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Kopi tiam

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A typical open-air kopitiam in Singapore
Malaysia Coffeeshop
A more contemporary-designed coffee shop outlet in Malaysia with various hawker stalls

A kopitiam or kopi tiam (Chinese: 咖啡店; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: ko-pi-tiàm; lit. 'coffee shop') is a type of coffee shop mostly found in parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Southern Thailand patronised for meals and beverages, and traditionally operated by the Chinese community of these countries. The word kopi is an Indonesian and Malay term for coffee and tiam is the Hokkien/Hakka term for shop (). Traditional kopitiam menus typically feature simple offerings: a variety of foods based on egg, toast, kaya, plus coffee, tea, Horlicks and Milo. Modern kopitiams typically feature multiple food stalls that offer a wider range of foods.


An OldTown White Coffee Outlet in Taman Permata, Kuala Lumpur. This is one of the contemporary kopi tiam outlets in Malaysia.

In Malaysia, as in Singapore, kopitiams are found almost everywhere. However, there are a few differences. In Malaysia:

Recently a new breed of "modern" kopitiams has 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 that 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 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 sizeable Muslim market, these kopitiams usually serve food that is prepared to conform to Islamic dietary laws, 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 use sugar – hence the name 'white coffee'.


Kopitiams 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.[1] Although most are an aggregate of small stalls or shops, some may be more reminiscent of food courts, although each stall has a similar appearance and the same style of signage. In a typical kopitiam, 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.

In Singapore, the coffee in kopitiams is made from Robusta beans. Kopi (coffee) was introduced to the island in the mid-19th century. Robusta beans, brought in from Indonesia via Arab traders, were preferred by the majority of the local population, compared to the more expensive Arabica beans favoured by the European population working in Singapore.[2]

Most kopitiams in Singapore consist of the drinks stall and food stalls leased by independent stallholders who mainly focus on a variety of food dishes that are commonly found in Singaporean cuisine. Traditional dishes from different ethnicities are usually available at kopitiams to encourage people from different ethnic backgrounds with different dietary habits to dine in a common place or even at a common table.[3]

Kopitiam is also the name of a food court chain in Singapore.[4]

Some of the popular kopitiams in Singapore include Kim San Leng, Killiney & Tong Ah Eating House, or Ya Kun Kaya Toast.

Some of the more common foods that can be seen in kopitiams, besides the ever-popular soft-boiled eggs and toast, consist of char kway tiao (fried flat rice noodles (hor fun), sometimes cooked with eggs and cockles), Hokkien mee (yellow wheat noodles served with various seafood as well as egg) and, possibly the most common, nasi lemak (a Malay dish of coconut-flavoured rice, served with sambal, egg, roasted peanuts, fried anchovies, etc.).

Traditional Kopi O commonly served in Malaysia and Singapore

"Coffee shop talk"[edit]

"Coffee shop talk" is a phrase used to describe gossip because it is often a familiar sight at kopitiams 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.[5] Former Too Phat member Malique has a song called "Cerita Kedai Kopi", satirizing the stereotype.

Kopitiam beverage terms[edit]

At kopitiams, coffee and tea are usually ordered using a specific vernacular featuring terms from different languages. Coffee and tea can be tailored to suit the drinker's taste by first saying "Kopi" (coffee) or "Teh" (tea) before adding one or more of the following suffixes:

These are typically chained together to customize a drink order: a "kopi si kosong peng" will result in an iced coffee with evaporated milk and no sugar. The syntax is “drink – milk – sugar – concentration – temperature”.


  • Kopi o = hot black coffee (with sugar)
  • Kopi o peng = iced black coffee (with sugar)
  • Kopi o kosong = hot black coffee (unsweetened)
  • Kopi o kosong peng = iced black coffee (unsweetened)
  • Kopi = Coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi peng = iced coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi si = hot coffee with evaporated milk and with sugar
  • Kopi si kosong = hot coffee with evaporated milk
  • Kopi si peng = iced coffee with evaporated milk, with sugar
  • Kopi sterng = iced coffee extra smooth (Chinese: 㗝呸順; pinyin: kā fēi shùn; lit. 'coffee smooth')
  • Teh o = hot tea (without milk, sweetened)
  • Teh o peng = iced tea (without milk, sweetened)
  • Teh o kosong = hot tea (without milk, unsweetened)
  • Teh o kosong peng = iced tea (without milk, unsweetened)
  • Teh = Tea with condensed milk (Chinese: ; pinyin: chá; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: ; lit. 'tea')
  • Teh tarik = Tea with condensed milk that is pulled (poured from a height) multiple times
  • Teh peng = iced milk tea (sweetened)
  • Teh si = hot tea with evaporated milk (sweetened)
  • Teh si kosong = hot tea with evaporated milk (unsweetened)
  • Teh si peng = iced tea with evaporated milk (sweetened)
  • Tiao hee or tiao her = Chinese tea (Chinese: 釣魚; pinyin: diào yú; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: tiò-hî; lit. 'to angle fish')
  • Tat kiu = Milo (Chinese: 踢球; pinyin: tī qiú; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: that-kiû; lit. 'to kick ball')
  • Cham = mixed of coffee and tea (sweetened) (Chinese: ; pinyin: cān; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: chham; lit. 'to join')
  • Cham peng = iced version of Cham (sweetened)
  • Neslo = A blend of Nescafe (coffee) and Milo (chocolate/ cocoa drink)
  • Yin yang/Yuan yang = same as Cham (Chinese: 鴛鴦; pinyin: yuān yāng; lit. 'male mandarin duck female mandarin duck')
  • Michael Jackson = mixture of soy milk and grass jelly (black and white)
  • Tai Ka Ho = Horlicks (means 'Hello everyone')[6] (Chinese: 大家好; pinyin: dà jiā hǎo; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: tāi-ka-hó; lit. 'big family good')

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Straits Times Interactive". straitstimes.com.
  2. ^ "What Makes Singapore's Coffee Culture So Unique?". 21 February 2018.
  3. ^ Lai, Ah Eng; Collins, Francis Leo; Yeoh, Brenda Saw Ai (2012). "The Kopitiam in Singapore: An Evolving Story about Migration and Cultural Diversity". Migration and Diversity in Asian Contexts. doi:10.1355/9789814380461-011 – via Project MUSE.
  4. ^ "Our Company - Kopitiam". Archived from the original on 3 January 2018. Retrieved 23 March 2017.
  5. ^ Menkhoff, Thomas (9 October 2012). "Why are kopitiam tables round?" (PDF). The Straits Times. p. A26.
  6. ^ "23 Kopitiam Codewords to Order Drinks Like a Singaporean". sethlui.com. 18 March 2016.

Further reading[edit]