How To Order Kopi Like a Singaporean

Kopi ‘O’, kopi ‘c’, kopi peng. Ever ordered coffee from a Kopitiam and wondered, “What on earth do all of these even mean?” I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there at least once in our lives.

Photo from The New York Times

Singapore’s kopi culture is a standing local tradition that will never be fazed. Not even by the wave of “hipster” cafes and their Instagram-worthy latte art. To get a good cup of kopi that is always served in the signature clear glass mug, one would have to go to a Kopitiam.


Photo from Malaysian Chinese Kitchen

Essentially, a Kopitiam is a traditional coffee shop. It is a common term known across Southeast Asia, especially Singapore. The term is a combination of the word ‘kopi’, which is the Malay term for ‘coffee, and ‘tiam’ – the Hokkien or Hakka term for ‘shop’. Hence, Kopitiam.

Back to Basics

Photo from drinks.serious.eats

There are so many (too many) variations of how to have your kopi here in Singapore; the possibilities are absolutely endless. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to order.

First and foremost, don’t expect this to be one of those alley cafes you go to with all sorts of milk options from almond to oat. When you’re at a Kopitiam and you want milk with your coffee, you have no choice but to have it with either condensed or evaporated milk.

First, let’s start off with the essential kopi terms. Take note that all you have to do is put these terms right after ‘kopi’ when ordering, and you’re good to go.

Kopi Terms

Photo from Kim Guan Guan

Kopi ‘o’, is black coffee with sugar, while kopi ‘c’ is black coffee with sugar and evaporated milk. But if you’re feeling like having your coffee plain with no sugar, kopi kosong is the answer. It is essentially ‘empty’ in Malay. Now that we have the basis for ordering our kopi, let’s get started!


Want your kopi with less sugar? Siew dai. But if you’d rather have it sweeter, gah dai – hello, extra condensed milk! 


Looking for a stronger punch of caffeine to start your morning? Gau. But if you’d like something weaker and less strong, po. 


Some like it hot; some like it cold. If you want to have it iced, go for peng. 

Photo from Weekendnotes

Now that you know how to order kopi like a true Singaporean, pair your warm beverage with some kaya toast and two soft-boiled eggs – authentic Singaporean style. 

Leave a Comment


Enjoyed this article? Please spread the word :)

403 Forbidden

Request forbidden by administrative rules.