26 Apr 10
Singaporeans use a unique, hybrid kind of English language called Singlish and if you stay in Singapore, it would be good to learn and understand it. Singlish comes from a few languages mainly English, Malay, Hokkien and Mandarin Chinese. This language is not a formal way of communication and is only spoken, not written. The vocabulary of Singlish is quite massive so I’ll just share the part I use the most – the commonly used words and phrases in a typical Singaporean coffee shop.
Coffee Shops in Singapore
Singapore is filled with tens of thousands of coffee shops and even if you’re here for only 3 days, chances are you’ll surely end up in one. If you are a Singaporean and you haven’t been to a coffee shop, you must be joking (I’m not refering to the Starbucks or Coffee Bean kind). The words ‘Coffee Shop’ are actually already in a bit of Singlish, as the intended meaning is ‘Food Centre’. A coffee shop is supposed to be a place that primarily sells coffee and other hot beverages (and sometimes light snacks) but all food centres in Singapore that sell a variety of inexpensive food and are less luxurious than the normal cafeteria are stereotyped as ‘coffee shops’. Other similar terms are ‘hawker centre’, ‘kopitiam’ and ‘food court’.
The meaning is different if you’re in Amsterdam though, as over there the term Coffee Shop refers to a place where marijuana is sold and consumed!
The Coffee Shop Slang
Alright, here’s a short guide that would help you in understanding and speaking Singapore’s coffee shop lingo. Learn and practice it by conversing with the coffee shop worker using the words below.
1. Addressing Coffee Shop Workers
– Young, Chinese Singaporeans would use these terms to call for a male/female worker when ordering. The words ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ are commonly used among Singaporean teenagers when addressing older Singaporeans. For instance, when my Chinese friend came over to my house a few years back, he greeted my parents by saying “Hello Aunty, hello Uncle.”
– For addressing both middle-aged Malay men and women, usually used by Malays
– For addressing middle-aged Indian men, usually used by Indians and Malays
2. Ordering Drinks
– Coffee with sweetened condensed milk (white coffee)
Kopi-O [koh-pee oh]
– Plain coffee with sugar (black coffee)
It is very important to know this especially if you’re a big fan of coffee. The words ‘black coffee’, ‘white coffee’ or ‘coffee with milk’ are almost never used by locals when ordering coffee in a coffee shop. And remember that ‘kopi’ is ‘white coffee’. And if you ask for ‘coffee’, they will assume it’s white coffee. The same goes for tea.
Kopi Chino [koh-pee chee-noh]
– Local cappuccino
– Tea with sweetened condensed milk
Teh-O [tay oh]
– Plain tea with sugar
3. Mixing Words
Below is a list of words (suffixes) that can be added and mixed to kopi, teh and a few other drinks.
Katai [car-tie] – More sugar or condensed milk (Sweeter)
e.g. Teh katai means tea with more condensed milk, teh-o katai means plain tea with more sugar
Kau [cow] – Thickened with condensed milk
e.g. Kopi kau means thickened coffee
Kosong [koh-song] – Without milk or sugar
e.g. Kopi kosong means plain coffee with nothing else added
Peng [payng or ping] – Iced
e.g. Kopi peng means iced coffee
Pua sio [poo-ah see-oh] – Warm / lukewarm
e.g. Teh-o pua sio means warm tea (with sugar)
Pok [poke] – Light (opposite of ‘kau’)
e.g. Kopi-o pok means light coffee (with sugar)
Siew tai [see-you tie] – Less sugar or milk
e.g. Teh siew tai means tea with less milk
Ta pau [tah-pow] – Take away / In a packet
e.g. Milo peng ta pau means iced milo in a packet
You can mix the words. The longest combination I’ve used is ‘kopi-o pok katai pua sio ta pau’ which means light, lukewarm coffee with more sugar, for take away.
So have fun, folks!
Please correct me if you find any mistake here. I’m a Malay dude but most of the Singlish words here are in Hokkien.