Kopi Siew Tai

How to order Kopi like a pro

For those of you who have trouble deciphering the many ways we order coffee in Singapore, this neat poster may help (click on image to enlarge). I take kopi si kosong peng.

I do notice that kopo-o kosong (coffee black, no sugar) is missing from the list. As is kosong si siew dai (coffee with evaporated milk, less sweet). But the list is pretty comprehensive.

read more

  • Kopi - Coffee with Condensed Milk ("Kopi" in Malay language means "Coffee")
  • Kopi O - Coffee with Sugar ("O" in Hokkien Dialect means "Black")
  • Kopi C - Coffee with Sugar & Evaporated Milk ("C" in Hainese Dialect means "Fresh")
  • Kopi O Kosong - Coffee without Sugar & Condensed Milk ("Kosong" in Malay Lanuage means "Empty")
  • Kopi Peng - Iced Coffee ("Peng" in Hokkien Dialect means "Ice")
  • Kopi Siew Dai - Coffee wirh Less Sweet ("Siew Dai" in Hock Chew Dialect means "Less Sweet")
  • Kopi Ga Dai - Coffee with More Sweet ("Ga Dai" in Hock Chew Dialect means "More Sweet")
  • Kopi Gao - Coffee Thick ("Gao" in Hokkien Dialect means "Thick")
  • Kopi Di Lo - Coffee Extra Thick ("Di Lo" in Hokkien Dialect means "Pour All The Way")
  • Kopi Poh - Coffee Thin ("Poh" in Hokkien Dialect means "Thin")
  • Kopi Sua - Double Order of Same Coffee ("Sua" in Chinese Hokkien Dialect means "Follow")
  • Tiao He - Chinese Tea (Fishing in Hokkien Dialect, the motion of dipping the teabag is like fishing)
  • Tak Giu - Milo (Soccer in Hokkien Dialect, Milo TV ad featuring Soccer in early year)

Guide to Ordering Local Coffee in Singapore

Local TermsMeaningEquivalent
Kopi-0Black Coffee with SugarLong Black with Sugar Added
KopiBlack Coffee with Condensed MilkNone – be mindful that the condensed milk is sweet
Kopi CBlack Coffee with Evaporated MilkNone
Kopi KosongBlack Coffee without sugar or milkLong Black – no added sugar
Kopi Gah DaiBlack Coffee with extra condensed milkNone – very sweet!
Kopi Siew DaiCoffee with Condensed Milk but less sugarNone
Kopi O Siew DaiBlack Coffee with less sugarLong Black – about half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of sugar
Kopi PoCoffee with Condensed Milk but weaker (they add more water)None really
Kopi O PoBlack Coffee with Sugar but weaker (they add more water)Americano with sugar and hot water added
Kopi GauStrong Coffee with Condensed MilkNone
Kopi O GauStrong Black Coffee with SugarLike a triple expresso with sugar
Kopi PengIced Coffee with Condensed MilkNone
Kopi O PengIced Black Coffee with sugarIced Americano
Kopi Gau PengStrong Iced Coffee with Condensed MilkNone
Kopi O Gau PengStrong Black Coffee with SugarIced Triple Expresso with Sugar
Kopi Kosong PengIced black coffee without sugarIced Americano without Sugar
Kopi Gau Kosong PengIced Strong Black coffee without Sugar or milkIced triple expresso without sugar

read more

Singapore Kopitiam Culture
Common Terms used for Beverages & Food found in a Kopitiam

  • Teh - Tea with Condensed Milk and Sugar
  • Teh Peng – Teh with Ice
  • Teh Siew Dai – Teh with less Sugar
  • Teh Gar Dai – Teh with more Sugar
  • Teh Kosong – Teh without Sugar
  • Teh Or - Tea with Sugar, but without Milk
  • Teh Or Peng – Teh Or with Ice
  • Teh Or Siew Dai – Teh Or with less Sugar
  • Teh Or Gar Dai – Teh Or with more Sugar
  • Teh Or Kosong – Tea without Milk and Sugar
  • Teh Si - Tea with Carnation Milk and Sugar
  • Teh Si Peng - Teh Si with Ice
  • Teh Si Kosong – Tea with Milk, Without Sugar
  • Diao Her (“Fishing” in Hokkien) – Tea with Teabag
  • Jio Kia (Mirror” in Hokkien) – 1/3 Tea, 2/3 Hot Water
  • Teh Tarik (“Pulled Tea” in Malay) – Foamy Tea with Milk (usually found at Muslim stalls)
  • Teh Halia – Tea with Milk and Ginger Water (usually found at Muslim stalls)
  • Teh Masala – Teh Tarik with added Spices such as Cinnamon, Cardamon, Fennel and Ginger (usually found at Muslim stalls)
  • Kopi - Coffee with Condensed Milk
  • Kopi Gao – Thick Kopi
  • Kopi Di Lo - Extra Thick Kopi
  • Kopi Po – Thin Kopi
  • Kopi Peng - Kopi with Ice
  • Kopi Or – Black Coffee without Milk
  • Kopi Or Siew Dai - Kopi Or with less Sugar
  • Kopi Or Gar Dai – Kopi Or with more Sugar
  • Kopi Or Kosong – Kopi Or without Sugar
  • Kopi Si – Coffee with Evaporated Milk
  • Kopi Si Siew Dai – Kopi Si with less Sugar
  • Kopi Si Gar Dai – Kopi Si with more Sugar
  • Kopi Sua – Extra Order of Kopi
  • Kopi Tarik (“Pulled Coffee” in Malay) – Foamy Coffee with Milk (not common in Singapore)
  • Tak Giu (“Kick Ball” in Hokkien) – Milo (due to the football player image on the Milo can)
  • Tak Giu Peng – Milo with Ice
  • Dinosaur – Milo Ice with extra scoop of Milo powder on top
  • Godzilla – Milo Dinosaur with double scoops of Milo powder on top
  • Lao Hor (“Tiger” in Hokkien) – Tiger Beer
  • Ang Ji Gao (“Red-Tongued Dog” in Hokkien) – Guinness Stout (due to the dog image on the can)
  • Kim Boon Tai (“Clementi” in Hokkien) – Home-made Lemon Tea (phonetic name)
  • Lai Kor (“Underwear” in Hokkien) – Coke Light (phonetic name)
  • Buay Si Gor Lark (“8456″ in Hokkien) – Pepsi Cola (phonetic name)
  • Xiao Bai Tu (“Rabbit” in Mandarin) – Carrot Juice
  • Siao - Home-made Barley Drink
  • Yuan Yang (“Mandarin Ducks” in Mandarin) – Teh plus Kopi (common in Hong Kong but not very popular in Singapore)
  • Michael Jackson – Soya Bean with Glass Jelly (not common in a typical local kopitiam)

Ordering at the Local Kopi-tiam

  • Kopi: coffee, condensed milk, sugar
  • Kopi oh: black coffee, sugar
  • Kopi oh kosong: black coffee, no sugar
  • Kopi si: coffee, evaporated milk, sugar
  • Kopi si kosong: coffee, evaporated milk, no sugar
  • Kopi siew tai: coffee, condensed milk, less sugar
  • Kopi oh siew tai: black coffee, less sugar
  • Kopi si siew tai: coffee, evaporated milk, less sugar
  • Teh: tea, condensed milk, sugar
  • Teh oh: tea, sugar
  • Teh oh kosong: tea, no sugar
  • Teh si: tea, evaporated milk, sugar
  • Teh si kosong: tea, evaporated milk, no sugar
  • Teh siew tai: tea, condensed milk, less sugar
  • Teh o siew tai: tea, less sugar
  • Teh si siew tai: tea, evaporated milk, less sugar
  • Tiow her: Chinese tea (bag)
  • Tat kiew: Milo
  • Nahbeh, see peh luan, mai liow: F*ck you, damn confusing, cancel my order
  • Mai pak gua, mai pak gua: Please don’t beat me up, please don’t beat me up
  • Ang chap zi chia lai liow: The ambulance is here
Note: If your eye hurts while drinking coffee at the local kopi-tiam, just remove the spoon.

read more

Auntie! Kopi-C Siew Tai!

Haha, this thought came across my mind this morning as I was having breakfast at the local coffee shop. In this particular world of ours, I believe that there are few, if not Singapore is the only country who has unique beverages made from everyday drinks.

This is not to say that there are no foreign countrys with their local drinks, but from a Singaporean perspective, I simply find it unique that for 4 types of beverages, we have so many varieties in total! And what’s best about ordering the local tea or coffee at the coffee shop is that the drink aunty or uncle will wail in their loud voices :
"KOPI-O, LIANG BEI!" – Two cups of coffee without sugar.
Sometimes, it will be in the dialect they are familiar in, and boy when each time the drink aunty or uncle wails, will memories of the past strike a chord in me. I believe that this unique aspect of Singaporean culture is not obvious to many but the sound of good old nostalgia is still struck. While each day, we embrace fusion delights such as the Singapore Sling, or even more commonly soft drinks and other beverages, have we momentarily forgotten the roots of our beginnings? Well, as the generation moves on, perhaps its just an unavoidable fact of transition from the phase of warm and tender drinks to that of the fizzy era.

How to Order Coffee or Tea in Singapore Kopitiams

Many foreigners who come to Singapore are horrified at how sweet our drinks are. And this gross misuse of sugar – which is quite common not just in Singapore, but all over Asia – is, indeed, the cause of many problems, from diabetes to possibly cancer.

But there are ways to avoid sugary drinks, and coffee shops can do anything you want with your drink, if you know how to order it properly. And to order properly, it’s best you avoid speaking English – for example, saying “coffee, no sugar” might be the source of much confusion, and may be interpreted as “coffee, more sugar”.

To help you with the complex task of ordering at a coffeeshop, we’ve come up with what we think is a definitive guide. We’ve separated the coffeeshop pool into 2 distinct categories: Chinese kopitiams, and Indian pratashops such as the 24-hour ones you see all over the island.

read more

Singapore’s Coffee Shop Lingo Guide

Singaporeans use a unique, hybrid kind of English language called Singlish and if you stay in Singapore, it would be good to learn and understand it. Singlish comes from a few languages mainly English, Malay, Hokkien and Mandarin Chinese. This language is not a formal way of communication and is only spoken, not written. The vocabulary of Singlish is quite massive so I’ll just share the part I use the most – the commonly used words and phrases in a typical Singaporean coffee shop

Singapore is filled with tens of thousands of coffee shops and even if you’re here for only 3 days, chances are you’ll surely end up in one. If you are a Singaporean and you haven’t been to a coffee shop, you must be joking (I’m not refering to the Starbucks or Coffee Bean kind). The words ‘Coffee Shop’ are actually already in a bit of Singlish, as the intended meaning is ‘Food Centre’. A coffee shop is supposed to be a place that primarily sells coffee and other hot beverages (and sometimes light snacks) but all food centres in Singapore that sell a variety of inexpensive food and are less luxurious than the normal cafeteria are stereotyped as ‘coffee shops’. Other similar terms are ‘hawker centre’, ‘kopitiam’ and ‘food court’.

The meaning is different if you’re in Amsterdam though, as over there the term Coffee Shop refers to a place where marijuana is sold and consumed!

A Great Cuppa KOPI!

Apart from Non-Coffee Drinkers, who wouldn’t enjoy a cup of Gourmet Coffee from Starbucks, Coffee Bean, San Francisco Coffee etc.etc.etc. I certainly do crave the occasional Latte or Cappuccino!

However my all time favourite coffee has got to be the local Kopi which is the local term for coffee. It has a far superior aroma and taste, moreover it is dirt cheap! 90 cents to a dollar for a cup. ( i.e. as at 19 Mar 2010 who knows what price it will be at with inflation)

But I guess this cuppa is not for everyone, as most foreigners or should I say tourists find our coffee too strong for their liking. Strange because the majority of locals sometimes find it weak and request for stronger as in KOPI KAO! ( thick) ( or ‘gee lat’ aka add strength)

Kopi O Siew Tai

Know what’s my ‘must have’ when I reach the office?

Its coffeee…

We have this Nespresso Machine with different types of capsule with individual aromatic profiles from mile to strong, its really good … but to me, still it doesn’t beat having a really good one, in a small cup in a saucer made from traditional aromatic coffee powder at a authetic hawker.


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 & Teh

  • 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.
  • 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.

Chinese Kopitiams:
  • Kopi a.k.a Coffee– unlike most other places in the world, “kopi” or “coffee” in Singapore includes milk. Basically, it’s coffee with evaporated milk. Do not ask for “coffee” if you want black coffee.
  • Kopi ‘O’ a.k.a Black Coffee – Kopi O is black coffee, pronounced “kopi oh”. This translates into “empty coffee” or coffee with no milk.
  • Kopi/Kopi ‘O’ Siew Tai a.k.a Milk Coffee / Black Coffee with less sugar - Saying “kopi less sugar” is completely useless because kopi does not contain sugar – all the sweetness comes from the evaporated milk. Instead of saying “less sugar”, we say “less sweet”, and this applies to both black coffee and milk coffee. This is done by adding “siew tai” to the name of the drink.
  • Kopi ‘O’ Kosong a.k.a. Black Coffee with no sugar – To order black coffee or tea with no sugar, add “kosong” (literally meaning “empty”) to the end of your order. This cannot be done with milk coffee/tea because, once again, the sweetness comes from the milk. Asking for “kopi kosong” will turn your milk coffee into black coffee, and you will likely receive a scolding from the person taking your order.
  • Kopi/Kopi ‘O’ Kah Tai a.k.a. Milk Coffee/Black Coffee with more sugar – same principle as “siew tai”, but “kah tai” indicates the reverse: more sugar. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
  • Kopi/Kopi ‘O’ Pohk a.ka. Weak Coffee – if you want your coffee weaker or more dilute than usual, add a “pohk” to your order.
  • Kopi/Kopi ‘O’ Gao a.k.a Extra Strong Coffee – if you want your coffee stronger than usual, add a “gao” (pronounced a mix between “gao” and “kao”).
  • Kopi C a.k.a. Milk Coffee with Carnation milk instead of evaporated milk – Some people don’t like evaporated milk because it’s too thick, sweet and unhealthy. They opt instead, for something called “Carnation milk”, which is a brand of tinned milk. This is nationally known as “C”. Adding “C’ to your coffee or tea will change the brand of milk used in your drink.
  • Teh a.k.a Tea – works the same way as “coffee”. Automatically comes with milk. Black tea is Teh “O”. Apply same principles as “Kopi” for variations, e.g., “Teh Siew Tai” is tea, less sweet.
  • “Ping” a.k.a. Ice – suffix to indicate you want it cold. Kopi Ping is iced milk coffee, Kopi O Ping is iced black coffee, Teh Ping is iced tea.
  • Milo – pronounced “my-low”. Usually made sweeter. “Milo ping” for iced Milo, “milo kosong” for Milo without sugar / milk.
  • Tiao Yu a.k.a. Chinese tea – Chinese tea is usually found in every Chinese kopitiam. Saying “Chinese tea” should suffice, although if you want to be authentic, you’d say “tiao yu”, which literally means “fishing”.
  • Homemade Iced Lemon Tea – exactly what it says. Most coffeeshops now serve “homemade iced lemon tea”, which means it’s not canned. Usually comes with a nice slice of lemon. They’re usually pre-prepared in large batches, so there’s no way to ask for less sugar.
Prata shops - Because most prata shops are run by Malaysian Indians, who are more comfortable speaking in Malay, you should replace all the Chinese words above with Malay ones. Plus, there are additional drinks you can order if you like. Drinks at prata shops are usually even sweeter than their Chinese counterparts:
  • Kopi – same as the Chinese one, with milk.
  • Kopi ‘O’ – same as the Chinese one, black.
  • Teh – same as the Chinese one, with milk.
  • Teh ‘O’ – same as the Chinese one, black.
  • Teh Tarik – literally meaning “pulled tea”, this is a famous local Indian trick. The tea is literally “pulled” to create foam on its surface. It helps cool the tea, too. Comes with milk.
  • Kopi Tarik - “pulled coffee”. With milk
  • Kopi/Teh Kurang Manis a.k.a Less Sweet – instead of adding “siew tai”, you’d say “kurang manis” to any drink you order to get it less sweet.
  • Kopi/Teh Lebih Manis a.k.a. More Sweet – nobody ever orders this.
  • Kopi O/Teh O Kosong – same as the Chinese one. Black tea or coffee with no sugar.
  • Kopi C/Teh C – same as the Chinese one.
  • Kopi Cino/Teh Cino – coffee or tea with a lot more milk, and foam. Pronounced “Chee-no”.
  • Teh Halia a.k.a. Ginger Tea – milk tea with ginger. Found only in Indian shops. Can be applied to every drink, e.g., “Kopi Halia”, “Kopi O Halia”, “Teh O Halia”.
  • Halia ‘O’ a.k.a. Ginger Water – plain ginger drink without coffee or tea.
  • Kopi/Teh Ais a.k.a. Iced Tea - “ais” means “ice”. Can be added to any drink.
  • Teh ‘O’ Ais Limau a.k.a Iced Lemon Tea – literally meaning tea with ice and lemon/lime. Always made fresh.
  • Teh ‘O’ Limau Panas a.k.a Hot Lemon Tea – lemon tea, hot.
  • Ais Limau a.k.a Lemon Drink – water with lime and sugar. Not exactly lemonade, but close.
  • Lime Soda – soda water with lime and sugar.
  • Milo Dinosaur, or Milo Dino – an extra large cup of Milo, with Milo powder added as a topping. Some more creative shops also serve “Milo Godzilla” or “Milo T-Rex”, in which other toppings such as whipped cream are added to the Milo.
  • Tongkat Ali – some shops serve this, but it isn’t very common these days. Literally meaning “Ali’s Walking Stick”, this is herb that’s also a popular men’s aphrodisiac. The Malay world’s version of viagra.
How Singaporeans handle their daily cuppa

Coffee and Tea, the 2 most common drinks in the world. In Singapore, we affectionately call them Kopi and Teh, 2 words derived from Malay and Hokkien origins. Kopi and Teh are staple drinks offered in any coffee shop (better known as Kopitiam by Singaporean locals). In fact, most of us can’t survive the morning (or burn through the night) without a handy drink in hand.

There is of course the Starbucks franchise and many other familiar Western coffee and tea outlets located in Singapore. But to get the authentic Singapore dining experience, you’ll have to visit a coffee shop for some of our unique Singaporean cuisine (Chicken rice, Laksa and Hokkien Mee comes to mind). At each coffee shop, the drinks staff will usually walk to your table and ask for your preferred choice of drink. tackling

Any Singaporean or Malaysian would have no problems with ordering a drink from the often non-English speaking staff. For foreigners though, the sheer amount of Singlish jargon used when ordering a simple coffee or tea becomes a huge hindrance. Having a Singaporean friend whenever you are in town definitely helps, but what happens if you are back packing solo in Singapore?