Ipoh Old Town White Coffee has a long history; it has been here for more than half a century, before we even gained our independence. A Chinese immigrant known as Wu came up with the concept of white coffee. He roasted the coffee beans in palm oil. Tradition has it that it was in Ipoh Old Town that the white coffee was first invented, pioneered by Wu, a Hainanese coffee roasting shifu in an old coffee shop at Old Town (it is still there today!).
As we all know, Ipoh is the capital city of the state Perak, and has been the pioneers of white coffee in the whole wide world. To us locals, it is not just coffee, it is part of our history. The 19th century and early 20th century when we were colonized by the British was when Ipoh became a prominent city in the country. This is because many British tin mining companies were located in Ipoh. The British hired immigrants from China (Hainan, to be more specific) to come work for them in the tin mines. These immigrants were however unaccustomed to the bitter western style of coffee so they modified it to suit the Chinese taste.
To the Chinese immigrants, drinking bitter and acidic western black coffee was a way to socialize respectfully with the westerners, but they did not like it and were not comfortable with this way of coffee. White coffee was then developed by these immigrants from the shores of Nanyang during the late Qing Dynasty.
As such, these distinguished immigrants demonstrated their culinary expertise by changing the taste of western coffee, gradually and slowly adapting it using various methods filled with trial and error to find the taste that best suit the palate of Chinese population in the then Malaya.
The Chinese immigrants adopted the unique method of roasting, brewing and stirring techniques based on the Nanyang coffee recipe. They also mixed and blended different types of coffee beans, thus creating the unique aroma of Ipoh Old Town white coffee. Today, most café owners and coffee makers have mastered the art and skill of slow-roasting their coffee beans coated with margarine in low heat.
Ipoh Old Town white coffee is now considered a must-try beverage, as it was featured in the World Expo Shanghai 2010 as the official beverage of the Malaysia Pavilion.