“Kopi” is a word that you cannot miss while in the Malay Peninsula, but what does Kopi mean?
This article focuses on the Kopi meaning in English and the most popular Kopi beverages and terminology to help you order the Kopi beverage that best suits your own personal needs.
Keep reading to get the meaning of Kopi and all you need to know to order the right drink for you.
What Does Kopi Mean? The Kopi Meaning In English
Kopi, a Malay word used in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other locations like Brunei, where the language is spoken, can be directly translated to mean coffee in English.
Although this is a direct translation, there is a meaning behind the word that is not conveyed by a simple direct dictionary translation.
Kopi, when used by Malaysians of all genres, be they Malaysian-Chinese, Malaysian-Indian and Malay-Malaysians refers to a specific type of coffee, a coffee that has been roasted at 385F (196C) for 25 min and with an 80% coffee beans and 20% sugar and margarine mixture.
Kopi is also brewed in a specific way – with ground coffee in a coffee sock steeped in hot water and then poured. The coffee to water ratio for brewing a Kopi is 1:10, 1 part Kopi and 10 parts water.
Kopi has a greater caffeine content due to the use of a specific type of coffee bean, the robusta bean. When a Kopi blend is used it is a blend of Robusta and Liberica coffee beans.
The amount of caffeine per bean in Robusta coffee beans is 2.2x that of Arabic coffee beans which explains the rather serious shot of caffeine when enjoying a kopi.
There is a clear distinction between coffee and kopi.
A coffee, as we non-Malaysians know, refers to the product that we would expect: coffee beans roasted in a normal way without anything added and can be brewed using a number of different methods.
Read: Singaporean coffee
The correct pronunciation of Kopi is ˈkɔ.pi. For English speakers it sounds like the word copy and thus the kopi pronunciation should be easy for you.
Kopi O Meaning
The Kopi in Kopi O is in reference to the Kopi I spoke about above but is a specific type of Kopi a black Kopi with sugar.
The O in Kopi O is borrowed from the Hokkien and Hakka languages, where it means black.
Black coffee and sugar.
Kopi Si (Kopi C)
Kopi C, pronounced like how we would pronounce the letter C or how Spaniards would pronounce the word Yes (Si) is a popular Kopi beverage with carnation milk.
The “C” comes from the large letter on the can of carnation milk. Kopi C, is Kopi with evaporated milk and not condensed milk, to be clear.
Read: Penang white coffee
Other Kopi Types
Kopi O Kosong
The suffix Kosong means no sugar, a Kopi O Kosong is A Kopi O with no milk or sugar added.
Kopi C Kosong
As I spoke about above the suffix, Kosong means no sugar added. Kopi C Kosong, is a Kopi C with no sugar added. It’s a beverage that I enjoy as it is sweet enough with the evaporated (carnation) milk.
Kopi O Peng
The “Peng” in Kopi O means with ice and this is an Iced Kopi O, an iced black Kopi and sugar.
You can start to play around with the suffixes, for example Kopi O Kosong Peng – Kopi O with no sugar and with ice, thus an iced Kopi O with no sugar, a sugar free black iced Kopi.
Other important suffixes that you will see often are:
- Kopi Koi Ya Bao – Kopi to go – takeaway Kopi.
- Kopi Gua: Strong Kopi, for example Kopi O Gua – A Strong Kopi O.
- Kopi Poh: Weak Kopi, example. Kopi C Poh – a weak Kopi C.
Kopi Luwak is distinctive coffee (Kopi) where the coffee cherries have been partially digested by an Asian Palm civet, the coffee cherries have been eaten and then defecated by the animal.
It’s a popular and exotic coffee in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, The Philippines and Thailand. Notably the most expensive coffee in the world is Kopi Luwak from Chang Dao, in the Chiang Mai Provence of Northern Thailand.
In English this is commonly known as Weasel Coffee, in Vietnam is known as cà phê Chồn.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Does Kopi Mean?
What Does Kopi Stand For?
Kopi, literally translated means coffee. This is just a literal translation from the Malay language. Don’t expect an ordinary coffee as it is a Hainanese coffee that is roasted with margarine, sugar and salt at a low temperature and brewed using a coffee sock.
Coffee and Kopi are thus distinct due to the roasting process.
How Is Kopi Different From Coffee?
Kopi is different from coffee as regular coffee is roasted in the normal and regular manner with no ingredients added to the coffee beans to alter their taste.
Kopi is roasted at a low temperature and for a longer period of time. The coffee beans used to make Kopi are roasted with margarine, sugar and a dash of salt to create a unique taste.
Regular coffee can be brewed in any way using any method that the drinker so wishes while Kopi is brewed in a specific way using a coffee sock and full immersion brewing in hot water.
Kopi is also known as Nanyang coffee, which is Hokkien for South Sea coffee, the area in which the beverage dominates, the South China Sea area including the coastal area of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
It is important to understand that Kopi and coffee are different.
What Language Is Kopi?
The word comes from Indonesian and Malays and means coffee, a specific type of coffee that is roasted with margarine, sugar and a dash of salt. The term Kopitiam is a simple indication and proof of the polyglots of the Malaysian Peninsula as the word tiam is from Hokkien/Hakka meaning shop.
Thus Kopitiam meaning coffee shop.
Read: Malaysian coffee
Why Is It Called Kopi O?
Kopi O is simple and pure proof that when two communities live close together for decades and centuries the language develops and merges. Kopi, meaning coffee from the Malay language, and the O, is Hokkien/Hakka meaning black and thus Kopi O means black coffee.
The beverage is called Kopi O because that is what it is, a black coffee.
Why is Kopi C Called C?
This is a little more complicated. Imagine you see a long word in another language that you cannot speak but can easily communicate the first letter.
The “C” in Kopi C is in reference to an ingredient used in beverage – Carnation milk. When Kopi C is made, it is made with carnation milk. I’m sure you can picture in your mind the large “C” in a certain popular brand of evaporated milk and hence “Kopi C”.
Which Kopi Is Healthier?
The healthiest Kopi is Kopi O Kosong, it’s a black coffee without sugar. Due to having no milk or sugar, it is by definition the healthiest kopi.
Final Thoughts – What Does Kopi Mean?
If you have read this far you no longer need to wonder what does kopi mean as you have the definitive answer. If you are scrolling down and looking for a quick answer – you are selling yourself short as Kopi, despite the literal translation meaning coffee it is much more than that.
It is a very specific type of coffee enjoyed by Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indonesians and more.
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