Kopi Nanyang 南洋咖啡香

Zhao Hong 赵宏
b. 1967

Kopi Nanyang
33 x 26 cm
Chinese ink and colour pigment on rice paper

南洋安哥忙。小贩独自当。Kopi O kosong牛油咖啡香。

Kopi Nanyang celebrates the industrious hawker’s attitude and the appreciation of a coffee style found in Singapore.

Kopi and its terminology are based on the Hokkien dialect of the Chinese immigrants in Singapore and Malaysia.

Kopi, also known as Nanyang coffee, traditionally uses Robusta coffee beans roasted with salt, sugar and margarine. Kopi style variations involve the amount of robustness (similar to shots), sugar, condensed milk and evaporated milk. These variations are supported by a kopi vocabulary that describes the kind of kopi a consumer would want. For example, kopi refers to coffee with sugar and condensed milk, kopi o refers to coffee with sugar, kopi o kosong refers to coffee without sugar and milk, and many more.

While kopi is the quintessential beverage for many Singaporeans, the niuyou (牛油) [butter] component of kopi can be further highlighted when examining the inclusion of the phrase xiaofan duzidang (小贩独自当) [sole hawker]. This phrase can be interpreted as a unique coffee drink hawker emphasising the inclusion of butter with the kopi.

The inclusion of butter supposedly softens the acidity and enhances the caramelised flavour of coffee beans. The fats in the butter also provide folks with a wake-me-up energy concoction for a long day, as seen in the marketing trends of butter coffee found in the likes of Bulletproof Coffee.

A prominent traditional coffee shop, Heap Seng Leong, located at North Bridge Road, readily comes to mind. Owned by the Shi family, Heap Seng Leong has served their customers the aromatic Kopi Gu You (literally, coffee butter) for over forty years.

Why not consider learning more about and indulging in Singapore’s kopi culture today?

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