Forget coffee, it’s all about the Kopi!

Kopi! I will do a full post on beverages later, but I really thought that Singaporean Coffee (Kopi) deserved a post all to itself.

The standard Kopi is a strongly brewed dark, thick coffee and rather than using fresh milk and sugar, a few teaspoons of sweetened condensed milk is added, which makes for a lovely dark, milky brown mixture with enough sweetness and no bitterness at all.

In foodcourts and kopitiams (coffeeshops) it is usually served in a glass mug, though if you want to take it with you (da bao) it will be handed to you in a clear plastic bag with strings on top. If you really don’t think you can manage drinking hot coffee with a straw a lot of shops will make it in a styrofoam cup for you these days.

Kopi in Singapore has a language of its own, made up of parts of the locals dialects as well as short-forms, so learning to order a coffee the way you like it is like deciphering a cold-war secret code. Here is a rough guide to help you out.

  • Kopi = Standard rich coffee with sweetened condensed milk
  • Kopi C = Kopi with evaporated milk and normal sugar add. The C is for Carnation a common brand of evaporated milk. This is probably the closest to your standard “white with one sugar”.
  • Kopi O = Black coffee with sugar added.

Now there are a number of further adjectives you can add to further adapt your coffee.

  • Bing or Ice = Adds ice to your coffee, a kopi-bing is definitely a must try when you’re sweating in the warm weather.
  • Kosong = The Malay word for zero, this means no sugar, as coffees will always come sweetened unless you ask.
  • Gau = Rhymes with cow, this means you want a stronger brew of coffee.
  • Po = Will get you a weaker brew of coffee.
  • Siu Dai = Essentially less sweet, this will mean they add less sweetened condensed milk or sugar to your kopi.
  • Gah Dai = Is more sweet and will get you an extra dose of sweetness and put you on the road to diabetes.
  • Da Bao = Rhymes with Da Cow 🙂 This means you want it in a packet, so this is the same as take-away or to-go.

So if you want a white coffee with no sugar take-away you’ll end up with something like this “kopi-c-kosong-da bao.” Don’t worry if you’re still lost it takes a while to get used to.  All of the above can be used to order a tea as well, just replace the word kopi with teh (pronounced almost like tay) and you can do the same thing. Now see if you can figure out what I’ll end up with if I order a teh-o-kosong-bing.

If your not a coffee or tea person, don’t worry there is such a wide variety of drinks in Singapore that I am sure there will be something you will love, and I’ll talk about them all when I tackle beverages again soon.


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