It’s a Friday! So, here is some inside info on how to order Kopi in Singapore!
There is something so bad-ass about visiting a hawker center in Singapore, and watching a local true-blue Singaporean order Coffee. Or wait, Kopi! Because ordering one in the typical local tongue, could give Starbucks a run for their money in the coffee-naming business. The best place to try ordering this would be the local Kopitiams or hawker centers. I like the ‘Da Bao’ style of taking your Kopi with you, in a plastic bag that hands by a thread.
But the topic of this post is not about hawker centers or plastic bags. It’s about how do you order your Kopi!
You see, with the different languages spoken in Singapore, an entire Kopi dictionary has evolved in this small country. All you have to do is watch a Kopi aunty take orders for 5 minutes, and you will be surprised at the number of people coming and telling her weird things like ‘kopi si kosong da bao’, or ‘kopi o kosong bing’. And you’ll go like, WTF!
I was determined to get to the bottom of this coffee cup, so I sat down with a good friend. She mapped out the major Kopi types for me on the smallest notepad that I have ever come across. And I was just getting started.
Now I was determined to make the most exhaustive dictionary of Kopi terms, on the web. And started collecting all varieties. And below, ladies and gentlemen, is the comprehensive (I hope) list of all the Kopis that you could order in sunny Singapore.
- Kopi: Coffee with sweetened condensed milk and sugar
- Kopi o: Black coffee with sugar
- Kopi c: With evaporated milk and sugar. The ‘C’ stands for ‘Carnation’, a brand of evaporated milk.
The 3 above are the basics, and very simple to remember. Now lets see how much we can Komplicate this business!
- introducing ‘Siu Dai‘, which essentially means ‘less sweet’. This opens our horizons for a few new types of Kopis, namely Kopi Siu Dai, Kopi O Siu Dai, and Kopi C Siu Dai.
- Then there is the ‘kosong’, which essentially means ‘no milk and no sugar’. So, only coffee brew and water. A rare variant is the ‘Kopi Tiloh’, which, in the words of my friend Joey, is ‘pure bad-ass coffee straight from the pot’ with nothing else added in. Mind you, Tiloh in Hokkien means ‘Straight down’!
Note: You CANNOT order a kopi drink which is both Kosong and Siu Dai, like ‘kopi kosong siu dai‘! When you do that, you are telling the Kopi aunty to make a Kopi with no sugar, and less sugar. She is going to pour that Kopi on your face!
- Introducing the ‘Gau’ and ‘Po’ brothers. Basically, ‘Gau’ means stronger coffee, and ‘Po’ means weaker coffee. Either one of these two can be used in any of the other combinations above, so it’s perfectly ok to say Kopi C Kosong Gau (Strong coffee with evaporated milk and no sugar), but I can’t guarantee you how it is going to taste.
- And the last member of the Kopi family is ‘Gah Dai‘. This is one for the soon-to-be-diabetics, because it basically means ‘extra sugar’. Also, note that ‘Gah Dai’ does not go along with ‘kosong’ or ‘Siu Dai‘, for obvious reasons.
Bonus note 1: Add ‘Bing‘ at the end of everything, to make your Kopi ICED!
Bonus note 2: Add ‘Da Bao‘ at the end of everything, to specify that you want a takeaway!
Now, enjoy that Kopi like a boss! I am off to get my Kopi C Bing Siu Dai Da bao! (If you’ve been following the article, you would know by now what it is!)
Update: After sharing this on my social media, I’ve been informed of 3 more variants, not very common.
1) Kopi Huan: Huan is short for Huan Kia, which means ‘Malay boy’. It is Kopi with extra-condensed milk which makes it extra sweet. Preferred by Malays and Indians. Yeah, we are just sweet like that! 🙂
2) Kopi Gu You: Preferred by a few old folks in Singapore, this is butter mixed into black coffee! Supposedly, this makes their throat clearer, especially those with a smoking problem.
3) Kopi Cham: More popular in HongKong and certain parts of Malaysia, and rarely found in Singapore, this is nothing but coffee mixed with tea! Cham is the hokkien word for mix. According to wikipedia, this kopi is more popular under the name Yuangyang, which denotes a pair of mandarin dove, and symbolizes conjugal love! Awww!!
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