In this article

Kopitiams have been around in Malaysia since the 1800s. It all began when Hainanese folks moved from China to Malaysia. 

Back then, other dialect groups like the Hokkien, Cantonese, and Teochew were already big shots in trade, mining, and farming. So, the Hainanese who worked in hotels took a chance and opened up small restaurants and kopitiams across Malaysia after World War II.

From street-side kopitiams to trendy hipster cafes, Kuala Lumpur’s coffee scene has been on the rise. 

In this bustling coffee scene, you’ll find Jiak Kopi, a cosy cafe tucked away in GMBB Mall (GMBB), with its roots firmly planted in the age-old tradition of Hainan coffee. 

From childhood ambition to brewing reality

Cherrie Loh and her cousin Tommy Low always had a childhood dream of opening a cafe but it took the tumultuous effect of the pandemic to push them into action. 

“When we realise a lockdown can just happen like that, nothing is impossible. If we do not start the cafe now then when?” Cherrie reflected. 

Image Credit: Aloysious (courtesy of Jiak Kopi)

Tommy’s experience as an owner and coffee roaster at TKK Hainan Coffee, which has been around for over 50 years, fueled his passion to open Jiak Kopi with Cherrie.

He has been exposed to Hainan coffee since he started his career, and his love for it makes him dream big—he wants everyone to know about Malaysian Hainan coffee, just like they know about Starbucks.

Tommy passed on his knowledge to Cherrie, making her the “Kopista” of Jiak Kopi.

During the MCO, they explored the idea of Hainan coffee delivery directly from the roastery of TKK Hainan Coffee but due to logistical constraints, they had to change their plans.

They settled in a 200sq ft unit in GMBB Mall, Bukit Bintang, due to its small size and strategic location near corporate offices.

Coming from a banking background, Cherrie leveraged her banking insights particularly in consumer products and portfolio management to foster customer loyalty and community engagement.

Alongside offering attractive discounts to patrons of the GMBB community, “We offer coffee subscription plans for companies based within the building and discounts to GMBB tenants,” she told Vulcan Post.

Image Credit: GMBB management / Aloysious (courtesy of Jiak Kopi)

Besides, they offer seasonal beverages to add more excitement during festivities and run campaigns like BiJIAK Vote during the Malaysian General Election, giving customers the opportunity to win a month’s worth of free drinks.

Bridging tradition and modernity

Cherrie and Tommy fell in love with GMBB during The 108 Project – Art Exhibition before the pandemic. 

If you are familiar with GMBB you’ll know it’s known for its artsy stalls and shops. They loved that and the vibes that GMBB has created.

“We chose GMBB for its central location and the influx of tourists from around the world, which we hope can bring back this unique experience to their home country,” Cherrie said.

Since its inception, Jiak Kopi has become a favorite spot for regulars, including employees and residents from nearby places like The Robertson Residence, Magnum Berhad, and Tung Shin Hospital.

Step inside the cafe and you’ll be treated to art pieces from the building’s artists in their shop, but the bulk of their decoration comes from Cherrie’s uncle, who’s a vintage collector. More vintage elements come from custom fixtures made by a tenant, and the cousins’ grandmother’s old sewing machine.

Image Credit: Aloysious (courtesy of Jiak Kopi)

These design choices help set them apart, Cherrie believes.

“Within the vicinity, Jiak Kopi is probably the only one that serves Hainan kopi in a cafe setup or style,” Cherrie explained.

When it comes to food and snacks served at Jiak Kopi, Cherrie’s mother takes charge of that section. However, Cherrie herself creates seasonal menus and occasionally adds homemade treats from her aunt as specials for the day.

You’ll find nasi lemak, loaf cakes, and roti bakar with homemade kaya as some popular options to pair with their Hainan coffee.

Considering their central location, Jiak Kopi wants their offerings to be enjoyed by all, so they’ve ensured that they’re Muslim-friendly.

Image Credit: GMBB management / Aloysious (courtesy of Jiak Kopi)

Additionally, Jiak Kopi also implements environmentally friendly practices, promoting reusability and waste reduction.

They encourage customers to use their serving cups, which can be brought back and returned to the shop instead of using takeaway cups.

Overcoming challenges sip by sip 

Staffing remains a challenge for them. They haven’t been able to hire extra “Kopistas”, which poses an issue during peak servicing hours and limits the opportunities for managing catering requests.

Currently, Cherrie manages Jiak Kopi full-time, while Tommy, committed to TKK Hainan Coffee, joins on weekends as the “Kopista.” Thankfully, they also receive additional support from family members during the weekdays to keep the business running smoothly.

Operating with a small team, the duo wears multiple hats, from managing day-to-day operations to social media marketing. Sometimes, they find it challenging to implement all their ideas due to limited resources.

However, for some administrative jobs such as accounting matters, they managed to outsource people.

Despite limitations, they believe they’ve successfully connected with their target audience, which comprises young adults all the way up to the ah gong and ah ma generation. They achieve this by constantly refining their roasting techniques and selecting beans that cater to a variety of tastes.

From one lot to three, growing with the community

Jiak Kopi, with approximately RM100K investment, has come a long way. 

Initially, they started with one lot, then expanded to two to accommodate more seating. They now run in a three-lot setup, with even more seating areas, elaborate displays, and decorations integrated. 

Image Credit: Aloysious (courtesy of Jiak Kopi)

Although they have more expansion plans in the future, for now, they are focused on providing the best experience to their customers in their current place.

They also aspire to serve and attract more international tourists, similar to VCR Coffee and LOKL Coffee, to give more exposure to the culture and experience of Malaysian Hainan coffee.

Cherrie and Tommy’s dream of bringing Malaysian Hainan coffee to the world is well underway, one cup at a time.

  • You can learn more about their business here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Jiak Kopi / The founders

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated with Vulcan Post weekly curated news and updates.


Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)