Ever wondered what those words your drink uncle/auntie yells when you order a drink? Or you just want to customise your drink kopitiam-style but you never really understood or could remember what each thing meant?
The lingo is mostly a mish-mash of Hokkien as well as creative imagery, or even references to pop culture. Hail the imagination of our local uncle and aunties!
Here’s a list of kopitiam drink codewords you can use to order like a true Singaporean. Or Malaysian too.
1. “Tak Kiu” 踢球 = Milo
Ahhh, ‘Milo’ is probably the favourite drink for most of us when we were young. The creamy chocolate malt drink that smells and tastes like old school comfort is highly adaptable into many things – chocolates, ice cream, cookies, prehistoric drinks – which just goes to show how much people love it.
Milo is called Tak Kiu/ 踢球 which translates to ‘ Kicking a ball’. Due to its packaging starring athletes, supposedly mostly footballers kicking a ball hence the namesake.
“Tai Ga Ho” = Horlicks
2. “Tiao He”/ 钓鱼 Diao Yu = Chinese Tea
Tiao He or 钓鱼Diao Yu basically means Fishing. Chinese Tea doesn’t at all taste fishy but the action of dipping your teabag kinda resembles a lazy fisherman trying to fish on a languid river on a humid sunny day.
3. “Micheal Jackson” = Chin Chow and Soy Bean Milk
Why? Simply because Black & White! With the black coming from the Chin Chow/ Grass Jelly and the white from the Soy Bean Milk.
Fresh Soy Bean and Grass Jelly are not commonly found in kopitiam drink stalls anymore. They are now usually a stall on it’s own. Nonetheless, it is still a recognisable and pretty commonly understood nickname.
4. “Clementi” = Lemon Tea
“Lemon Tea” rhymes with ‘Clementi’, a neighbourhood and MRT Station in Singapore.
5. ” Tai Ka Ho”/ 大家好 Da Jia Hao = Horlicks
Tai Ka Ho is Cantonese for a greeting ‘Hello Everyone’.
I’m not too sure why Horlicks is called ;Tai Ka Ho’. If you do, please let us know in the comments. All I know is that the advertisements for Horlicks had this song that goes ‘Ho-Ho-Ho…’
6. “Kup Poh”/ 青蛙 Qing Wah = Kickapoo
I assume it’s because of the pronunciation “-kapoo” and the colour of its packaging that landed Kickapoo its nickname.
Kup Poh can also mean the frog eggs looking ingredient commonly found in desserts that’s actually hydrated sweet basil seeds.
7. “Ji Ba Ho” 一百号 = 100 plus
“Ji Ba Ho” means ‘number 100’ in dialect. Since the 100 is super prominent on a 100 plus packaging, that’s basically its nickname.
8. “Ah Huey” 啊花= Chrysanthemum Tea
‘Huey’ means flower in Hokkien (or fukinese) adding the “Ah” infront makes it more of a name/ more endearing?
If you want it Hot Chrysanthemum Tea, it’ll be “Ah Huey Shio” if not they might give you the canned version.
9. ” Buay Si Gor Lak” 8, 4, 5, 6 /八四五六 = Pepsi Cola
Pronounced: 八四五六 or Buay Si Gor Lak in Hokkien. This dialect pronounciation phonetically resembles Pep-si Co-La. It’s pretty rarely used as Pepsi suffices.
10. “Lao Hor” 老虎 = Tiger Beer
‘Lao Hor’ basically means Tiger soooooo that’s pretty self-explanatory.
11. ‘Orh Gao’ 黑狗 or ‘Ang Ji Gao’ 红舌狗 = Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
The old Guinness bottle labels had a small picture of a black dog with a red tongue sticking out which was the symbol of Singapore’s Guinness stout distributor. Hence they started calling it ‘Orh Gao’ which means black dog or “Ang Ji Gao” which translates to red-tongued dog.
Fun fact, Malaysia’s Guinness would have the head of a bull dog which Indonesia’s Guinness would have the symbol of a cat.
12. ‘Beer Gao’ = Lager + Guinness Stout
A mix of local beer with stout for that extra oopmh.
Guinness came out with a campaign in 2015 naming this mix ‘Beer Gao’ but this formula of adding stout to lager has already been done by kopitiam uncles long ago.
13. “Wang Qing Shui 忘情水” or “Hang Zheng Pai” 行情坏 = Bottled Water/ Mineral Water
忘情水 Wang Qing Shui is the title of 刘德华 Andy Lau’s really popular song back in the 90’s. It basically means a water or potion to forget love and in the song, he croons about a love lost he yearns to forget so he could spare himself the heartbreak and tears. Why exactly mineral water is called Wang Qing Shui I am not sure. Sometimes people choose to call bottled water by the singer too — so both 忘情水 and 刘德华 works.
For Hang Zheng Pai however is pretty self explanatory theoretically. Hang Zheng Pai simply means a bad economy in Hokkien dialect. So if one were stuck in times of bad economy or currently financially strapped, he/she would not be able to afford anything else but necessities which include Plain water. So no fancy drinks liek kopi or teh.
But, in kopitiams, the bottled waters are usually around the same price as the iced drinks sooooo it is not as economically rationale as it appears to be yknow what I’m sayin.
—Kopi & Teh customisation code words—
Teh = Tea with Condensed Milk and Sugar (both of which are default ingredients if you don’t mention any kind of customisation)
Kopi = Coffee with Condensed Milk and Sugar
The below suffix also works with milo, horlicks, ovaltine and any hot brewed beverage at the kopitiam.
14. ‘ban shao’ 半烧
Literally, 半烧 means half hot, which gives you a drinkable still warm cup of kopi/tea instead of a piping hot one.
15. (Teh/Kopi) – O
= No Milk Added, but includes sugar
16. (Teh/Kopi)- C
= Uses Evaporated Milk and sugar instead of condensed milk. Gives it a creamier feel, lingering aftertaste and sensation of a layer of something hanging on your tongue.
17. (Teh/Kopi) Siew Dai
= Less Sugar
18. (Teh/Kopi) Ga Dai
= More Sugar
19. (Teh-O/ Kopi-O) Kosong
= Simply the hot beverage without any kind of milk or sugar
20. (Teh/ Kopi) Gao
= Thicker tea or coffee. Less water is added to the initial robust brew for a heavier taste.
21. (Teh/ Kopi) Poh
= Thinner tea or coffee. More water is added to dilute the beverage.
22. (Teh/ Kopi) Tiloh
= Heaviest, purest version of tea or coffee with no water added at all to the initial brew. Like a whole cup of Singapore espresso.
23. (Teh/ Kopi) Peng
= Iced Version of your drink
The best thing is you can basically mix these codewords together. You can order a Kopi-C Peng, Gao, Siew Dai for example.
Know anymore secret kopitiam codewords? Tell us in the comments!
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