The Singaporean Coffee Shop Code
27 March, 2010 § Leave a comment
TO: Nobody In Particular
I came to know about this magazine from Ms Florey’s lovely book called “Script & Scribbles” and I must confess that I googled it for the sole purpose of establishing whether Footnote 3 on page 123, Chapter 4 was indeed true1. Indeed it was, and tickled me pink it did. Skimming through a few more articles got me thinking about how we use English to get by day-to-day.
Where I come from, English is but one of the four official languages prescribed in the national curriculum (the others being Mandarin, Malay and Tamil). Just as every place has its own creole, so do we.
Like most urban dwellers the world over, we start our mornings with a cup of tea or coffee at our favourite coffee shop. As a child, I was fascinated by the speed and accuracy by which coffee shop assistants conveyed customers’ orders to the counter. The assistants would wander from table to table taking orders and hollering them loudly across the entire coffee shop, and by the time they walked up to the counter, the drinks would be ready to go. It is ruthless, raucous and spot on.
So here’s a basic introduction to the coffee shop code – an amalgam of Chinese dialects and Malay – which should work at a Singaporean coffee shop near you. Astoundingly more efficient than rattling their English equivalents as you will see.
The Singaporean Coffee Shop Code
Kopi = Hokkien word for ‘coffee’ (Mandarin equivalent is 咖啡)
Teh = Hokkien word for ‘tea’ (Mandarin equivalent is 茶)
By default, an order of Kopi or Teh gets you a cup of coffee or tea with a sinful dollop of condensed milk (some places serve it with both condensed milk and some sugar).
Kosong = Malay word for ’empty’ or ‘nothing’
Siew = Cantonese word for ‘less’ (Mandarin equivalent is 少)
Gau = Hokkien word for ‘thick’ (Mandarin equivalent is 厚)
Pok = Hokkien word for ‘thin’ (Mandarin equivalent is 薄)
Halia = Malay word for ‘ginger’
Beng = Hokkien word for ‘ice’ (Mandarin equivalent is 冰)
Kopi O = Black coffee with sugar but no milk
Kopi O Kosong = Black coffee with no sugar or milk
Kopi Si = Coffee with evaporated milk
Kopi Siew Dai = Coffee with milk but less sugar
Kopi Gau = Saturated black coffee (like asking for a double-shot espresso)
Kopi Pok = Diluted black coffee (the opposite of Kopi Gau)
Kopi Halia = Coffee with condensed milk and a dash of ginger juice
Kopi Beng = Iced coffee with condensed milk
Kopi O Beng = Iced black coffee with no milk
Kopi See Beng = Iced black coffee with evaporated milk
Teh O = Tea with sugar but no milk
Teh O Kosong = Tea with no sugar or milk
Teh Si = Tea with evaporated milk (similar to the Hong Kong-style milk tea but the tea blends are different I think)
Teh Siew Dai = Tea with milk but less sugar
Teh Gau = Saturated tea
Teh Pok = Diluted tea (the opposite of Teh Gau)
Teh Halia = Tea with condensed milk and a dash of ginger juice
Teh Beng = Iced tea with condensed milk
Teh O Beng = Iced tea with no milk
Teh Si Beng = Iced tea with evaporated milk
1“Under no circumstances will handwritten MS be read. Instead, it will be roundly ridiculed, unless it is written using the Palmer method, in which case it will be stared at in amazement.” – Extract from Verbatim’s Writers’ Guidelines.