Today, we explore one of Malaysia’s most iconic mealtime experiences—ordering drinks.
“What you wan drink, sir?” (For our Western buddies)
Indeed, ordering drinks is quite a complicated ordeal for those unfamiliar with our Malaysian kopitiam (coffee shop) culture. Today, we focus on one of our favorite drinks of all time—kopi peng.
Kopi Peng | noun
1. Iced Coffee
Simple enough, right?
But just as you can customize your Starbucks drink (2 shot espresso, iced & shaken, 2 pump caramel, 2 pump toffeenut, topped with half & half), you can also customize your kopi in any regular kopitiam in Malaysia.
Hot or Cold?
This is pretty straightforward. If you just say kopi, you’ll get it hot. If you add a modifier at the end of your drink, such as kopi-peng or kopi-ais, you’ll get it cold.
For the advanced learner: You may specify to have less ice by saying seng jio or kurang ais. You won’t want more ice because that would mean less of the drink itself.
Choice of Milk
If you just say kopi, you will usually get condensed milk (the best choice). If you want to cut the sweetness by using evaporated milk instead, you can say kopi-C. Lastly, if you would like coffee in its unadulterated form (without milk), you would say kopi-O, because ‘O’ stands for original. Okay moving on…
How many shots?
Here is where you can up the intensity of your coffee. To do that, you will say kao (thick). If that isn’t enough, know that increasing the frequency of kao is directly proportional to increasing the intensity of your coffee. For instance, a triple shot coffee would be kopi-kao-kao-kao.
Lastly, you can say jia or kurang manis to decrease the sugar level in your coffee. Drinks in Malaysia are generally sweet, but if you are looking for that sugar rush, you may say keh teng or tambah manis to increase the sweetness.
For the purists.
If you want your coffee black and boring, you say kopi-kosong (which means ZERO). But hey, if you’re trying to act like a coffee connoisseur “give me that single origin pourover,” just go to Starbucks and be a snob there.
So, how do I actually order?
It is likely that you are still not sure how to put it all together. Thankfully, I have devised a formula to save you from embarrassment when ordering coffee in Malaysia.
Drink + Milk + Hot/Cold + Shots & Sweetness = Final drink
(Kopi + O + Peng) + Kao + Jia = (Kopi O Peng) Kao Jia
For the advanced learner: Note that shots & sweetness are stated at the end of your drink, because they act as adjectives, whereas the other factors act as main components of the drink.
Hope you learnt something. Let me know if I missed some modifiers; I’m sure I did. Oh I just forgot all about Nescafe—the Nes-peng, Nes-lo goodness… Ugh, I guess that will have to wait for another time.
Location: Toh Soon Cafe, Penang
Photo by: Daniel Yee