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A Quick Guide to Ordering Coffee Like a Singaporean

I’ve never been the type to order a cup of coffee at those expensive shops.  I’ve just never developed the taste for it, I guess.  In fact, the only caffeinated thing I can take in those types of cafes is a hot cup of cappuccino, and that’s only if I find myself out of the house and needing my regular afternoon caffeine fix.  So yes, I have to admit I’m actually quite content with a simple 3-in-1 instant mix from the store.  

But ever since having my first cup of tarik (pulled) coffee with heaping spoonfuls of condensed milk in Singapore back in 2008, I now find that it’s a concoction that I’ve been craving for ever since.  In fact, it’s so addicting that my mom became a convert when she stayed with us in the Lion City in 2012.  Now, we always have to have condensed milk in the house just for our morning cuppa.

My kopi from Wang Cafe
Tarik coffee with condensed milk usually sells for S$0.90 / Php29.70* (in hawker centres) to S$2.00 / Php66.00* (in more upscale/specialized establishments).  Don't let the price fool you.  Yes, it's cheap; but believe me, if you're a fellow sweet tooth sufferer, then this concoction is enough to fill your saccharine needs for the whole morning.  And that's just from 1 small cup!

Considering how simple this thing is, it did take me a while to be able to learn how to order my perfect cuppa.  For you see, unlike in the usual luxury coffee cafes where their concoctions are named in a familiar lingo, I learned that here in Singapore, it's actually more complicated.

As they say, Singaporean coffee is supposed to be served based on the customer's preferences.  And since the culture is a mix of Malay and Chinese (among others), they've incorporated specific terms from both languages that describe their coffee preparation.

It's all well and good if you're a local, but for foreigners and visitors alike, it's highly confusing (at first, anyway).  A lesson I learned the hard way when it once took me 3 minutes, 2 returns to the counter, and suffering through 1 really annoyed auntie's exasperated look before I finally got my coffee order right. 

So in the hopes of sparing you the same enjoyable (?) experience I've had, here's a short list to remember when ordering coffee in Singapore (NOTE: Blatantly copied from the Nanyang Old Coffee website.  Please visit them to show them some love.)
  • Kopi - Coffee with condensed milk ("kopi" in the Malay language means "coffee")
  • Kopi O - Coffee with sugar ("O" in the Hokkien dialect means "black")
  • Kopi C - Coffee with sugar and evaporated milk ("C" in the Hainese dialect means "fresh")
  • Kopi O Kosong - Coffee without sugar and condensed milk ("kosong" in Malay means "empty")
  • Kopi Peng - Iced coffee ("peng" in Hokkien means "ice")
  • Kopi Siew Dai - Coffee, less sweet ("Siew Dai" in the Hock Chew dialect means "less sweet")
  • Kopi Ga Dai - Coffee, sweeter ("Ga Dai" in Hock Chew means "more sweet")
  • Kopi Gao - Coffee, thick ("Gao" in Hokkien means "thick")
  • Kopi Di Lo - Coffee, extra thick ("Di Lo" in Hokkien means "pour all the way")
  • Kopi Poh - Coffee, thin ("Poh" in Hokkien means "thin")

This visual guide should be able to give you a clearer picture.

SOURCE:, The Social Food Journal

Excuse me, folks.  I think it's time for my first cup of kopi for the day.  J

*S$1 = Php33


Planning to visit?  Drop by my "Getting Around Singapore" post (click here) for more details on how to get around the Lion City.


  1. This is very helpful. hehe. Thanks for this. :)

  2. I only know those with Hokkien terms, so thanks for this very informative post! :) When it comes to confusing food names, I find it enjoyable to order those I'm not too familiar with. Nakakasurprise and amuse kasi when I end up loving my order kahit I don't have an idea what it really is. :D

    1. I'm not so adventurous when it comes to food e. That's why I can't concentrate my blog on food lang. =)

  3. Who would've thought that ordering coffee in SG was so hard! That makes for a better coffee experience, I guess :). Thanks for the tip. Now I know better :)

  4. Ang kumplikado. :-P ayaw ko nang magkape sa Singapore.

    1. The trick is to memorize lang yung gusto mo lagi. Hehehe! Ako kasi, I like my coffee milky and sweet so "Kopi" lang yung sinasabi ko lagi. =)


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