In Penang, the term "kopi tiam", which is pronounced in Penang Hokkien as ko3pi3 tiam3 refers to eateries occupying a shoplot or shophouse. Traditionally, this would be a Straits Eclectic-style shophouse where the business is conducted below, while the owner and his family occupy the living quarters upstairs. Except for the old family-run coffee shops in the inner city of George Town, this practise has come to past, and nowadays, the upstairs is more likely to be occupied by the shop's foreign workers.
There would be one or several individual hawkers selling food while the proprietor of the coffee shop sells coffee as well as other beverages. If this is done on a bigger scale, then the establishment will be known as a "hawker centre", and if it is in an air-conditioned space such as a shopping mall, it is known as a "food court".
, though ironically none but the newest ones have the word "Kopitiam" to their names. More likely, the traditional coffee shops will be known as "Kedai Kopi", "Kedai Makan", "Kedai Makanan", and even "Cafe" or "Restaurant".
7 February, 2014: The Independent newspaper ran an article quoted edited extracts from The Food Book, a Lonely Planet publication, stating that Penang is the #1 destination for foodies. Read my response here, Penang is World's Number One Destination for Foodies.
Directory of Coffee Shops
In this directory, the term "coffee shop" refers to all eatery premises in Penang where street fare is sold by hawkers. Traditionally, coffee shops are link shophouses built in the Straits Eclectic style where the eatery business is conducted below, while the coffee shop owner and his family live upstairs. Most coffee shops occupy the corner lot of these link rows.
Once most hawkers were itinerant vendors. Today the majority have found their station in coffee shops or hawker centres. Only a fraction continue the itinerant trade, pushing their carts or three-wheelers through the city streets.
Gone are the days - in George Town at least - when coffee shops stand out for the quality of their freshly brewed coffee. The litmus test of coffee quality in Penang is the coffee-black, or ko3pi3-orh1. By default, if you called for "coffee" without specifying "-orh", you will be given coffee au lait.
Today it is the hawkers that are the true stars of the coffeee shops. Many coffee shops derive fame from the hawker food sold there. However it should be pointed out that the food and the location often fuse as one - many famous hawkers discover to their great dismay that once they move to a new location, they lose all their existing clientele and don't make any new ones. This combination of food-and-location is so entrenched that many of the most famous Penang food stalls have been occupying the same spot for decades. Some may have spawn outlets elsewhere, in big air-conditioned malls, but it is always the one at the original spot that matters, the one that continues to attract a devoted following, even if it's the humblest of stalls.
On this page, I celebrate the coffee shops of Penang. From the famous to the obscure, they are all listed here in alphabetical order. In addition, check out also the related lists of other eateries below.
Thank you for visiting my website. I started it in 2003, and today it has over twenty thousand pages of information. My name is Timothy Tye. You can call me Tim. I have been writing my website full time since 1 November 2007, and I am enjoying every moment of it. I write my website to satisfy my own curiosity, but I am glad if the information is useful to you.