Does Singapore Have Good Coffee?
Singapore has always enjoyed a reputation for being a city with a strong work ethic and an active nightlife. But above all else, it is a place where people love to hang out and relax with friends over good food, a great drink—or in the case of this article—a good cup of coffee.
Does Singapore have good coffee? We don’t mean Starbucks. We’re talking about real indie, local coffee shops that roast their own beans. The kind of place you can grab a latte or a cup of flat white and enjoy it in the atmosphere of a trendy cafe. Short answer: Yes.
But before we got to the coffee shops of the modern era, it is just appropriate to talk about the history of coffee in Singapore and a much older culture of coffee drinking that started in the 19th century.
The history of kopi
The Singaporean coffee culture has a long history, a perfect blend of east and west in a sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia.
The country’s first kopitiams—kopi means coffee in Malay, and tiam means shop in Hokkien and Fujianese— are opened in the 19th century by Chinese cooks to serve the demanding need of the European working population. These Chinese cooks introduced Singaporeans to the British habit of consuming coffee, as well as breakfast staples like toast and eggs.
However, it was evident that the high-quality Arabica beans popular and much fancied in the West were pretty expensive to the locals. Due to this, efforts were made to invent a new method to make use of Robusta beans originating from Indonesia. It was a much cheaper alternative but was equally delicious to those of Western origins.
The uniqueness of Singapore’s kopi
As mentioned, kopi is made mostly from Robusta beans, a much cheaper alternative to Western beans. Thus it has a high dose of caffeine. Now here’s where things become interesting. To enhance the beans’ flavour, the Robusta beans are roasted with sugar and butter or margarine. This provides a buttery caramel flavour and a very unique aroma. The beans are then drained using a sock (a tiny fabric that functions as an infuser) and are used as the base of other drinks, usually combined with condensed milk or other many variations on the standard.
This creamy and aromatic form of coffee is best paired with a saucer of watery soft-boiled eggs and crisp slices of toast slathered with thick yellow butter and kaya—a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs. This makes up the best kopitiam experience in Singapore.
Finding the best kopi in Singapore
Now that you know what makes kopi the best experience, you might wanna know where to get the perfect experience.
We recommend three Kopitiams that have seen history and are part of it for that dose of 20th-century nostalgia.
Heap Seng Leong kopitiam
Heap Seng Leong Kopitiam is located at Block 10, North Bridge Road, No. 01-5109. From the tables, chairs, tiles, and décor, it is noted for its incredibly old-school atmosphere that is locked in a time-warp of the 1970s.
Heap Seng Leong is a humble place that offers the most basic food choice, reminiscent of the simplicity of kopitiams in the 20th century. This place has been here apparently since 1974.
Your kopis will be made by a man, known as Uncle Shi to the locals, wearing striped pyjama bottoms and a thin white sleeveless T-shirt.
Ya Kun Kaya Toast
Ya Kun is a household name among Kopitiams in Singapore due to its long history, from being a humble coffee stall established in 1944 to a huge coffee chain with dozens of branches in the country.
If you are a coffee lover living in Singapore, chances are you’ve already been to at least one of their locations.
Another popular chain of kopitiams is the Killiney, which opened in 1919. Its first branch at 67 Killiney Road is considered the oldest existing Hainanese coffee shop in Singapore.
Today, Killiney Kopitiam has an extended menu offering a wider variety of local delicacies but they retained their skills of making good kaya, bread toast, coffee and tea. You can also find branches in Indonesia, Australia and even in the USA.
Ordering your kopi like a local
Ordering a kopi might be complicated but don’t let this discourage you! The best experiences come from effort, after all! Below is a glossary that will help you order like an insider.
KOPI — Coffee with sugar and condensed milk.
KOPI C — Coffee with sugar and lighter evaporated milk instead of condensed milk. (The “C” stands for “Carnation,” the longtime go-to brand for most kopitiams.)
KOPI KOSONG — Coffee with no sugar (“kosong” is zero in Malay).
KOPI O — Black coffee.
KOPI O POH — Diluted black coffee with sugar.
KOPI PENG — Coffee with sugar and condensed milk, over ice.
YUAN YANG — Half-coffee, half-tea combination, with sugar and condensed milk.
Singapore’s Specialty Coffee Market
Now that we’ve talked about the history of the coffee culture in Singapore, let’s move on to the booming specialty coffee market in Singapore.
People in Singapore have long relished sharing a cup of coffee with friends, savouring rich, sweet robusta mixes from the comfort of a kopitiam. Quality is improving in Singapore today, as it is in many other major coffee-consuming regions, and speciality coffee shops are springing up all over the island.
Many of the coffee trends that have emerged in Singapore have been “imported” by enthusiastic and passionate locals or ex-pats who have learnt about specialty coffee while travelling or living overseas.
Over the last ten years, Singapore has seen an increase in the number of independent speciality coffee roasters and stores. Younger coffee drinkers seeking high-quality coffee from traceable beans are increasingly frequenting them. A solid brand identity is also a top priority.
Lighter roasts have been increasingly popular in Singapore in recent years, according to experts, as more people have begun to drink more manual brewed filter coffees. It’s also worth noting that plant-based milk substitutes like soy, almond, and oat milk are popular.
Where to get the best coffee beans for home consumption
In this post, we would like to highlight one coffee subscription service we love—Perk Coffee. We have a lot to say about Perk Coffee, but we’ll try to keep it short and sweet here.
Perk Coffee offers superior beans with a wonderful aroma, colour, shape, and size that will impress you from the moment you open the package.
And, just when you thought things couldn’t get much better, Perk Coffee will deliver the best-tasting coffee straight to your door! Isn’t it convenient?
They have a wonderful range of whole beans, ground beans, pods, and even drip bags which you can avail yourself of through a customizable subscription. They can send you a pack of their hand-roasted beans every week, every 2, 3, or 4 weeks, depending on your coffee drinking habits and preferences. When you’ve had too much coffee (which is silly because can you really have too much of this exquisite beverage?) you can pause your subscription or change it to something else.
They have coffee beans from all over the world in their selection! If you’re in the mood for some Ethiopian coffee, you might want to try Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, a high-quality but inexpensive African bean. Perhaps you’d like to try one of their Nespresso compatible pods? Try their Intrepid PerkPods, a “rich and bold blend of premium coffee from Brazil and Sumatra, dark roasted to enhance the full-bodied cedar notes and velvety chocolate finish.”
Perk Coffee has a perfect option for you, no matter your preference. Grab your first Perk Coffee beans here!
Does Singapore have good coffee? – Final Thoughts
From traditional kopitiams to edgy spots with the latest cold brews, the Singapore kopi scene has something for everyone. And if what you find isn’t quite to your taste, there is always another option close by, or, just add sugar!
Check out our list of the 5 best places for coffee in Singapore to find the perfect place for your next coffee catch up.