What not to say to a Hainanese coffee shop owner in Singapore


Sitting on Hong Kong Street, at the edge of Singapore’s China Town, you’ll find a tiny little Kopitiam (meaning coffee shop in Malay). Selling local breakfasts of soft eggs, kaya toast with kopi or teh.

Walking into the shop we approached the counter. We were greeted by a smiling lady. Her husband stood behind her preparing breakfast orders.

‘2 cappuccinos please’ I said to the lady.

Her husband bangs his knife down onto the counter. Looking over his shoulder he lets out a huge sigh. Glaring in my direction he shouts ‘NO. NO. NO. NO.”

Wtf?!? I’m thinking. He walks towards me.

Approaching the counter, he grabs a small cup from the shelf above our heads. Slamming it down. He points towards a picture hanging on the wall. ‘All we serve is Hainanese coffee. This is what you drink’.

Realising we’d entered a specialist coffee shop and seemingly made the brutal and highly insulting error of asking for a mediocre ‘cappuccino’ we muttered hastened apologies. Handing over 2 dollars we grabbed a seat and awaited our Hainanese coffee.

Hainan is a small island that sits off China’s southern coast. The traditional Hainanese coffee preparation method involves roasting coffee beans in a wok with margarine, sugar and sometimes pineapple skin and maize. They’re then ground down into a fine powder. Evaporated milk, sugar and the brewed coffee are poured into a small china cup. Sometimes topped with a dash more water. A mandatory tiny silver spoon is placed on the side.

We were presented with the most beautiful, smooth, thick and syrupy coffee I’ve tasted.

‘Good. Yes?’ Mr Coffee Man enquires.

‘Glorious’ I answer. He beams at me.

Bin this ‘cappuccino nonsense, stick to the best Hainan coffee’ he says.

I smile telling him that he’s converted me.

Singapore is awash with hundreds of Kopitiams ranging from simple old fashioned places to modern franchised chains. No visit to Singapore is complete without a kopi pit-stop. Keep a special look out for this Hainanese little gem!



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