When I think of Jalan Sin Chew Kee, the somewhat hidden and relaxed setting of the quiet street is a great way to take the edge off a difficult week at work. What used to be a deserted lane with very little parking now has new cafés that, during peak hours, have queues that snake around the block. When I heard that a new joint had opened there and that its focus was tea-based cocktails, I could not wait to try it out.
Located above 8haus restaurant, Sin Chew Kee Cold Drink Store had the feel of a comfortable lounge, with jazz funk playing, a decked-out bar and a leather chair corner. My companion and I arrived just as the bar opened at 5pm, to avoid the crowds, but the early hour also meant we could enjoy the natural light that filled the space through the big open windows at one end.
Sin Chew Kee Cold Drink Store’s menu listed a whole range of teatails, from highballs and classics to signature concoctions as well as a page comprising non-tea-based cocktails. To kick off our evening, we picked a safe-sounding drink and one that was a tad more adventurous.
The Teh O’ice Limau (RM35) was a great tribute to its namesake mamak stall staple. A mix of bourbon, mint liqueur, Sabah tea, lime juice and pandan syrup, this drink was sweet and earthy. Served in a tall glass full of ice with a metal straw, it tasted like a Malaysian version of Long Island iced tea.
The Umami Cocktail (RM40), however, was something new and utterly surprising. Reading the list of ingredients — London dry gin, shochu, sencha, dashi syrup, lime juice and miso — we were unsure of what to expect, but the waiter recommended it. This drink came in a FseatFlittle white cup with blue calligraphy, and a slice of crispy seaweed as garnish. As the name suggested, this cocktail was umami-forward, and tasted like a cold miso broth. It made me feel like I was in a hole-in-the-wall bar in Japan. It was remarkably layered — with each sip, the taste changed from a hearty soup to a sweeter and cleaner drink. The cocktail also had us craving sushi.
As the bar remained empty, my companion and I moved from the tables and metal high chairs, which were not very comfortable, to the leather lounge in the corner. We were told there was more seating at the back, with red benches and rattan chairs, but we opted to be by the window. Hat-like rattan lamp fixtures adorned the ceiling, and as the sun set, they provided ample light. It was at this point that we felt peckish and looked through the bar’s menu, a pageful of food that included Pork Lard XO Linguine and Single Pork Roulade. We were keen to try the Salted Fried Egg but as it was unavailable, we went for fries instead.
Next, we tried the Wild Sour Cocktail (RM45), a concoction of bourbon, cherry liqueur, Bianco Vermouth, Fruit of Eden Flower tea, lemon juice, syrup and milk. This drink involved a bit of DIY. In a Glencairn glass was a deep red liquid, which we were told was tea-infused vermouth, while the rest of the ingredients were placed in an old-fashioned glass with a chunk of ice cube and a slice of dried orange. When the red liquid was poured into this glass, it created the colours of a beautiful sunset. While this cocktail did not have as much of a citrus-forward flavour as I would expect from a sour, it had floral notes with hints of sweet and tanginess coming through. It was altogether an enjoyable drink.
After the whirlwind of flavours, the Sencha Highball (RM32) was quite boring. Made with Sencha tea, bourbon, oleo saccharum (sugared oil) and soda, it tasted like a fizzy green tea and did not do anything for me. My companion agreed that it certainly was not a highlight for a highball.
We moved again, this time to the best seats in the house: comfy rattan high chairs at the bar. At Sin Chew Kee Cold Drink Store, which opened in November, the bartenders had experimented quite a bit to get to the current menu. Tea is not a drink for those in a hurry — as evidenced by the way it is made and enjoyed. This bar’s process for creating teatails was no different and we were told that timing was everything. For instance, for our next drink, The Earlgroni (RM43), gin was boiled in tea for five minutes for the flavours to fully develop. One had to be careful, though, in making the tea, as steeping the tea leaves in water for too short a time would have no effect, while oversteeping would give the liquid a bitter taste.
The Earlgroni — a mix of London dry gin, Earl Grey, Aperol, Rosso Vermouth and bitters — was garnished with a torched dried orange to bring out the aromatics of the drink. Even those who are not huge fans of negronis will enjoy this tipple, as the floral Earl Grey notes were comforting and the smells were reminiscent of relaxing aromas such as bergamot.
The ingredients for our final drink for the evening had us a little nervous. The Matcha Macchiato (RM42) was a concoction of London dry gin, matcha from Niko Neko, lime juice, asam boi syrup and cream cheese foam. The thick foam that sat atop the glass was reminiscent of boba teas, which often have a salty cream cheese foam to add another layer of flavour. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this drink. The earthy umami notes of the matcha went well with the sweet and slightly salty foam, creating a well-balanced, dessert-like drink. My companion likened it to a cheese platter with dry fruits — the best balance of sweet and savoury.
I had an enjoyable time at Sin Chew Kee Cold Drink Store; its hybrid jazz tunes and mish-mash of rattan and leather furniture made for a convivial space to spend an evening. Top that off with its adventurous and carefully curated cocktails, and you have a spot that tea lovers as well as fans of bold flavours will flock to.
Sin Chew Kee Cold Drink Store, 8, Jalan Sin Chew Kee, Bukit Bintang, KL. Daily, 5pm till late; closed on Tuesdays. 013 483 8863.
This article first appeared on Mar 14, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.