Inspiring Conversations

Fresh Brew: Kopi Shop Talk

  • SumoMe

Calling all coffee cats! If coffee is your morning beverage of choice, time to switch it up a little and delve into a cup of kopi for that morning pick me up.

An article by Penny K

With café imports like Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Spinelli’s and Gloria Jean mushrooming all over town these days, it’s hard to imagine getting your coffee fix anywhere else. It’s not uncommon to see people strolling right past a kopi tiam (“coffee shop” in colloquial language) and into Starbucks.

Being seen with a coffee cup in hand complete with brown cup sleeve no less, may be comforting to some. They think it brings them that much closer to Hollywood celebrity culture. Other than that though, these coffee joints can sometimes be overrated.

If, like me, you’ve wondered why you spend $6 on a cup of coffee that can taste great but sometimes fail you when you need it most, you ought to kopiventure out of your comfort zone and look to local brews.

Kopi (a Malay word for coffee) is the local caffeinated beverage of the strong dark brew variety of coffee. From the buying, to the roasting and grinding of the beans, the perfect cup of kopi lies in the hands of the skilled kopi maker. There are different methods of roasting and brewing the coffee beans in order to tap on the best potential in terms of flavour.

“Coffee shops were mainly owned by the Hainanese.  This was related to the fact that the Hainanese worked for the British during the colonial era and had learnt the techniques of making coffee.  The habit of drinking coffee was certainly learnt from the colonial masters and this makes the coffeeshop an imitation of the cafe.  The coffeeshop, however, is very different from a Western-style cafe.

The way in which the coffee is prepared, served and consumed is unique.  Coffee beans here were fried with butter.  This was different from the practice in Western Europe or the States, where beans are roasted. “

“Consuming Food : Structuring  Social Life and Creating Social Relationships” in Chan Kwok Bun & Ton Chee Kiong (eds), Past Times : A Social History of Singapore, Singapore : Times Editions, 2003.

Variations on a theme


There are several ways to enjoy this caffeinated goodness:

Kopi-gau – coffee (a strong brew)

Kopi-kosong – coffee with milk and no sugar

Kopi-C – coffee with evaporated milk

Kopi-O – coffee with sugar only

Kopi-O-kosong – coffee without sugar or milk

Kopi-peng or Kopi-ice – coffee with milk, sugar and ice

Today we challenge you to reprogramme your addiction. Kopi takes a tough stance on the Sleep Thug but goes easy on the taste buds and the wallet!


  1. Oohh how about nescafe? or kopi-cino? I think they might even have milo mocha. Hmmm I can’t wait for the fasting month to be over so I can get my morning kopi fix!

  2. shahirah /

    Sadly the turnover rate at these imported coffee joints are super high so the quality of their drinks tend to lack consistency. Also I think many people who frequent these joints are content with the identity or image they think they portray by patronizing these places, and are less concerned by having a truly good cuppa. I’m not a coffee drinker myself, I much prefer tea. Unfortunately I can’t get my favourites (Earl Grey, Mint) at any regular kopitiam so occasionally I splurge on Starbucks and I’m almost always disappointed. They either brew it too long (resulting in bitter tea, yucks!) or too short (then it just becomes like mildly flavoured sugar water), never just right. I feel like Goldilocks.

    • We feel your pain. You might be better off with a box of tea bags and having your own cuppa in the comfort of your home! :)

  3. itsmark /

    Unfortunately when it comes to the touchy subject of coffee, it is almost always subjective. Personally to me it comes down to 3 factors; quality, service and convenience, in that order. It is almost impossible to settle for an incredibly lousy cup of coffee made by an equally incompetent barista even if the atmosphere and ambience is perfect. I would however. do a takeaway at a noisy inconducive joint to have served to me a cup of fresh and well brewed coffee, by a smiling barista. Quality is the key!

    • You’re absolutely right about quality which is why we don’t see why people ought to pay $6 for a cup of lousy coffee which is why we’re suggesting the 90 cent kopi alternative. If the kopi tiam is not your cup of tea, then have your kopi on the go in a styrofoam cup or a plastic bag – local style!

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