

Ever wondered why Malaysia’s Ipoh Old Town White Coffee is white? Find out here.

Singapore

a cup of coffee
Dark roast coffee beans are used in Singapore’s old-school coffee shops, giving the coffee its bitterness. Photo from Jon Siegel.

Although Singapore’s artisanal coffee scene has grown over the years, its old-school kopi scene has not lost its charm. For the older generation, they like a strong cup of coffee that has a tinge of bitterness.

Has your coffee been tasting more bitter than usual? Here’s why and how to fix it.

On the other hand, with the influx of cafes and coffee hangouts in Singapore, younger local consumers have learned how to appreciate coffee better and develop their taste buds. As a result, younger Singaporeans prefer a brew that is balanced; not too acidic and not too bitter.

Want to make a cafe-quality brew at home? These coffee machines will do the trick.

Thailand

a glass of iced coffee and milk
Sweetened iced coffee is a go-to drink for the locals in Thailand. Photo from yummygooey.

With temperatures that are 30-degree Celsius or more all year round, locals in Thailand combine their daily caffeine hit with a cool and refreshing treat. It is more common to see people ordering iced coffee instead of hot ones that your coffee will most likely be served cold even if you did not ask for one.

Locals also prefer adding either syrup, sugar, or sweet condensed milk to their coffee to offset the bitterness.

Learn about the coffee culture in Thailand as well as other Southeast Asian countries.

Vietnam

multiple glasses of Vietnamese Phin Filter Coffee placed in a row
The Vietnamese Traditional Phin Filter produces a dark and robust cup of coffee. Photo from Irish83.

Vietnam is known to have a style of their own when it comes to their coffee culture. The locals have invented various signature coffee drinks but they have common characteristics – they are strong in taste and often deemed as too sweet for those who are not used to Vietnam’s coffee.

Some might shudder at the thought of adding egg yolk into coffee, but that’s how the Vietnamese do it. As the saying goes, “If you never try, you will never know”.

Learn more about Vietnam’s coffee culture and how to make their signature coffee drinks at home.