How to Order Drinks at a Kopitiam

You would think that ordering a coffee, tea or juice would be just that simple. It is, at a modern eatery or cafe, but in a traditional coffeeshop, also known as kopitiam in Malaysia, a novice will almost certainly need time to get used to the terms. If Starbucks wasn’t established thousands of miles away in Seattle about 40 years ago, I’d have thought they took the idea of custom-made drinks from our kopitiams, which have been around for almost twice as long as Starbucks. (You know how they are with their drinks. Care for a tall, iced, no whip cream, no sugar, half soy milk, half low-fat milk, green tea frappuccino, anyone?)

Yeah. Ordering coffee or tea at kopitiam and mamak are (almost) that kind of complicated, and having been away for years, I needed a bit of a refresher myself. The traditional corner kopitiam is slowly shrinking in numbers, but terminology for drink ordering is still very much alive at the hawkers. I’m writing this post for my own good really, but those of you who are new to the local food scene and want to learn how to order drinks like a local, here’s a basic guide to help you along. For the purpose of keeping things simple, I’ll focus mainly on kopi (coffee) and teh (tea,) the most customised of drinks by kopitiam patrons.

How Kopi and Teh are Served in a Kopitiam

kopi

Kopi C & Kopi O; Teh O’ Peng & Teh Peng; Cham (hot) and Cham Peng in tapau (takeout) bags.

Three Main Types of Kopi and Teh

with sweet *condensed milk Kopi Teh
black, with sugar Kopi O Teh O
with **evaporated milk & sugar Kopi C Teh C

*condensed milk: a sweet, thick, gooey milk that comes in a can and melts in a hot drink when stirred. It is also used in desserts.
**evaporated milk: dense unsweetened milk. Has a much soupier texture than condensed milk.

Terms to Know for Customising Your Drink

Term Meaning Term Meaning
Ping Iced/Cold Kosong
No sugar
Gao Stronger Xiu (Siu) Dim or Xiu Dai Less sugar
Po Weaker Gah Dim or Gah Dai Extra sugar

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