The lifeblood of many Singaporeans young and old, kopi is the go-to drink that many start their day with. Coffee was brought in from Indonesia by the Chinese, who were first introduced to this beverage through exchanges with Arab traders. Local kopi is made from Robusta coffee beans that are roasted with sugar and margarine under high heat to caramelise the beans and pronounce its flavours. The ground coffee is then mixed with hot water and strained in a flannel sock filter. A wallet-friendly caffeine fix, kopi is so strongly engrained in Singaporean food culture that we have our own unique concoctions and terminology for ordering its variants. Below is a guide to ordering kopi like a local, and where to go to get the best fix!

Local Term

Meaning

Kopi

Black coffee with condensed milk, which is a thick and sweetened milk.

Kopi-0

Black coffee with sugar

Kopi C

Black coffee with evaporated milk, which is similar to condensed milk, but unsweetened.

Kopi C kosong

Black coffee with evaporated milk. Adding ‘kosong’ (Malay for ‘zero’) to the end of the order means ‘without sugar’.

Kopi O kosong

Black coffee without sugar.

Kopi gah dai

Black coffee with extra condensed milk. ‘Gah dai’ means ‘extra sugar’ in Hainanese. Add ‘gah dai’ to any drink order to make your drink sweeter.

Kopi siew dai

Coffee with less condensed milk. ‘Siew’ means less. Say ‘siew dai’ and your drink will be made with less condensed milk.

Kopi pok

Black coffee with condensed milk, but made with less coffee powder and more water. ‘Pok’ means thin. Say ‘pok’ to get a lighter brew.

Kopi gau

Strong coffee with condensed milk. ‘Gau’ means thick. Say ‘gau’ to add an extra shot of caffeine to your drink.

Kopi peng

Iced coffee with condensed milk. ‘Peng’ means iced.

Kopi gu you

Black coffee with butter and condensed milk.

Kopi tarik

Pulled black coffee with condensed milk. ‘Tarik’ means ‘to pull’ in Malay. A kopi tarik is a sweet coffee with a frothy top. Made by pulling a long stream of coffee repeatedly between two large cups, the idea behind this technique is to thoroughly mix the coffee and cool down the drink down slightly.


Take in the local kopi culture and practice your ordering skills at these renowned establishments:

For a taste of yesteryear

Experience the charms of an old-world local coffee shop where orders are still calculated by abacus, and the beans are still roasted on top of a well-used charcoal stove. Near Lavender MRT and close to the Kampong Glam district, Heap Seng Leong is one of the last coffee shops where you can try a smooth and silky cup of kopi gu you (coffee with butter)—the butter helps make the kopi blend creamier.

Heap Seng Leong. 10 North Bridge Road #01-5109, Singapore 190010. +65 6292 2368.
Daily 4am-8pm.


Discover Singapore's only Kopi museum
Entrance of Nanyang Old Coffee Photo by Andrew JK Tan

Right in the heart of Chinatown, you can recognise Nanyang Old Coffee by its distinctive red interiors. Enjoy a cup of their award-winning brews with local delights such as kaya toast. Take part of the experience home by picking up an edible souvenir or discover the Mini Singapore Coffee Museum and read up on the history of kopi-making.

Nanyang Old Coffee. 268 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058817. +65 6221 6973.
Daily 7am-9.45pm.


The new-age kopi
Toasted sandwiches and a cup of coffee from Coffee Break @ Amoy Street Photo by Coffee Break @ Amoy Street

Offering traditional kopi with a twist, siblings Anna, Faye and Jack Sai took over their parent’s humble coffee stall and added their own unique brews while still using the traditional Robusta coffee beans. Coffee Break @ Amoy Street proffers the rare opportunity for you to experience how the Mod-Sin (“Modern Singaporean”) culinary movement is influencing even traditional beverages. Try their Almond Ginger Kopi, which adds a nutty and spicy kick to the usual brew, or if you prefer something sweeter, their Butter Pecan Latte is a bestseller for its smooth and creamy taste. Accompany your drink with one of their unconventional homemade toast spreads. Coffee Break @ Amoy Street is their original outlet, located on the second floor of the popular Amoy Street Food Centre.

An infamous mecca for food, this centre currently houses four Bib Gourmand awardees, and serves new-fangled fusion dishes alongside traditional local stalls. If you would like to enjoy Coffee Break in a café setting, drop by their second outlet at 2 Science Park Drive, just beside Kent Ridge MRT.

Coffee Break @ Amoy Street. Amoy Street Food Centre #02-78 7 Maxwell Road, Singapore 069111 +65 8100 6218.
Mon-Fri 7.30am-2.30pm.


Chat with a kopi master

Located on the second floor of Berseh Food Centre in the middle of Little India, Coffee Hut @ Jalan Berseh Food Centre is a local secret, serving a ‘gau’ (thick) and full-bodied brew with a robust aroma. Helmed by a serious coffee aficionado, each cup is made with careful dedication. Talk to the friendly owner and tau chiew (barista) Roland, about his passion around kopi and how he went to a Hainanese kopi master to further his techniques.

Coffee Hut @ Jalan Berseh Food Centre. 166 Jln Besar #02-43, Singapore 208877.
Mon-Fri 6.30am-5pm; Sat & Sun 6.30am-2pm.