Chope! The Quirks of Singapore’s Kopitiam Culture

Chope! Hot
“Behind hot!” is what this translates to, and what every kopitiam uncle/auntie will use to barrel through a thick crowd, even if they are carrying a tray of ice cold drinks! This is a truly Singaporean way…

Americans have their Starbucks and Europeans have their coffeehouses, but you can’t call yourself a true-blue Singaporean unless you can walk into a neighbourhood kopitiam (literally, ‘coffee shop’ in Singlish) and order a litany of drinks in a lingo that would be frankly baffling to the rest of the world. You know you’ve spent enough time in Singapore when you can identify what Kopi C Siu Dai is or what goes into a scary purple ABC juice*.

(*Scroll to the bottom if you have no idea what these drinks are!)


The folk from the Little Drom Store put together these a project called Chope! that collects these unique and rather eccentric sounding lingoes of our kopitiams into a book, and they’ve released two fun videos with some examples on weird drink names you’ll hear in Singapore kopitiams.

Nicknames of popular Kopitiam drinks in Singapore (Kopi Auntie) from the little dröm store on Vimeo.

Nicknames of popular Kopitiam drinks in Singapore (Kopi Uncle) from the little dröm store on Vimeo.

Visitors to Singapore, you’re are unlikely to hear these phrases unless you step out of the sanitized food courts and head into the proper kopitiams, where it’s open air and usually a bit stuffy (horrors), and where the drinks stall workers are older men and women who still prefer to converse in dialect and Mandarin.

I have heard some of these names bandied about while growing up, but will have to admit that not all are familiar to me even! Our hawker uncles and aunties are truly creative folk, Michael Jackson and Clementi are my new favourites =). The videos also don’t explain much on how some of the names come about (because they want you to check out their book for more of course), but I can tell you that:

  • Chinese Tea = Fishing (Chinese translation Diao Yu) because the action of dipping the tea bag in and out of the water looks very much like a fisherman out at sea waiting for his catch. Probably doesn’t hurt that this is a drink that’s generally ordered by older folk…
  • Milo = Soccer (Hokkien translation Tak Giu) because the green Milo tins have always branded themselves as an energy drink, and always used to feature a picture of a guy kicking a soccer ball on it! These days the tins show other sports as well, but Tak Giu has since stuck.
Chope! Milo TIn
There’s always a sports person/link on a Milo drink tin! Photo via Nicole Lee on Flickr

If you’re looking for a Uniquely Singapore type of gift, head on over to the Little Drom Store down at Ann Siang Hill or to their online store to pick up a copy! I’m loving the other items produced as a part of this project – the glasses are adorable and the pins are spiffy!

Chope! Book
The Chope! Book costs S$29
Chope! Glasses
I would totally get these if I had my own place.

(*Kopi = coffee , C = evaporated milk + sugar, Siu Dai = less sugar. An ABC is Apple, Beetroot (which causes the scary purple) and Carrot! Supposedly delicious, I prefer my standard Apple-Orange pairing)

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The following shoutout is brought to you by Zalora Singapore

If you’re a Zalora fan, do check out their Instagram contest where you might be able to win a 2-night trip to Bali among other prizes! Just take a picture of yourself in your favourite Zalora outfit, hashtag it #ZALORAFAV so it’s easy to find and post it up on Instagram. Contest closes on 29th July, check out their website for more.



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