Is coffee expensive in Malaysia?

By Diana Chai | – Mon, Mar 17, 2014

It’s one of the most traded commodities in the world and many consider it a staple in their everyday lives. Coffee has transcended both geographical and cultural barriers, having established itself as one of the most socially significant drinks in history.

Malaysia is no exception to this as coffee plays just as much as an important role within our society. You can see this in the way coffee is present within the traditional “mamak” and even trendy cafes in most towns. As more Malaysians continue to drink coffee on a daily basis, one question comes to mind: how much are they paying when compared to their neighbouring counterparts?


Starbucks is the unanimous king of all modern coffee houses, with more than 20,000 branches in over 60 different countries worldwide. As a brand synonymous with high quality coffee, the logo has gained worldwide recognition from a diverse audience. In Malaysia, Starbucks first announced its presence in 1998 and has since grown to more than 140 stores nationwide. The café offers not just an array of creative caffeine concoctions but a comfortable environment for social interactions.

Starbucks coffee remains a luxury item for most Malaysians, with prices averaging around RM14 for the typical Grande (medium) Frappuccino, only a select portion of the population can afford to make it a daily affair. Hence the question dawns, how much are Malaysia’s neighbours paying for their Starbucks?

Singaporeans pay around SG8 (RM21) for the average Grande Frappuccino. While most Malaysians would gasp at the thought of paying RM21, comparing the average income between both countries shows that it is in fact Singaporeans who are getting the better deal. The average working professional in Singapore earns an average of SGD3,800 (RM9,880) monthly, alternatively, the average Malaysian in a similar line of work would rake in around RM3,600. Using the figures above, the cost of a single Grande Frappuccino is equivalent to approximately 0.21% of the average Singaporean’s income, much lower when compared to the 0.38% equivalent to the average Malaysian’s income.

While the figures speak for a single cup of coffee, how does the Starbucks addict in Singapore match up to the Starbucks addict in Malaysia? Drinking a single Grande Frappuccino on a daily basis for an entire month in Singapore will set you back by SGD240 (RM624), the equivalent of 6.31% of the average working Singaporean’s income. Alternatively, doing the same in Malaysia will cost you RM420, the equivalent of 11.66% of the typical working Malaysian’s income. In conclusion, the Starbucks addict living and working in Singapore would generally find it much more affordable to maintain his/her habit than his Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesians, on the other hand, pay around IDR20,700 (RM5.7) for the average Grande Frappuccino. Using the same approach as above, the cost of a single Grande Frappuccino is equivalent to around 0.63% of the typical working Indonesian professional’s monthly salary of IDR3,250,880 (RM902). Drinking Starbucks every day for an entire month will cost you IDR621,000 (RM176), the equivalent of 19.1% of the average working professional’s income. In a reversal of the results above, it appears that the Starbucks addict living and working in Malaysia now gets a much better deal when compared to his/her Indonesian counterpart.

Local “kopi” houses

Starbucks is certainly not the coffee haunt for everyone, suffice to say most Malaysians are usually just looking for a simple place to get a quick breakfast and not necessarily an eclectic ambience of jazz music and art nouveau furnishings. The typical “kopi” joint in Malaysia definitely doesn’t offer a wide variety of coffee drinks, certainly no mochas, lattes or cappuccinos. Instead local traditional “kopi” houses offer a simple cup of coffee at an affordable price.

The generic Malaysian “mamak” usually charges around RM1.80 for a simple cup of coffee, though some places may charge a higher rate. Assuming a typical income of around RM3, 600 for our average Malaysian working professional, a single cup of coffee is equivalent to 0.05% of total income. Drinking one cup of coffee daily for an entire month, which is probably a daily routine for most Malaysians will get you back by RM54 or 1.5% of total income. Relative to Starbucks, the local “mamak” seems like the economic choice for our coffee addicts, but how does the Malaysian “mamak” coffee price compare with the equivalent from neighbouring countries?

Air-conditioned food courts are a popular dining destination for a majority of Singapore’s population. Coffee at generic food courts around Singapore usually charge around SGD1.2 (RM 3.1) for a cup of coffee, equivalent to 0.03% of the average Singaporean’s income. Drinking a cup a day for an entire month works out to SGD36 or 0.94% of total income. Comparing between the two countries, it appears that once again our coffee addict is getting the short end of the stick in Malaysia.

The Indonesian local coffee shop, on the other hand, boasts home grown coffee beans in a rustic environment, offering a humble cup of coffee for around IDR3,000 (RM0.85) or an equivalent of 0.09% of the average Indonesian’s income. Drinking coffee every day for a whole month works out to a cost of IDR90,000 (RM25.5) or 2.76% of the average Indonesian’s income. Just like the Starbucks comparison case, it appears that the Malaysian coffee addict gets the better deal compared to his/her Indonesian counterpart.

So should all coffee addicts pack up and move to Singapore?

Despite the different prices of coffee amongst the three countries, it’s good to keep in mind that the three also have contrastingly different costs of living. For example, even though coffee addicts in Singapore may be paying a lower percentage of total income to upkeep their habit, they may in contrast be paying a higher share of their income for rent than someone in Malaysia. Hence, while Singaporeans may appear to be getting a better deal for their coffee, they may be more strapped from other costs when compared to Malaysians.

Even with the difference in costs, as many are still dependent on their coffee, you can bet that people will be willing to pay whatever it takes for that one cuppa joe. And no one can blame you, so order that cup of coffee, pay what you must, and enjoy it the way you like it.