Demystifying Kopi: How to order a cup of local coffee in Malaysia

Malaysia may not be the head-scratching, frustrating destination like China or India. But there are still things that baffled travellers who like to be a little adventurous when it comes to eating and drinking. If you are like me, preferring local places than international chains, then you may find yourself in the following scenario:

You walk into a kopitiam (local coffee shop): A waiter who speaks a little English asks for your order, and you tell him you want a cup of coffee. You wait patiently for your cup of freshly brew black coffee to start your day. Minutes later the waiter returns with a cup of coffee with milk and you realise that kopi (coffee) doesn’t mean black coffee in Malaysia.

Unlike most countries in Asia, coffee is as widely drunk as tea in Malaysia. And the coffee served is the filtered type. Traditionally coffee is served in porcelain cups, and many older people swear that the coffee tastes better served this way.

Ordering a cup of coffee in local kopitiam could be quite a challenge in Malaysia. Here’s how to order a cup of local kopi.


This is coffee with condensed (sweetened) milk.


Kopi – coffee with condensed milk (bottom)

Kopi C

This is coffee with unsweetened canned milk and sugar. The taste and aroma are similar to regular kopi but you can regulate the sweetness and the milkiness by ordering it with less sugar or less milk.

Kopi O

This is the regular black coffee with sugar.


Kopi – black coffee with sugar

Most kopi are served hot unless specified. If you want it cold, just add ais (pronounced as ice) or peng at the back of each kopi. e.g.: kopi ais/peng (Iced coffee with condensed milk), kopi o ais/peng (Iced black coffee with sugar)

Malaysians like their hot drinks sweet, so if you want it with less sugar, you can say kurang manis (less sweet).  And if you don’t want sugar, just say kosong (empty). e.g.: kopi  o kosong (black coffee without sugar), kopi c kosong (milky coffee without sugar). You can’t really have a kopi kosong because the milk is sweetened.

And if you find the kopi too weak, you can have it gau (thick). e.g.: kopi o gau (thick black coffee with sugar), kopi gau (thick coffee with condensed milk).


The same goes for tea.

Teh means tea with condensed milk. Teh c means tea with unsweetened milk and sugar. Teh o is black tea with sugar.

If teh is your cup of tea (pun intended), then you have to try the representative teh tarik, which is strongly brewed black tea is sweetened with condensed milk. Then it is poured back and forth repeatedly between two jugs from a height, giving it a thick and frothy top.  The pouring back and forth cools the tea and gives it a distinctive consistency and texture.

Teh tarik

Teh tarik

Three layer tea - teh c peng special

Three layer tea – teh c peng special

There is also the colourful ‘three layer tea’, aka teh c peng special. This is usually served cold. A relatively new invention (less than 10 years old), three layer tea is consist of 3/5 black tea, 1/5 unsweetened milk and 1/5 gula melaka (palm sugar). The name is derived from the 3 colourful layers each ingredient created on a talk glass. This is essentially a Sarawak drink but it’s growing in popularity in other parts of Malaysia.



Come drink kopi and teh with me and friends. Join our Singapore & Malaysia Food and Culture tour in June/July 2014.

About the Author


A modern nomad who wanders around the world calling no place home and every place his Ithaca

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