Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coffee Culture in Singapore

One great thing about Singapore is the coffee situation. In other parts of Asia (ie, China), finding coffee that isn't Nescafe can be a real challenge. B and I have spent many hours wandering around various provinces of China in the (often vain) hope of finding drinkable coffee. In Singapore, however, everyone drinks coffee, so it is widely available.
Little R at a local Starbucks
Locals enjoying their coffee
Like so many other things in Singapore, coffee comes in a two-tiered system: local style, and international style.  Starbucks is ubiquitous here, and almost exactly like Starbucks in the United States, down to the furniture and cheerful baristas (I wonder how they are able to do this). Other international chains include Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Tully's, and Spinelli. At these locations you can get the usual offerings: cappuccinos, mochas, iced blended drinks, etc. I go to Starbucks all the time because I like their Java Chip Frappucinos (with soy milk).

They also have local style coffee, which is one-fourth of the price (maybe $2 sgd vs. $8 sgd) and also very good. The most typical is hot sweetened coffee served in a glass mug with milk (kopi or white coffee) or hot coffee served just with sugar (kopi o). Another popular version is kopi c, which is hot sweetened coffee with sweetened condensed milk (the C stands for Carnation, the most popular brand of sweetened condensed milk). All of these drinks also come iced, which generally costs a little more. It also costs a little more to get it to go, as they will charge you for the cup in that case (otherwise, they just wash and reuse your mug).

B with his coffee and cell phone: he fits right in!
The coffee itself is also prepared differently. It is more coarsely ground that is typical with American coffee, and often roasted with butter or margarine added. It's boiled in a pot with the grounds loose, and then once the grounds have settled, filtered through a cloth filter. It's generally quite strong (really the most important thing for coffee in my opinion) and very tasty.

Local coffeeshops are called kopitiam, and are popular hang-out spots for the locals all day long. They sit, smoke, read the paper, chat, and order food (typically a kopitiam will serve breakfast food like toast with various spreads, eggs, or fried noodles). There is a wide range of kopitiam, from modernized local chains like Toast Box, to more traditional ones in hawker centres.

Coffee lovers really won't have any problem in Singapore.


  1. Useful information ..I am very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us this useful information. Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post.

  2. Wow, coffee roasted with butter?? Haha I learn something new every day. Also, add sweetened condensed milk to anything and it'll be DELICIOUS. Thai tea is my fave.

    You brought up smoking in this a lot of people in Singapore smoke? It feels like everyone but us smokes here and it's very difficult to get used to.

    1. No, smoking isn't that common (like the US I'd say, maybe 10% of the population?), because cigarettes cost $10 a pack here due to extremely high taxes. (And every pack features graphic photos of stuff like mouth cancer).

      In China basically every man smokes (it's almost mandatory), and it was hard to get used to the constant clouds everywhere: restaurants, transit, the street...

  3. Oh, i just typed a long comment and it didn't show after a hit. anyway, i love this post as i am a coffee lover ;-) Whenever i go back to Thailand, I defintely get iced coffee with condensed milk everyday :0P
    Is iced milk tea with tapioca pearls popular there as well?

    1. I'm sad your comment got eaten; sorry about that.

      Iced milk tea with pearls is definitely a big thing here: I will write a post about tea in Singapore soon, just to be fair.