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Singapore Coffee Culture - All you need to know

Singapore Coffee Culture - All you need to know

It's no secret that Singapore is known for its fast-paced life. But did you know? Among the hustle and bustle of the city, there's one thing that brings all Singaporeans back to pause: the Kopitiam culture. The art of ordering kopi dates back centuries and is still very much enjoyed in today's thriving Singapore scene.

Hold up, what are Kopi and Kopitiam? Kopi means coffee in Malay, and tiam means shop in Hokkien, one of many Chinese dialects. So if you put it together (you guessed it!) Kopitiam means coffee shops! 

Kopitiam is the center of life for many Singaporeans. We can often see people of all ages sitting at Kopitiams for hours and even families eating together at Kopitiams.

Before we get to the current Kopitiam culture, it's essential to know its history and how it all started. 


Singapore opened its doors to immigrants around the 19th century. These are the people who would develop Singapore into what we know now: a fast-growing modern nation. Among them, the Chinese culinarians began opening up the first kopitiams to serve the European working in Singapore. Word has it that their love for coffee combined with the local flavors led to the introduction of kopi. This may sound like a match made in heaven, but locals could not afford the high-quality Arabica beans that are popular in the western world fancy for a premium brew. So how do they make their coffee, then? The locals managed to brew the Robusta beans uniquely. They did so with butter or lard and sugar, which turned out great as it made the beans extra flavourful. This process caramelized the beans and provided them a unique aroma we all came to love.

Why is it Unique?

The kopi in kopitiams is brewed in a cloth filter resembling a fishing net. Brewing methods vary depending on the barista. For instance, Singapore Indians may soak the powder in water overnight to create a thick kopi. Some prefer to not soak before brewing. Once brewed, the aromatic kopi is poured swiftly into the cups. Finally, according to the customer's liking, varying sugar levels, condensed milk, evaporated milk, or ice is stirred in.

How to order Kopi in Kopitiam?

Ordering a perfect cup of coffee might be a complicated affair. Especially if you want it to suit you perfectly. 

You need to keep four things in mind, though:

  1. Do you want your coffee hot or iced
  2. How much milk and sugar do you want
  3. What kind of milk do you want
  4. How strong do you want your coffee to be

When you have the answers in mind, write this down until you memorize it:

  1. If you'd like a coffee with condensed milk, you would ask for a kopi.
  2. If you'd like it black and without milk, ask for a kopi o. 
  3. If you'd like your coffee with evaporated milk, ask for kopi si. 
  4. If you'd like a cup of coffee with condensed milk and ice, ask for kopi peng.
  5. If you want something extra strong, you can ask for kopi gao or even a kopi di lo 
  6. If you want something light, ask for a kopi po.
  7. If you want something extra sweet, ask for a kopi gar dai 
  8. If you want a coffee with less sugar, ask for a kopi siew dai. 
  9. If you want it with no sugar, ask for a kopi kosong.

Make sure you always order with your milk preference before anything else. So, for example, black coffee with extra sugar would be a kopi o gar dai. 

The bottom line

It is totally understandable if it's still a little bit confusing for you. But, frequent a kopitiam enough, you'll be ordering like a local! If it's a bit too daring for now, though, don't worry, we have a solution for you. Enjoy the best coffee in Singapore in the comfort of your own home. Enjoy Singapore coffee with our NESPRESSO®* compatible capsules you can brew at home. All of our coffee is ethically sourced, compostable capsules, and 100% plastic free. Great coffee without all the bad stuff!

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