White coffee isn’t a “light” or “extra light” coffee. Nor is it a flat white, cappuccino, latte, cafe au lait, etc. It’s not white because of additives, it’s white for a whole different reason.
White Coffee vs. Regular Coffee
The difference between white coffee and regular coffee is the roast. White coffee isn’t stronger than regular coffee; it has a very subtle flavor.
The roasting stage of coffee beans is what produces white coffee. Coffee experts will tell you that “white coffee” refers to the roast, not the bean or the brew.
How is it made?
Arabica beans are typically used for white coffee. The beans are roasted at 325 degrees (F) and are pulled just before the first crack. The tan beans are very dense and hard and can easily destroy a home grinder.
Finding a cafe or coffee house in the U.S. that serves white coffee is a rarity. If you do find one, you will typically enjoy it either Malaysian-style, Yemen-style, or as a single shot. The roast and brew of the different regions are entirely different!
Where did white coffee come from?
White coffee has been a staple in other countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen) and is slowly catching on in the U.S. The specific origin, as well as when it reached the U.S., is ambiguous. However, micro coffee roasters in the U.S. have taken on the art of perfecting this coffee.
Malaysian White Coffee
Ipoh, Malaysia, is a city that is cradled in the valley of Kinta River. Ipoh’s Sin Yoon Loong coffee shop is known for producing the first Ipoh white coffee (“pak-ko-pi”.) Back in 1937, Sin Yoon Loong opened the coffee shop producing the unique coffee. In the early 1900s, Malays consumed what was known as Kopi-o (a robust black coffee.) Kopi-o was extremely bitter to the Chinese living in Ipoh, and this is where Sin Yoon Loong stepped in. He came up with a roasting method that changed everything!
Instead of roasting coffee beans, he fried them in palm oil with sugar added. Once the beans were ground and brewed, the coffee was finished with condensed milk.
Today, white coffee throughout Malaysia is prepared in the same manner. White coffee is served in a small cup and saucer ensemble with a large ceramic spoon. Local Malays drink their coffee with this spoon.
Another roasting method seen throughout Malaysia is charcoal roasting. The white coffee beans are placed inside of a cylinder that has holes. The cylinder is either hand-turned or automatically turned over a bed of hot coals. The beans are roasted and pulled just before the first crack.
Yemen White Coffee
Some of the world’s finest coffee is found in Yemen. Yemenis have a different protocol for white coffee (“Qahwa Bayda.”). Arabica beans are harvested from high altitudes and lightly roasted. Just before the first crack, the beans are pulled.
Once the beans go through the grinding process, Hawaij is prepared for the brew. Hawaij is what sets Yemen’s white coffee apart from the rest of the world.
Hawaij consists of sesame seeds, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon, which is boiled in the water that is used to brew the coffee. Hawaij ingredients can vary because of personal preference of spices and taste.
The flavor of this white coffee is nutty and aromatic for the senses from the spices. However, there is little body to the coffee.
Is White Coffee for Everyone?
Those who prefer dark roast coffee may not have a palate for white coffee.
If you drink white coffee sans add-ins (condensed milk or Hawaij,), you may be disappointed and even disgusted by the extremely earthy flavor. Some have gone as far as to describe a white coffee shot solo as “hay-water!”
Now, if you decide to experience white coffee “Ipoh-style” as the Malays do, you are in for a treat. The coffee and condensed milk are hand-pulled, creating a thick, frothy, sweet cup of heaven. It’s no wonder Malaysia uses a large spoon to sip and savor every drop of the white coffee.
The Last “Sip”…
Although white coffee is relatively new to the coffee scene in the U.S., if you can find it, it’s worth a try! Very few places serve this coffee. You can find it online from micro-roasters as well as imported from Malaysia. You’ll have to get past the staleness of the packaged form because it comes as grounds or powder.
Regardless of the type of brewed white coffee you try, either way, you get the benefit of coffee’s antioxidants as well as an incredible jolt of caffeine. The lighter the roast, the higher the caffeine content.