The return of Lok Ann coffee shop’s Uncle Lee

Look for Onn Loke Kopitiam just off the alleyway from Jalan Tun HS Lee. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
Look for Onn Loke Kopitiam just off the alleyway from Jalan Tun HS Lee. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — When Hotel Lok Ann and coffee shop in Petaling Street shut its doors on October 2013 to make way for the construction of the Mass Rapid Transit or MRT, it was the end of an era for Uncle Lee, 65 who ran the coffee shop. 

But last Wednesday, after two plus years of retirement, he opened his own coffee shop, Onn Loke Kopitiam. The small coffee shop with a few tables is located at the alleyway just off Jalan Tun HS Lee that leads to the Chinatown wet market.

Hailing from Muar, Uncle Lee came to the city when he was five years old. His father took over the operations of Lok Ann’s coffee shop in 1969 when he turned 18. 

During his younger days, he tried his hand at many jobs before settling down to take over his father’s business. This, he tells us, included stints as a taxi driver, mini bus driver and even as an apprentice mechanic. 

In 1983, he took over the operations of the coffee shop, earning the nickname “Kopi Lee” which stuck throughout the years. After the closure of the coffee shop, Uncle Lee kept a low profile. 

He spent his days at the temple and became a devout Buddhist. The strict vegetarian would often just eat only one meal a day that saw him shed almost half of his body weight.

Bored with his retirement and realising that his daily expenses was slowly eating into his retirement funds, Uncle Lee decided to take the plunge and try his hand again with the coffee shop business. Another incentive was the cheaper rent for this refurbished two-storey shophouse located in Chinatown.

He still preserves the old taste of coffee, brewing each cup of coffee the traditional way—by straining hot water through a kopi sock or cotton sheath that is filled with ground coffee powder. Even the same brand of coffee powder is used from his days at Lok Ann. 

That smooth taste of his coffee is what draws friends and regulars like Peter Wong who throng the coffee shop for a taste of yesteryear. As he says, “There’s not many around that still brew it the old fashioned way.” 

The breakfast set consists of kaya toast, soft boiled eggs and your choice of drink for RM4.50 (left); enjoy your toast by dunking it into coffee.
The breakfast set consists of kaya toast, soft boiled eggs and your choice of drink for RM4.50 (left); enjoy your toast by dunking it into coffee.

Order the breakfast set for RM4.50 that comes with your drink of choice. You get two soft boiled eggs cooked to a wobbly perfection; sprinkle with ground white pepper and light soy sauce before mixing it to form a delicious mess. 

Slurp it all down or scoop it up with your toast — golden brown thin slices slathered with butter and homemade kaya made by Uncle Lee’s younger sister. The toast also tastes divine when quickly dipped in the fragrant coffee brewed by Uncle Lee.

The toast is slathered with kaya and butter.
The toast is slathered with kaya and butter.

If you prefer a heavier meal, order a bowl of fish ball noodles or rich curry noodles from the shop located a few doors away at No. 3. It’ll be delivered to you at Onn Loke Kopitiam as part of a friendly understanding between Uncle Lee and the noodle shop owner. 

In return for this arrangement, Uncle Lee delivers coffee over to the noodle shop’s patrons should they place an order with him. 

It’s heart-warming to see Uncle Lee’s return being welcomed by many of his friends and regulars. This includes art activist Chong Keat Aun and Judy Lam who is a representative of Hotel Lok Ann; they organised an opening ceremony for the coffee shop yesterday. The ceremony was commemorated by Lim Ken Peng  writing out Onn Loke Kopitiam’s sign in Chinese calligraphy. Also in attendance was Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun. 

One of Uncle Lee’s regulars who comes back for his coffee.
One of Uncle Lee’s regulars who comes back for his coffee.

Onn Loke Kopitiam, 5, Jalan Sang Guna (Penjaja Gallery Jalan Tun HS Lee), KL. Open: 7am to 2pm. Closed one day a month. Directions: Enter from Jalan Tun HS Lee, opposite Public Bank Berhad where there’s the Big Mouth Bak Kut Teh signage, walk down and the place is on your left. 

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