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Singapore Kopi Guide: All You Need to Know About Singapore’s Local Coffee

October 19, 2021

Ever since the amalgamation of Asian population with European culture in the 19th century, Kopi has been the national drink of the island city, Singapore. It is a dark and full-bodied aromatic brew that is less bitter than the Vietnamese or western versions. It has the same subtle caramel-sweetness of these versions that come from using condensed or evaporated milk to make it. The drink is short when you compare it with the mega lattes you get from Starbucks, and it has a roasty toasty liquid gold colour.

Here is a brief description of different varieties of Singapore Kopi.

Preparation of Kopi

The drink is prepared using high-caffeine robusta beans, unlike the arabica that is widely available in the Western premium market. The flavour of these beans is not nuanced and delicate when compared with the ultra-fancy brews available in hip cafes. Singaporeans’ caffeine addiction is so famous that they always enjoy a kopi freshly roasted from a nearby roaster. Coffee shops called 'Kopitiams' serve Kopi in Singapore. While a few of these coffee houses grind the coffee beans on-site, others do their roasting by following carefully guarded recipes.

The transition of coffee to Singaporean kopi starts with the roasting process, where people roast beans by adding butter or margarine. Some kopitiams also add sugar to this to give it an extra rich and dark character. The shells become oily and aromatic on roasting; they also get caramelized and browned. The beans are then brewed in a long-spouted pot inside a small cloth sack, which acts as an infuser. The brew is made slightly concentrated and it is then poured into a small cup and mixed with a canned diary, sugar and water to lessen the strength of the flavour. And they do it only when the order is up. 

How to Order Singapore Kopi?

Singaporeans are very picky about kopi just like how they are with their food. Most of them have favourite kopitiams and coffeemakers at each kopitiam. There is nothing to be surprised by when you get to know that a cup of kopi can be customised whichever way you like. There are a few Singlish terms that can help you order coffee anywhere in Singapore, and they are listed below:


The normal cup of kopi is prepared using sweetened condensed milk without sugar. Fresh milk was not available early in the island city, so kopi is usually made using canned dairy. The situation has changed and Singapore imports everything from rice to geoduck, but the taste of kopi with canned dairy remains.

Kopi C

This kopi variant is prepared using unsweetened evaporated milk and sugar. It is creamy, but caramel-like and is less sweeter when compared to standard coffee. It is also more balanced in terms of Western tastes and for those who have sweet-tooth.

Kopi C Kosong

This variation of kopi is prepared using evaporated milk, but without adding sugar to it. 

Kopi O

In plain words, Kopi O is prepared without adding milk, but with sugar. 

Kopi O Kosong 

Kopi O Kosong is made without milk and sugar. 

You can also order gau (kopi strong) or poh (kopi weak) as coffee shops use condensed milk to prepare both. Other choices are gah dai (sweeter), siu dai (less sweet), and peng (on ice with milk and sugar).

Where Can You Drink Kopi in Singapore?

Kopitiam is an important culture in Singapore just like kopi itself. ‘Kopi’ means coffee in Malay, and ‘Tiam’ means shop in Hokkien and Fujianese. Kopitiams normally serve everything from hurried meals to kopi and tea, and they are good places to have long to friendly meetings with people. Mealtime is a fluid concept in Singapore, and many workers have their meals as quick bites. This culture of Singapore has encouraged kopitiams to tie neighbourhoods together. These are places that help you to ground yourself in Singapore’s urban rush. 

You can find kopitiams almost everywhere in Singapore, but Killiney Kopitiams is a national chain that offers amazing kopi. Tong Ah Eating House is also another great option to try good kopi. They do everything the old-fashioned way, which is the reason behind their great success. 

Did you enjoy this article? Tell us your favourite version of Kopi and favourite local coffee spot in Singapore.

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