From Kopi Socks to Cappuccinos: The Evolution of Singapore Coffee Culture

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We are particularly proud, for example, of our very efficient jargon when it comes to ordering our coffee. Whether it’s a simple ‘kopi’ or a higher level ‘kopi-O kosong di lo peng’, we rely on the blissful satisfaction that this system existed long before the great vanilla macchiatos of soy. And, yes, we also put pictorial representations of it on tote bags.

Where and how did this fascination with coffee come about?

“At the start of British colonization, coffee was brought to Singapore by immigrants from the founding years of modern Singapore,” said Victor Mah, president of the Singapore Coffee Association.

What we call “kopi” is a “unique recipe” that has come to Singapore and Malaysia from Hainan and Fujian in China, Mah continued. “Commonly known as Nanyang coffee, it hasn’t changed much since the day it (arrived) here in Singapore, preserving its roots.”

This coffee is made mostly from Robusta beans, and “the roasting methods use butter, margarine and sugar. Even corn was sometimes added to enhance the flavor, ”Mah explained.

To prepare the drink, a cotton colander which has come to be known as a “coffee sock” is used, and very hot water is poured into it from a stainless steel kettle with a long narrow spout, Mah said.

The earliest beginnings of kopitiam culture developed in local cafes, as well as in what were called sarabat stalls – stalls that sold drinks, Mah said.

Then, “At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, a modern take on traditional stores was seen mushrooming around Singapore in light of concept cafes Ya Kun, Toast Box and Killiney. This brought traditional coffee closer to the CBD areas, expanding its reach beyond just drinkers of the Pioneer and Merdeka generations ”.

Of course, as they travel better, young coffee lovers have also been influenced by coffee trends from around the world, especially from countries like Spain, Australia and the United States.


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