PETALING JAYA, April 25 — Perhaps this is a statement most baristas fear to hear the most: I don’t drink coffee.

Which was what the poor barista at Pohutukawa Coffee in Section 17, PJ had to contend with when one of our group announced exactly this.

Fortunately for us, she had a ready reply. They had kombucha and craft beer, matcha and tea too. Her recommendation of a Golden Tip pu’er tea was spot on: woodsy and bittersweet, a full-bodied brew.

Pohutukawa is a bit of a hidden sanctuary, located on the upper floor of a row of shophouses directly facing the Section 17 wet market.


Upstairs, there is a cool, casual vibe that reminds us of cafés in New Zealand, where one can be left alone to nurse a cuppa without much engagement with the staff. A practised nonchalance, perhaps.

The café shares a space with a florist, hence the profusion of dried flowers and leaves.
The café shares a space with a florist, hence the profusion of dried flowers and leaves.

The Kiwi mood extends to the décor. There is a certain wildness here, with the profusion of dried flowers and arching branches reaching out from vases or even the ceiling.


But the strong elements of wood — the tables and the furnishing — and the warm lighting suggests an ambience closer to those of cafés in Taipei. It’s quite a contrast.

It all makes sense, however, once you realise that the café shares a space with a florist, hence all the flowers, branches and leaves.

This space sharing approach is increasingly popular and sensible, considering rising rental costs and the unpredictable economy.

Other cafés that have done this include Ellipsis in Damansara Uptown (sharing the space with a barbershop), Airplane Mode Coffee in Taman Rasa Sayang (with a Japanese izakaya) and spacegrey in SS2 (also with a florist).

The 'Barista’s Breakfast' – an espresso and a flat white.
The 'Barista’s Breakfast' – an espresso and a flat white.

But sometimes we can’t make up our mind so why share?

At Pohutukawa, I ordered the "Barista’s Breakfast” — an espresso and a flat white. Why decide on one when you can have both, right? No need to share.

The most spartan amongst us contented himself with a long black, a safer order when visiting a café for the first time. (Good choice.)

Be it black or white, the coffees are best savoured while staring out the sunlit windows, framed by supple succulents and a dessicated palm frond.

We had enjoyed variations of the barista’s breakfast in St. Ali in Melbourne (their version, if I remember correctly, involved a trinity — an espresso, a batch brew and a flat white) and some cafés in Wellington too.

Sunlit window (left). Long black (right).
Sunlit window (left). Long black (right).

Yet it was closer to home, at Ground Coffee in Damansra Uptown, where owner Derry Teh explained the rationale behind such a surfeit of caffeine best: to ensure they have calibrated their coffee properly every morning, the baristas will taste it in the form of a pure shot of espresso as well as a simple flat white, i.e. coffee with milk.

It’s an elegant solution, and hence "breakfast” for the barista too as they savour the coffee best with a clean palate. An empty belly.

Of course, we aren’t baristas and needn’t drink our beverages on their own. Here at Pohutukawa, you can have your coffee, and your cake too.

The café has a variety of burnt cheesecakes, with flavours ranging from plain and chocolate to Earl Grey and houjicha. Deciding that might be a tad too rich, we decided their dainty looking chiffon cakes would pair well with our coffee and tea.

Delicate chiffon cakes layered with cream.
Delicate chiffon cakes layered with cream.

The Black Sesame Chocolate Chiffon Cake is lighter than it sounds and the toasted aroma of the sesame seeds makes for a subtle perfume. A delicate chiffon cake layered with cream, nothing could be simpler.

Other cakes include their Grapefruit Genmaicha Chiffon Cake (with a genmaicha glaze and whipped cream) and Summer Christmas (key lime chiffon cake with diced mangoes and passion fruit curd).

That last name is a hint to the café’s own moniker. In Chinese, the shop is called 夏日聖誕咖啡館” (Xiàrì Shèngdàn Kāfēi Guǎn) or "Summer Christmas Café”.

In New Zealand, the pōhutukawa tree (Metrosideros excelsa) is also known as the "summer Christmas tree” and the "Antipodean holly” thanks to its vividly scarlet blooms.

How festive!

As we depart, we say goodbye to the branches and floral arrangements. It is the sense of wilderness captured in the shape of a café that will linger, long after the taste of the cakes and coffee has melted away.

Branches and floral arrangements.
Branches and floral arrangements.

Pohutukawa Coffee

1075A, Jalan 17/27, Taman Gembira, PJ

Open Tue-Fri 2-10pm, Sat 11am-10pm, Sun 11am-6pm, Mon closed

Phone: 016-695 7283


*This is an independent review where the writer paid for the meal.

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