The Art of Ordering a Drink in Singapore Coffee Shops

Ordering a drink in a Singapore coffee shop can be quite daunting for some. No, we’re not referring to those English coffee shops where you leisurely sip the English coffee with a little biscuit or cracker by your saucer. We are referring to the traditional coffee shops where locals also call “Kopi-Tiam”. Usually located in residential areas, we could get soft-boiled eggs and toasted bread for breakfast, Nasi Lemak for lunch, Roti-Prata for tea, Chicken Rice for dinner, Barbeque Seafood for supper, and more, all under the same roof.

Back to the ordering of drinks, not only do foreigners find it confusing, locals who do not frequently place such orders may get mixed up with the long list of combinations too. What it requires though, is just some knowledge of the local slangs. With some skills and experience, you’ll get your desired drink on your table smoothly!

Let’s get some basics on local languages first. You’ll need to remember that Singapore is made-up of various races (mainly Chinese, Malay, Indians and Eurasians), hence there could be a combination of various languages in just a sentence.

For example, “Teh C Kosong Peng” is a mixture of the Hokkien, Hainanese (both Chinese dialects) and Malay languages. By the way, it means “iced tea with evaporated milk and no sugar”.

Next, you’ll need to know the common terms that locals use when placing order. Below is a list for your easy reference.

Term (with pronunciation) Meaning
Kopi [Hokkien] Coffee, usually with condensed milk and sugar
Teh [Hokkien] Tea, usually with condensed milk and sugar
Tiao Her ([Hokkien] Fishing, refers to the dipping of the tea bags, usually means Chinese tea
Hei Bai [Chinese] Black & white, means combination of glass jelly (or Chin Chow, usually black in color) and soy milk (a white beverage).
Tut Kiu [Hokkien] Kick the ball, refers to the picture on the Milo tin
O [Hokkien] Black, means without milk
C [Hainanese] Fresh, usually means with evaporated milk instead of condensed milk
Siew Dai [Hokkien] Reduced sweetness, means lesser sugar
Ka Dai [Hokkien] Added sweetness, means more condensed milk and/or sugar at the base of the drink
Po [Hokkien] Thin, means lesser coffee powder
Gau [Hokkien] Thick, means more coffee powder
Peng [Hokkien] Ice, means a cold beverage
Kosong [Malay] Zero, means without sugar
Halia [Malay] Ginger, usually with tea
Tarik [Malay] Pulled, refers to the pouring of beverage (usually tea) back and forth repeatedly to create a foamy top.

So now that you are equipped with the knowledge of the language, go and be creative on your combination of drinks! (Disclaimer: Some combinations really do not work, so be creative at your own risk!)

Name of beverage What it is
Kopi Hot coffee with condensed milk and sugar
Kopi Siew Dai Hot coffee with condensed milk and lesser sugar
Kopi Ga Dai Hot coffee with condensed milk and more sugar
Kopi Po Hot coffee with condensed milk and sugar, and lesser coffee powder
Kopi Gau Hot coffee with condensed milk and sugar, and more coffee powder
Kopi Po Siew Dai Hot coffee with condensed milk and lesser coffee powder and lesser sugar
Kopi Po Ga Dai Hot coffee with condensed milk and lesser coffee powder and more sugar
Kopi Gau Siew Dai Hot coffee with condensed milk and more coffee powder and lesser sugar
Kopi Gau Ga Dai Hot coffee with condensed milk and more coffee powder and more sugar
Kopi Kosong Hot coffee with condensed milk only
Kopi C Hot coffee with evaporated milk and sugar
Kopi C Siew Dai Hot coffee with evaporated milk and lesser sugar
Kopi C Ga Dai Hot coffee with evaporated milk and more sugar
Kopi C Po Hot coffee with evaporated milk and lesser coffee powder
Kopi C Gau Hot coffee with evaporated milk and more coffee powder
Kopi C Po Siew Dai Hot coffee with evaporated milk and lesser coffee powder and lesser sugar
Kopi C Po Ga Dai Hot coffee with evaporated milk and lesser coffee powder and more sugar
Kopi C Gau Siew Dai Hot coffee with evaporated milk and more coffee powder and lesser sugar
Kopi C Gau Ga Dai Hot coffee with evaporated milk and more coffee powder and more sugar
Kopi C Kosong Hot coffee with evaporated milk only
Kopi O Hot black coffee with sugar only
Kopi O Siew Dai Hot black coffee with lesser sugar
Kopi O Ga Dai Hot black coffee with more sugar
Kopi O Po Hot black coffee with lesser coffee powder
Kopi O Gau Hot black coffee with more coffee powder
Kopi O Po Siew Dai Hot black coffee with lesser coffee powder and lesser sugar
Kopi O Po Ga Dai Hot black coffee with lesser coffee powder and more sugar
Kopi O Gau Siew Dai Hot black coffee with more coffee powder and lesser sugar
Kopi O Gau Ga Dai Hot black coffee with more coffee powder and more sugar
Kopi O Kosong Hot black coffee without milk and sugar
Teh Hot tea with condensed milk and sugar
Teh Siew Dai Hot tea with condensed milk and lesser sugar
Teh Ga Dai Hot tea with condensed milk and more sugar
Teh Kosong Hot tea with condensed milk only
Teh Tarik Pulled hot tea with condensed milk and sugar
Teh Halia Hot tea with condensed milk, sugar and ginger
Teh C Hot tea with evaporated milk and sugar
Teh C Siew Dai Hot tea with evaporated milk and lesser sugar
Teh C Ga Dai Hot tea with evaporated milk and more sugar
Teh C Kosong Hot tea with evaporated milk only
Teh C Tarik Pulled hot tea with evaporated milk and sugar
Teh O Hot tea with sugar only
Teh O Siew Dai Hot tea with lesser sugar
Teh O Ga Dai Hot tea with more sugar
Teh O Kosong Hot tea without milk and sugar
Teh O Tarik Pulled hot tea with sugar
Tiao Her Chinese tea in tea bags
Tut Kiu Hot Milo with condensed milk and sugar
Milo Kosong Hot Milo without milk and sugar
Milo Dinosaur Iced Milo with condensed milk and sugar, and undissolved Milo powder as topping