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Singapore Coffee Culture: Ordering Tips, Flavors & History

singapore coffee beans and cup

Traveling to Singapore is a great way to open your eyes to just how important coffee is to the country’s culture. With a large portion of the population being of Asian descent, coupled with the country’s history of being a British colony, you would expect tea to be the most enjoyed drink in Singapore. Unfortunately, for those who love tea, coffee—known as kopi locally—is the national beverage of Singapore.

Kopi is an aromatic, full-bodied dark roast coffee the people of Singapore love. Featuring a sweet, caramel taste and richness due to the addition of evaporated or condensed milk, Singapore’s version of coffee is both tasty and widely sought after by people visiting the region. Read on below to learn more about Singapore coffee to learn whether this delectable drink could be your next addiction.

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The History of Coffee in Singapore

Singapore blends the lifestyles of Eastern and Western cultures. It was in the 19th century when the immigrants arrived who would forever change Singapore into a modern nation. Thanks to the Chinese cooks who were crafting dishes for European workers who had a taste for coffee, kopi was born.

The mix of local flavors was quite appealing to the Europeans, but Singapore locals could not afford the price of the popular Arabica beans most coffee drinkers preferred. This is when they created the perfect way to use the Robusta beans brought by traders from Indonesia to develop their brew that was just as delicious as those offered in the West.

robusta coffee beans
Image Credit: Vietnamese_coffee, Pixabay

How Kopi Is Made

While Kopi is made from Robusta beans, the flavor is just as good as a brew made of Arabica. We swear! Due to Robusta beans having a higher caffeine content, it is common to be served a cup of kopi that is smaller than the cups of coffee you are used to. It’s the enhanced flavor, thanks to the process, that makes this coffee so beloved.

To enhance the Robusta bean flavor, the beans are roasted using a wok. Inside the wok, lard or butter is combined with sugar to caramelize the beans. This also gives them a unique taste and aroma. The beans are then ground and brewed into coffee using a special pot fitted with a small cloth. Also known as a sock, this acts as a diffuser. Then the strained liquid is mixed with condensed milk to finish the process.

The result of this process is a creamy form of coffee that is quite high in caffeine. The cost of kopi in Singapore is also affordable. When ordering a cup of kopi, you would be expected to pay the equivalent of one US dollar. This low price is why so many people in Singapore add kopi to several of their meals throughout the day.

roasting coffee on the traditional way in a wok
Image Credit: Laszlo Mates, Shutterstock

Ordering Kopi

Whether you have visited Singapore many times or are making your first trip, you may find ordering kopi at a local kopitiam, or coffee shop, a bit difficult. Like with other coffees, the people of Singapore have come up with several ways to serve and enjoy their delicious brew.

Here’s a look at a few of the most popular:
  • Kopi — the original brew made with sweetened condensed milk.
  • Kopi C — made with sugar and unsweetened evaporated milk for those who prefer less sugary drinks.
  • Kopi C Kosong — uses regular evaporated milk and no sugar.
  • Kopi O — sugar added but uses no milk.
  • Kopi O Kosong — uses no milk or sugar.

It is also possible to determine how strong your kopi will be when indulging in this drink while in Singapore. Asking for a “kopi gau” will let your drink brewer know you want a strong cup, while “kopi poh” will alert them of your desire for a lighter, creamier taste.

Where to Enjoy Kopi

With Singapore’s culture being so fast-paced, the idea of sitting down in a local kopitiam may be lost on many. Luckily, these local areas for coffee and food are designed to help people slow down and spend a few moments gathering themselves. While many who stop in for kopi are in a rush to get back to the rat race, the kopitiams are there to offer refuge when needed.

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In Conclusion

Kopi, Singapore’s answer to delicious coffee, is an amazing, creamy concoction that can please almost every taste bud. If you are interested in this amazing coffee brew, stop by a local shop and order your preferred version of kopi. This is a great way to get started on your journey to learning the ins and outs of Singapore coffee.

Featured Image Credit: szefei, Shutterstock


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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