Penang’s colonial history and architecture are second to none, and its 2008 UNESCO heritage listing really put its capital, George Town, on the map. In recent years however this Malaysian food hotspot has developed a café culture that rivals the likes of New York, London, Paris, and Prague, and its first New York styled deli has just opened to rave reviews.
Penang takes its coffee seriously. With new cafés and independent roasters setting up shop literally by the week we thought we’d take a look at George Town and try to figure out where to get the next best caffeine fix.
What sets these cafés apart, what is the vibe like, and do they serve a good cappuccino? Here’s my list of the best cafés in Penang.
Macallum Connoisseurs Coffee Company
Set in a large renovated fully air-conditioned warehouse on the southern edge of George Town with plenty of parking, Macallum Connoisseurs is bright and airy and just happens to serve the best big breakfast on the island. Handmade sausages, crispy bacon, and freshly baked bread make it a go-to café when in town, especially if you are looking for generous portions.
This café is also a roastery, a fully-fledged restaurant, and a coffee academy where you can learn about the roasting process and what makes a good blend.
Their signature big breakfast with a cappuccino comes to $12.
Located on the far western edge of Tanjung Bungah, Hudson’s Deli is one of the newest delis on the island.
Fashioned after a New York deli it’s fresh meats and cheese, smoothies, and craft beers make this little café rather special. The roast beef and pickle open sandwich is fantastic and its Reuben Sandwich is straight out of Katz’s Delicatessen in New York. A very good place to revisit for lunch or if you are looking for a light supper.
The rest of the menu is all hearty goulashes and quiches, freshly baked breads, and locally made pastries. Most dishes, including a fresh juice or coffee of your choice can be had for as little as $10.
Tucked away behind a colonial bungalow labled “The Penang Flying Club” along Jalan Kelawai, Kafka is the new go to café for the well-heeled about town.
This sleek café is stylish and comfortable with high ceilings, hanging plants, and honey colored leather sofas. While the all-day breakfast is a crowd-pleaser, its signature dishes like the Beef Rendang Eggs Benedict and Spiced Eggplant Shakshuka, will leave you wanting more. It has a relaxed neighborly vibe, knowledgeable staff, and seriously good coffee.
My favorite breakfast here is the avocado on toast. It also comes with two fried eggs on a separate piece of toast and a green salad. Great value at just $8.
Let’s Meat is located in ritzy suburb of Tanjung Bungah. Focusing on creating a wholesome menu you can build your own burgers with choices such as pork patty, jalapenos, pepperoni, salami, and grilled onions. Inspired by American diners, you can also feast on Philly Steak Wrap, Mango Pig, Pancakes, and Pulled Pork Bowl.
The coffee is really good and refills are free. Two can eat here, including coffee, for just $18.
This is one of only a few cafés in Penang that serve Paleo meals, and although the menu is limited in what they do… they do it well. The café itself is simple yet beautifully designed. The space is deep and high with all exposed original 100-year-old brick walls. There are plenty of skylights which also make the space bright and airy.
The meals offered here are all made of natural ingredients, such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, and grass-fed meat and there are no processed foods whatsoever. Breakfast or lunch for two, and let’s face it no one likes to eat alone, will cost just $15.
Any café list in Penang is incomplete without a mention of China House. This long-standing café (they were one of the first cafés in George Town even before there ever was a café culture) is worth a visit for its knowledgeable staff, its mouthwatering cakes and pastries, and relaxed neighborly vibe.
This two-story building is made up of 14 different spaces. There is a shop and art gallery on the first floor and most nights of the week in the lounge at the back there is live music. Its cigar lounge with vintage ports is worth a visit too. A full breakfast with coffee will set you back $12.
If you are looking for a quiet space to lose yourself in a good book over a well-made cappuccino, Le is your place. This small, bright, cozy café in George Town caters to a local crowd who happily tap away at their laptops while sipping a freshly roasted espresso and munching on cinnamon rolls.
An espresso and a roll cost just $6.
Lavish Fusion Bakery
The perfect place to stop after wandering around the George Town UNESCO listed heritage area. This tastefully decorated, bright, sunny café serves excellent iced brews, and its pastries and breads are very good. However, its claim to fame is something called Cronuts. From Lemon Booze to Salted Egg these stacks (imagine three donuts piled on top of each) are paired with ice cream and covered in a secret sauce. Not for the heart lighted. At just $4 the Cronut is worth the effort.
Belle and Cream
This café has an eclectic look, a relaxed vibe and its baristas really know what they are doing. They will even happily talk coffee with you if you like and tell you where the best coffee countries in the world are and how to get there from here.
Their traditional Basque burnt cheesecake is unlike any other cheesecake anywhere in the world and this alone makes Belle and Cream worth a visit. Depending on the flavor of the cake, some are rarer than others, a large slice of cake and a coffee is just $8.
This laidback coffee shop relies heavily on ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s nostalgia. There are vintage movie posters on the wall, tin lunch boxes in neat rows on custom-made steel shelving, and one of the best book displays in Malaysia. Rock solid brews keep their regulars coming back with their laptops and its hip vibe makes it an attractive inviting café for anyone to stop in. A cappuccino here will set you back $2.50.
Don’t forget to check out their Swedish retro furniture collection on the second floor.
In 2010, when I first arrived in George Town, there was one café to be found. In Europe, America, and Australia cafés could be found everywhere, and most of these establishments would allow you to linger all day. With the increase of tourists to this beautiful island in the ensuing years it was inevitable that a café culture would follow and Penang now boasts some of the best outlets in Malaysia.