How to order drinks at a Sarawak kopitiam

To those who have just touched down in Sarawak for the first time may feel daunted when looking at the drinks menu in any kopitiam.

If you thought you could skate by with using your kopitiam knowledge from West Malaysia, you might be mistaken as our ordering style is different here.

You’ll be met with terms such as “Kopi C Panas” and “Teh O Peng” which can be hard to grasp if you’re not used to it and need your coffee fix ASAP!

But you can breathe a sigh of relief right now as ordering kopitiam drinks can be as easy as ABC – here’s crafted a handy guide.

And if you don’t know what to order, we’ve curated a list of top Sarawakian food you shouldn’t miss out on.

How to order kopitiam drinks

Photo: @alex.tangkl on Instagram

To kick things off, I’ve gathered a list of terminologies you need to learn.

  • Kopi = Coffee in Malay
  • Teh = Tea in Malay
  • Panas = Hot in Malay
  • Peng = Ice in Chinese

Alright, that seems easy enough, right? If you’re hankering for an iced black coffee, it seems like “Kopi Peng” should be your best bet…

But wait. When it arrives on your table, there’s a sickly-sweet layer of condensed milk at the bottom?!

You’ve got exactly what you ordered, but it isn’t the drink you had in mind. This is because by default, plain “kopi” or “teh” is prepared using sweetened condensed milk.

To order your coffee or tea without any milk and sugar, the term you need to tack on to your order is “O” which stands for “kosong”, which is Malay for empty.

So, to order an iced black coffee, your order should be “Kopi O Peng”.

However, you don’t typically need to tack on “Panas” if you want hot coffee as the default version is hot coffee or tea. Still, it may be easier to specify by saying “Kopi O Panas”.

How to adjust the milk and sugar

Photo: @rexford_tan on Instagram

Now that you’ve learned how to order the basics, I can move onto the fancy stuff surrounding milk and sugar.

If you’re not a fan of the default sweetened condensed milk, there is an option to swap it out for evaporated milk and sugar instead. This makes the drink a lot more tolerable to those who don’t have a serious sweet tooth.

But how do you do it? To order coffee with evaporated milk, it is similar to ordering black coffee. Instead of tacking on “O”, you instead ask for “Kopi C”.

The idea behind “C” is said to be due to the popularity of the Carnation brand evaporated milk which was used in many kopitiams years ago.

Though if “Kopi C” is still too sweet for you and you need to adjust your sugar level, you can do so by adding on “kurang manis” which is Malay for less sweet.

While I have personally never heard anyone order a drink with more sweetness to it, you could probably try by saying “tambah manis” instead. It is Malay for add sweet.

Lastly, for those who want a plain coffee or tea without any milk or sugar, you need to learn the term “kosong”. This is Malay for empty!

A list of examples of orders

Photo: @coffeenteatalk on Instagram

Do our examples seem confusing to you still? Don’t worry, I’ll list and explain some kopitiam drinks right here.

That way, you can have a better grasp of how to order – simply replace “kopi” with “teh” if you want your tea fix.

  • Kopi – Coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi O – Black coffee with sugar
  • Kopi O kosong – Black coffee alone
  • Kopi C – Coffee with evaporated milk and sugar
  • Kopi Peng – Iced coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi Peng kurang manis – Iced coffee with condensed milk but less sweet
  • Kopi C tambah manis – Coffee with evaporated milk and more sugar (extra sweet)
  • Kopi O Panas – Hot black coffee (actually same with Kopi O, but temperature is specified for extra clarity)

If you’re still having trouble ordering kopitiam drinks in Sarawak even after our guide, perhaps it might be best to bring along a local to help you order for the first time.

And of course, don’t be afraid to ask for help, as the people of Sarawak are more than happy to lend a helping hand.

Featured image: 8avenuemy & hermanograph

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