Sri Hartamas

Coffee inside Kopiku, Sri Hartamas, KL

The gate advertising Kopiku. It leads to somebody’s garden

Kopiku means “my coffee”, a very apt name for coffee sold direct from the coffee farmer through their own cafe. Many cafes will be able to share with you their ‘directly traded’ coffee where the cafe has a one to one relation with the coffee farmer. But Kopiku takes this one stage further because Kopiku is run by the farming family themselves.

Kopiku is along a residential street in Sri Hartamas in Kuala Lumpur. We came across it because of the not-so-subtle painting on the (open) gate leading up to somebody’s backyard: “Coffee inside”. Driving past this one day prompted a curiosity, would this be good coffee? What sort of cafe operates from somebody’s garden? As it turns out it is a very good coffee from a small farm in Indonesia. The cafe opened back in August when the son of the family came over to study in Malaysia. When we first visited, there was only one other table there, the second time we visited it was packed. It seems that word is spreading and Kopiku is (deservedly) getting popular.

There are a few chairs and tables scattered around the small garden where you can sit and enjoy your freshly brewed coffee. Although the coffee is currently prepared as standard espresso based drinks, the beans are available for retail at an astonishingly reasonable price. I enjoyed a good conversation with the owner/barista talking about how best to bring out the fruity notes of the coffee (a pour over on a cold day apparently), something I plan to test when the beans come with me back to London. And how best to roast the coffee for different effects. The coffee is roasted on the farm and then sent over to Malaysia every couple of weeks so it is guaranteed to be fresh.

coffee beans from Kopiku Sri Hartamas
The coffee bean bag from Kopiku. Some of these beans are coming back with me to London to test the suggestion of the cafe owner that it’s best enjoyed as a pour over during colder weather.

Inside the garden, there is a bookshelf with an interesting selection of titles. I have sometimes wondered, when faced with similar bookshelves, whether you could make a story from the titles of the books at the end of each row. But then the fish in the tank near the shaded seats (where we sat on our first occasion in the cafe) and the waterfall feature on the wall (near where we sat on our second visit) offered different things to think about.

For a start, there is the fact that the water, falling down the 2m high granite wall, seems to stick to it. There was no splatter from the surface, it was as if a film of water was slipping down the rocks into the pool below. Initially this prompted thoughts on waterproof vs hydrophilic surfaces and their connection with coffee rings/stains and printing technology. And yet, something in the water fall was a bit more mesmerising. Watching the sheet of water flow into the small pond below, considering the energy taken to pump it up to the top of the wall again so that it could cascade down.

Which brings us up against a problem, along with part of a solution: how best to transition towards renewable electricity energy sources? Wind power is very good while it is windy, and solar while it is sunny, but how do we store the electricity generated then so that it can be released when we need it on calm, dark nights (or at other times of low generation)?

One of the older solutions for this problem turns out to look somewhat similar to the water feature at Kopiku: pumped hydro storage. The idea is frighteningly simple. When electricity is needed, water cascading down from a high level reservoir to a lower level reservoir can drive turbines and thereby generate electricity. But when a lot of electricity is being generated but demand is low, the water from the lower level reservoir can be pumped up back to the top (using the surplus electricity) ready to be allowed to cascade down and regenerate electricity as and when it is needed.

Various dewars of nitrogen
Nitrogen flasks at Chin Chin (London). A solution for energy storage as well as for ice cream?

A similar solution uses liquid nitrogen: during windy or sunny times when a lot of electricity is being generated, the surplus electricity is used to compress nitrogen and turn it into a liquid (which is very cold at -196C). Storing the nitrogen is quite easy, effectively it is stored in giant thermos flasks and, when these are well maintained, doesn’t result in that much loss of liquid over many days. When the electricity is needed on the grid, the nitrogen liquid is allowed to return to room temperature and so expands rapidly to form nitrogen gas. This expansion can be used to drive turbines which generates electricity and returns it to the network as and when it is needed.

Incidentally, that rapid expansion of liquid nitrogen into a gas can be a problem in labs like the one in which I run experiments. If 1L of liquid nitrogen is allowed to suddenly heat and become a gas, it forms, roughly 700L of nitrogen gas. In a closed space this could result in oxygen displacement and so the people in the lab could suffocate. Generally each nitrogen ‘flask’ in our lab contains 200L. You do the maths but we ensure we have good procedures in place (including oxygen sensors) to ensure that we can experiment with liquid nitrogen safely, and have fun.

The space for coffee at Kopiku however is very open and, even were nitrogen present, could not ever cause a problem! A lovely environment in which to enjoy some lovely coffee. Do sit back and let me know what you notice when you ponder your surroundings.

Kopiku is at Jalan Sri Hartamas 1. Look for the gate!