Taking a Sip of the Coffee Scene in Singapore and Malaysia

Entering the traditional coffee shops of Singapore and Malaysia is like stepping back in time to the 1980s. They are more than just a place to grab a quick kopi (coffee) or a serving of soft boiled eggs – they are a second home for many local folks. But what’s so special about these hangouts, such that locals living in California queued an hour for a cup of kopi after Singapore’s oldest café, Killiney Kopitiam, recently opened its first outlet in the United States? Let us solve that mystery by exploring the rich and fascinating heritage of the local coffee scene.

The History of Kopitiam

In the late 1800s, Chinese immigrants from Hainan reached our nations’ shores. Some took up jobs in the service and hospitality sectors, often working for wealthy British and other European households. Post World War II, the departure of their Western employers forced the Hainanese to seek other means of earning a living. Many turned to setting up their own coffee shops, which are affectionately known as “kopitiam” today.

The Appeal of Kopitiam

[caption id="attachment_10789" align="alignnone" width="2048"]an old photo of people drinking coffee at a kopitiam A blast from the past: the appeal of kopitiam lies in its old-school decor. Photo from sharngst.[/caption] It’s the full-sensory experience at a kopitiam that makes its appeal so unique. Marble-top tables, old-fashioned mugs, overhead fans, and floor tiles that look right out of our grandmother’s kitchen. Some might call it old-school or run-down, but to a local, these are the essential aesthetics that mark out a genuine kopitiam. “Kopi C! Kopi Siew Dai! Kopi Gao!” The sounds and s
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