It is not difficult to order your drink at the coffee stall once you understand the Kopitiam Lingo. All you need is to learn the terminology. After that, you can order your drink like a pro, like the local.
The first term is kopitiam. Kopi means coffee and tiam means shop, so the word kopitiam can mean coffee shop or coffee stall. You can think of kopitiam as cafe.
First of all, you need to decide on your drink. The highlights in kopitiam are kopi and teh. The next term is teh, which is tea. When you order your drink at the counter, kopi and teh will mean a little differently. I will explain that later.
All the drinks by default are sweet in kopitiam, with sugar added. This is very unlike how the espresso based coffee is served, without sugar.
Next, you need to decide if you want it with or without milk. If without milk, you will order kopi o or teh o. O means black. When coffee or tea is without milk, it looks black, that is why the local called it O. Once again, please be reminded that the drinks are always sweet by default, with sugar added. Should you decide to have it with milk, you need to decide what type of milk you want.
In kopitiam, condensed milk and evaporated milk are used. Condensed milk is sweet while evaporated milk is unsweetened. Evaporated milk has a stronger milk taste, it will give the kopi or teh a more milky taste. If you want it with condensed milk, you will order kopi or teh. When you want it with evaporated milk, you will order kopi c or teh c. So far, what was explained are what I like to term as the standard drinks. Like in the cafe, there are Latte, Cappuccino, Machiattio and Espresso.
From the standard drinks, you can indicate your preferences from the sweetness level to the concentration level. When you want it unsweetened, you need to add the word kosong which means empty. This is only applicable to the kopi-c, teh-c, kopi o, teh o. The kopi and teh are with condensed milk, and condensed milk is sweet. You cannot have it unsweetened. You should order it as kopi-c kosong, teh-c kosong, kopi o kosong, teh o kosong. For the sweet tooth, you may like it sweeter, order as gai dai. Kopi gai dai, teh gai dai, kopi-c gai dai, teh-c gai dai, kopi-o gai dai, teh-o gai dai. While the health-concious may like it less sweet, order it as siew dai. Kopi siew dai, teh siew dai, kopi-c siew dai, teh-c siew dai, kopi-o siew dai, teh-o siew dai.
To add on to the complexity, you can decide on the caffeine concentration level. Some may like the drink to be with added boost of caffeine, you can order it as gao. Gao means thick. Kopi gao, teh gao, kopi-c gao, teh-c gao, kopi-o gao, teh-o gao. If you want it with maxmimum caffeine, most concentrated, order as tilok. Some may like it diluted, order as por. Kopi por, teh por, kopi-c por, teh-c por, kopi-o por, teh-o por.
There is a special concoction which is yuan yang. It is a mix of coffee and tea. It is very much an acquired taste. I would strongly encourage all to try. You can customise it like the kopi and teh. Use the same logic to order your yuan yang.
There are more variations to the order. I have listed the definition for the variations in the Part 2 of Kopitiam Lingo
Now, you can find out which is the top kopi in Singapore here and start applying the Kopitiam Lingo you have learnt.