How Singapore’s Kopitiam Culture Keeps Its Coffee Tradition Alive

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how singapore's kopitiam culture keeps its coffee tradition alive

Singapore is a nation of coffee lovers, but not the kind you might expect. Instead of fancy lattes and cappuccinos, most Singaporeans prefer their coffee the traditional way: brewed with a sock filter, sweetened with condensed milk, and served in a kopitiam, or coffee shop.

Kopitiam is a Malay word that combines kopi, meaning coffee, and tiam, meaning shop. These humble establishments are more than just places to get a caffeine fix. 

They are also social hubs where people of different races, religions, and backgrounds can mingle and enjoy a variety of local dishes, such as kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, nasi lemak, and laksa.

Kopitiam culture dates back to the early 20th century, when Hainanese immigrants from China started to open coffee stalls in Singapore. 

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They adapted the Western-style coffee to suit the local palate, using cheaper Robusta beans, roasting them with sugar and margarine, and adding evaporated or condensed milk. The result is a rich, aromatic, and slightly bitter brew that is uniquely Singaporean.

Today, there are thousands of kopitiams in Singapore, ranging from old-school outlets that have been around for decades, to modern chains that cater to the younger generation. 

Some of the most famous kopitiams in Singapore include Killiney KopitiamĀ¹, which claims to be the oldest Hainanese coffee shop in Singapore, Tong Ah Eating HouseĀ², which is known for its crispy kaya toast, and Ya Kun Kaya ToastĀ³, which has expanded to over 100 outlets in Singapore and overseas.

While kopitiam culture may seem to be at odds with the fast-paced and cosmopolitan lifestyle of Singapore, it is actually a testament to the country’s diversity and resilience. Kopitiams are not only places to enjoy a cup of coffee, but also to appreciate the history, heritage, and harmony of Singapore.

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