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Singapore’s Unique Kopi Culture

By Chan Hoi Ki on 05/05/2022

When we mention bilingualism or multilingualism, what can be more multilingual than ordering a cup of kopi in Singapore? This is known as the kopi lingo – it is made up of 4 languages consisting of Malay, Mandarin and other Chinese dialects.

Ordering a cup of kopi in Singapore is in fact not a simple matter – the order has to be broken down into several other questions along the way: with milk/no milk, iced/hot, with sugar/no sugar, concentrated/diluted etc. There are in fact several more options & combinations you can do with your simple kopi order. 

First off, what is kopi? Kopi means coffee in Malay language. By default if you order a cup of kopi, you’ll get a hot coffee with milk and sugar. Your order options are interchangeable with tea as well, known as teh in Hokkien. 

Here is a diagram breakdown on your kopi order, each tagged with its respective dialect/language:

(Source: /

A quick history lesson on kopi origins – back in the 19th century, Chinese cooks had to cater to the European population in early Singapore. The locals had to settle for the cheaper Robusta coffee beans but managed to brew coffee to suit the European taste buds by using butter or lard and sugar to roast the beans. Without having easy access to coffee infusers, the locals made use of socks instead to strain the beans and thus produced our economical kopi that every Singaporean loves today!

Here’s a quick guide on the various kopi variations you can order as well for reference:


Kopi is prevalent in all of Singapore’s kopitiam (coffee shop). With the above handy guides, you can now order kopi like a pro! 

Feel free to test it on your kids to have them order on your behalf! 

Check out our Prep Junior app available for download from the App Store / Google Playstore!

Through an interactive story-based adventure, Prep Junior introduces children to food, various places of interest, and multicultural scenes; using fun and original illustrations that replicate real scenes in Singapore.

Image source: Jon Siegel / Flickr