I realize that the first time I met Frank Ee, I may have come across as an impolite, difficult coffee snob. “You say you run a cafe in Penang, but what makes it so special?” I asked him after he had explained he is the owner of Frank Laurent Coffee roaster in Penang. My arrogance was partly justified by the fact I truly believe there are dozens of cookie-cutter Penang coffee shops in George Town — not counting a lot of Western restaurants — and most barely reach the mark.
But Frank is a very courteous guy: he didn’t even frown, kept smiling, and said that what made his Frank Laurent outlets — there are 5, including a very new one in Sungai Petani, the first branch to open outside Penang island — special is the fact they roast their coffee beans themselves.
Again, my answered was skeptical and impolite — wasn’t it what most other Penang coffee shops do, after all?
Frank asked me to go visit his main shop at Udini Square and see why Frank Laurent — which turned 5 years old in June 2020, by the way — may as well serve some of the best coffee in Penang.
A Dedicated Malaysian coffee Roaster in Penang
We visited Frank Laurent Coffee Roasters’ main outlet on the ground floor of Udini Square, nearby E-Gate and Tesco, at lunchtime on a Sunday. Let me tell you that even if we visited during Malaysia’s RMCO, the place was packed to the gills with customers who ranged from families with kids to students and working people fiddling with their laptops.
The main sala is large, with tall wall windows that allow for plenty of natural light and offer a welcoming, industrial-chic loft-like atmosphere. Several baristas were busy whipping up coffees and cappuccinos behind the counter set on the left side of the hall, while the patrons sat at the tables spread all over the space.
Frank was now in his environment, waiting for us right in front of the many sacks of prime international coffee beans that traveled as far as El Salvador and Ethiopia to delight Penang’s coffee lovers. And that was when I understood that yes, I did a big mistake by under-estimating the dedication of this young, forever smiling entrepreneur. When it comes to coffee, Frank definitely knows his stuff.
The Best Coffee in Penang?
Let’s put it this way: with the way gentrified George Town has leveled the Penang cafe experience to a boring, cookie-cutter scene of standardized shabby-chic cafes serving the usual European brews, Frank Laurent surprised me with their wide selection of international coffee beans. Frank Laurent uses an American-made Diedrich machine to roast their beans, bringing each batch to produce unique coffee flavors and aromas.
Frank Laurent may also be the only Penang coffee shop where you can get coffee made with different beans imported from some far-flung parts of the world. They are roasted on rotation pretty much every fortnight — all at the discretion of Frank and his baristas.
One of Frank Laurent’s specialties is actually to come and get to try far-flung international brews. But ask for a coffee tasting, and you’ll get it served pure, without any sugar, in an alembic and tiny cup. You’ll get to sip the brew, feel it in your mouth, as pure as it can be. From Brazilian to Salvadorian and more, this is a clever way to actually attract all those who think are coffee lovers, and educate them as if they were undergoing a wine or tea tasting ceremony. Clever idea, Frank.
I want to mention something a bit special I have only tried at Frank Laurent: the Blue Cappuccino. Essentially, it is a regular cappuccino whose foam is crystallized using a burner torch. The result is a thick, caramelized layer of foam that seals your cappuccino giving it a peculiar, sweet, lid-like taste and feel.
I enjoyed stepping next to the counter to watch Frank Laurent’s baristas handle the burner over the cup… quite an entertaining sight, and something I have never seen in Penang before.
The Food at Frank Laurent Coffee Roasters Penang
Frank Laurent is a coffee roaster by definition, but it also offers a simple yet extensive menu of Western-inspired — particularly Italian — mains and tidbits such as plates of pasta, pizza slices, and sandwiches. We sat down for lunch and this is what we tried.
Frank Laurent Turkey Ham Pizzas
The pizza served at Frank Laurent Coffee Roasters is of the thin, crunchy New York style, yet served as a square cut, not a triangular slice. Topped with fresh Parmesan cheese, the portion is good enough as a starter, not really a full meal. There’s good, properly melted cheese — something that’s not always a given in Asian pizza places — over a base of fresh tomatoes that, being fresh, are not always pulped to smooth paste. This is something that goes according to taste, but to me, the real, unprocessed tomato base enhanced the relevance of the toppings — turkey ham, and the occasional chunk of pineapple. Something that, as an Italian, always makes me faint… but thankfully, it was not overdone. Keep your pineapple for dessert, lads — no turkey and ham certainly need any!
Mr. Mush Grilled Sandwich
I then tried a serving of Mr. Mush, a nicely grilled sandwich filled with caramelized mushrooms and onions married with cheese. This sandwich was top-notch from the first bite. Melt in your mouth, fresh cheesy mushroom taste over bread toasted the right way — nicely brown and crispy, but absolutely not overdone. For RM 15 the portion is just about right and filling and could do for lunch if you are not particularly hungry.
Smoked Salmon Aglio & Olio Pasta
Garnished with chili flakes and a sunny side up egg, Frank Laurent’s salmon aglio and olio is one of several available choices of pasta — divided in white or aglio & olio sauce (meaning oil and garlic, for a zesty Vampire-hunter aftertaste… keep this in mind if you come to Frank Laurent with a date, as it wouldn’t be the case) or red sauce varieties.
The portion was filling, the taste spicy and tangy — I appreciated how the pasta remained moisturized and fresh with oil (a rarity in many Penang Italian joints), giving the plate a very authentic Italian taste. The chili flakes added a flavoursome and spicy-hot balance. The rest of the pasta’s toppings are little mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and shredded black olives and, of course, the smoked salmon — a bad boy from Norway with a flesh so tender and yet firm you’d possibly let it flap from your lips like a second tongue. Gorgeous.
Frank Laurent’s signature Chocolate Banana Waffle
Beyond coffee roasting, Frank Laurent is highly popular for its homemade waffles that, of course, go very well with brews. I decided to try the chocolate banana, not only because it’s always an excellent mix, but also because, as Frank said, it’s one well-established crowd pleaser. Rich in texture, the waffle itself was maybe a bit dry, but the topping of sliced bananas, homemade Vanilla gelato (another of Frank Laurent specialties)and chocolate, including two Ferrero Rocher-alike chocoballs, it’s a real calorie molotov — and will certainly make you forget the dryish waffle base.
Other interesting foods at Frank Laurent
Frosley Galaxyto, Frank Laurent’s Homemade Gelato
As I mentioned, Frank Laurent has gelato machines and produces its own branded gelato Frosley Galaxyto — like a gelato from outer space, I like that. I’ve been consuming Italian gelato since I was a baby so you can’t f$%^ with me when it comes to that and… unlike most of Penang’s gelato outlets, which are often overdone and too sweet — hello, Baskin Robbins — the galaxyto here is seriously tongue-tickling. And there’s one specialty coming for all the stinky fruit lover out there…
Durian Cold Blend with Ethiopian and Brazilian coffee
Do you know that at Frank Laurent you can get a Durian gelato that taste like real durian, and not just a washed-out, colorant-injected crappy yellow ice cream that just lightly smells like one?
Frank told me that he personally pulped up to 70kg of Durian, selecting ONLY the best flesh, to make this Durian Galaxyto which, if you love Durian, feels like eating a fresh one.
The problem is, Frank is going to start a real new kind of addiction by selling his new Durian Cold Blend — imagine a Frappuccino, but think of durian ice-cream that feels like real gas and stinky feet, married with deep, suave dark roasted Ethiopian and Brazilian beans… you’ve got more than a winner here, Frank. You better get this patented soon before the Hong Kong tourists start coming back!
Frank Laurent Coffee Roasters: the Verdict
Frank Ee taught me that sometimes I should better not rush to conclusions because of the lack of vision of other Penangites. Frank Laurent Coffee Roasters, at least the main outlet we visited at Udini Square, ticks all the boxes for a high-standard (in taste, not in poshness) coffee experience.
If you don’t know coffee, or aren’t an aficionado like me, I doubt you’ll appreciate the subtle variations that Frank Laurent introduces to its drink menu every fortnight. Stick to the food, which is above average for this kind of establishments — especially the juicy and scrumptious pastas and the sandwiches — because to you, all coffee is just, well… coffee.
But if you do know coffee, and can at least tell the difference between an Italian espresso and a shitty Americano, THEN you may be the right kind of person to sit through Frank Laurent’s tastings, and come away refreshed, titillated, and not confused by it all. Coffee is an art, and is best appreciated when knowing that a true brew is a sweet-sour taste — you can always stick to an inventive blue cappuccino if you are not adventurous enough.
I’ll close it by saying that when it comes to Penang coffee, young Frank Ee knows his stuff, and has created a space that both accommodates the initiated and the regular Joes who are just in for a family outing in an attractive and vibrant environment. Well done Frank Laurent; and you, reader, give it a go.
Blogging transparency: Frank Laurent sponsored our visit, but all the opinions expressed in this article are our own. We would not endorse any events, tours, or companies we wouldn’t use or pay for ourselves. In other words, we tell it as we see it — go try if you don’t believe our honest opinion.