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A kopitiam or kopi tiam is a traditional coffee shop found in Southeast Asia, patronised for meals and beverages. The word kopi is a Malay/Hokkien term for coffee and tiam is the Hokkien/Hakka term for shop (店). Menus typically feature simple offerings: a variety of foods based on egg, toast, and kaya, plus coffee, tea, and Milo, a malted chocolate drink which is extremely popular in Southeast Asia, particularly Singapore and Malaysia and in some parts of Indonesia such as Riau Islands, Jambi and Medan.
Kopi tiams in Singapore are commonly found in almost all residential areas as well as some industrial and business districts in the country, numbering about 2,000 in total. Although most are an aggregate of small stalls or shops, some may be more reminiscent of food courts, although each stall has similar appearance and the same style of signage.
In a typical kopi tiam, the drinks stall is usually run by the owner who sells coffee, tea, soft drinks, and other beverages as well as breakfast items like kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and snacks. The other stalls are leased by the owner to independent stallholders who prepare a variety of food dishes, often featuring the cuisine of Singapore & cuisine of Malaysia. Traditional dishes from different ethnicities are usually available at kopitiams so that people from different ethnic backgrounds and having different dietary habits could dine in a common place and even at a common table.
Kopitiam is also the name of a food court chain in Singapore.
Some of the more common foods that can be seen in kopi tiams, besides the ever-popular eggs and toast, consist of char kway tiao (fried hor fun, sometimes cooked with eggs and cockles), Hokkien mee (mee noodles served with various seafoods as well as egg) and, possibly the most common, nasi lemak, or coconut rice (a Malay dish of coconut-flavoured rice, served with sambal chilli paste, egg, and ikan billis or anchovies).
In Malaysia, as in Singapore, kopitiams are found almost everywhere. However, there are a few differences. In Malaysia:
- the term kopitiam in Malaysia is usually referred specifically to Malaysian Chinese coffeeshops;
- food in a kopitiam is usually exclusively Malaysian Chinese cuisine;
- food courts and hawker centres are usually not referred to as kopitiams.
Recently a new breed of "modern" kopitiams have sprung up. The popularity of the old-fashioned outlets along with society's obsession with nostalgia and increasing affluence has led to the revival of these pseudo-kopitiams. The new kopitiams are fast-food outlets which are reminiscent of the old kopitiams in terms of decor, but are usually built in a more modern, hygienic setting such as a shopping mall rather than in the traditional shophouse, catering mainly for young adults.
To offer the true kopitiam experience, modern kopitiams such as Uncle Lim's Cafe mostly offer authentic local coffee brews, charcoal grilled toast served with butter and kaya (a local version of jam made from coconut milk and eggs) and soft boiled eggs. Some have extended menus where local breakfast, lunch and dinner meals are served. To tap into the sizable Muslim market, these kopitiams usually serve food that is halal (permissible for consumption by Muslims) unlike the traditional shophouse kopitiams
Today there are no less than 100 brand names of modern kopitiams operating in various parts of Malaysia.
Kopitiams in Ipoh oldtown district serve Ipoh white coffee. The coffee beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine and with less sugar, resulting in a brew that is lighter in colour than normal coffee beans that uses sugar - hence the name 'white coffee'. The colour is almost comparable with coca-cola.
Riau Islands, Indonesia
Kopitiams (Malay : kedai kopi) in Riau Islands, Indonesia are very similar to those in Singapore or Malaysia. Originally run by local Chinese people, they can be found in many residential areas. An old-fashioned kopitiams are usually located at shop houses, and often have a quite run-down appearance. There are a lot of food choices, such as wanton mee, char siew bao, bee hoon, laksa, char kway teow, bak kut teh, teochew porridge, chicken rice, and even Indian-Malay food like roti prata and nasi lemak may be available. More modern kopitiams have more recently emerged, and can be found in many shopping malls.
"Coffee shop talk"
"Coffee shop talk" is a phrase used to describe gossip because it is often a familiar sight at kopi tiams where a group of workers or senior citizens would linger over cups of coffee and exchange news and comments on various topics including national politics, office politics, TV dramas, sports and food.
Example of typical kopitiam beverage terms
- kopi oh = hot black coffee (sweetened)
- kopi oh peng = iced black coffee (sweetened)
- kopi oh kosong = hot black coffee (unsweetened)
- kopi oh kosong peng = iced black coffee (unsweetened)
- kopi = Coffee with condensed milk (sweetened)
- kopi peng - iced White coffee (sweetened)
- kopi 'c' - hot coffee with evaporated milk (sweetened)
- kopi 'c' kosong - hot coffee with evaporated milk (unsweetened)
- kopi 'c' peng - iced coffee with evaporated milk (sweetened)
- teh oh = hot tea (without milk, sweetened)
- teh oh peng = iced tea (without milk, sweetened)
- teh oh kosong = hot tea (without milk, unsweetened)
- teh oh kosong peng = iced tea (without milk, unsweetened)
- teh = Tea with condensed milk (sweetened)
- teh peng - iced milk tea (sweetened)
- teh 'c' - hot tea with evaporated milk (sweetened)
- teh 'c' kosong - hot tea with evaporated milk (unsweetened)
- teh 'c' peng - iced tea with evaporated milk (sweetened)
- tiao hee or tiao her - Chinese tea
- tut kiu - Milo
Explanation of kopitiam terms
- kopi = coffee
- o/ oh = black (coffee) / without milk (tea)
- peng = iced
- kosong = Malay for "zero", meaning without sugar
- 'c' = with evaporated milk ( origins from Hainanese which "Xi"/"C" sound means "fresh" (鲜） i.e. "Fresh" Evaporated milk, 'Xi Gu-nin' meaning fresh evaporated milk in Hainanese )
- teh = tea
- tiao hee or tiao her = Hokkien for ‘fishing’ Reference to dipping up and down of tea bag.
- tut kiu = Hokkien for ‘kicking a ball’, as retro Milo tins often feature a soccer player kicking a ball on their labels.
- 'siew dai' = Foo chow (Hock Chew) or Cantonese for 'less sweet' or ‘less base’, i.e. less sugar or sweet condensed milk (added to the bottom of the cup).
- 'ka dai' = Foo chow (Hock Chew) for 'add sweet' or Cantonese for ‘add base' i.e. a sweeter beverage, with more sugar or condensed milk added.
These terms may be used in different configurations to suit one's liking.
- Malaysian cuisine
- Cuisine of Singapore
- Hawker centre
- Pasar malam, night market
- Mamak stall
- Tea restaurant