Cafe Society

Makan celebrates the food of Malaysia...and the coffee of Australia

Thanks to years of cliche-building commercials for a certain steakhouse, you might think the only things in Australia are koalas, cars zipping across the empty desert and big steaks. But Karen Wee Lin Tan Beckman, chef-owner of Makan Malaysian Café, which I review this week, begs to differ.

Born in Malaysia, Beckman moved to Australia as a teenager and later worked as a barista while studying architecture in Sydney. At her six-month-old restaurant, this multi-talented 34-year-old is now doing her best to promote not just the foods of her youth, but her adopted country's strong -- if little known --coffee heritage. See also: - Slide show: Inside Makan Malaysian Cafe - Makan Malaysian Cafe could turn you into a roti rooter - Turkish coffee in your own kitchen!

Some of her Italian-bean espresso drinks -- including latte, cappuccino and mocha -- sound familiar, but unlike what you'll find at Starbucks, they're not made with syrups or flavored beans.

Others might need translation. A long black, for example, is essentially an Americano moonlighting under a different name. And the flat white? That's an Australian special, with a double shot of espresso, milk and a smidge of crema.

According to Espressole Caffe's Steven Fenno-Kelly, a master barista who's been in the trade 26 years and competed in the SCAA World Barista Championship, the flat white is similar to an Italian latte or a Portuguese cortado, though the latter is usually made with cream or half-and-half. You can find a flat white at either place - at Espressole, simply ask for a "no-foam latte."

But if you want to pair the strong, milky java with coconut jam-slathered kaya toast instead of a scone or chocolate croissant, you'll have to head to Makan.

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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz