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How to Properly Order Coffee When Visiting Southeast Asia

Making Sure You Get the Coffee You Want, No Matter Where You Are in the World

order coffee in southeast asia

Traveling is a very enriching activity. The sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of another culture are just the things you have to immerse yourself in to really get a full understanding of. Unfortunately, traveling does come with certain inconveniences. And, if you’re a devoted coffee drinker, going without your preferred form of coffee can be a serious inconvenience.

Coffee culture is not the same the world over. Travelers from North America and Europe who are visiting Southeast Asia for the first time are likely going to encounter a variety of coffee cultures throughout the region. Each is unique and has its own set of quirks when it comes to coffee drinks and the many ways to serve them.

Getting the coffee drink you want, just how you like to drink it, can require a frustrating amount of trial and error and challenging to translate concepts. In this post, we’ll take a look at the few main coffee cultures of Southeast Asia and give you the basics for how to properly order coffee.

This may not get you to the exact half-caf, tepid, flat, light-iced, or whatever style of coffee that you’re accustomed to drinking, but it just may help to find the closest regional beverage that matches up with your unique tastes. After all, you’re in Southeast Asia to experience new things, right?

Ordering Coffee in Vietnam

Ordering Coffee in Vietnam is a relatively simple affair. Coffee is called “ca phe,” pronounce just like “cafe.” If you want it hot, it’s “nong.” If you want it iced, it’s “da” – ca phe nong or ca phe da. If you want it black, it’s “den,” as in “ca phe den da.” If you want it sweetened with condensed milk, it’s “sua,” as in “ca phe sua nong.” If you want it with sugar, you’ll order it “duong.” That’s pretty much it, unless you’re in the north of the country and want to try the local egg coffee.

Ordering Coffee in Thailand

In Thailand, coffee is pronounced “ga-fae,” hot coffee is ga-fae “ron,” and cold coffee is ga-fae “yen.” If you want your coffee black, then order “ga-fae dam,” ron or yen. If you don’t want your coffee so sweet a spoon will stand up in it, order it “mai nam dtaan.” No sugar, or “mai waan,” will end up being less sweet. And to make sure that you’re not ordering instant coffee, just ask for “ga-fae sodt” (fresh coffee).

If you want to put a smile on your server’s face in Thailand, order a “capu” (cappuccino), and if you want to try something interesting, they make a drink called o-liang that is coffee brewed with sesame seeds and other ingredients served black, over ice.

Ordering Coffee in Malaysia and Singapore

In Singapore and throughout the Malay Peninsula, coffee culture centers around the Kopitiam, or local coffee shop. In the kopitiam, coffee (kopi) is roasted in butter with corn kernels and then brewed in a cloth pouch that is reused again and again, adding flavor to the brew each time.

If you want your kopi sweetened with condensed milk, then order a “kopi C.” The C stands for Carnation (brand condensed milk). If you want your coffee black, order a “kopi O.” “O” is the Fukiniese word for “black.” If you are looking for less than the regular (large) amount of sugar they put in, ask for “siutai” (less sugar), or “kosong” (zero sugar).

For bonus points, try a “kopi tarik,” or pulled coffee – coffee sweetened with condensed milk and then poured back and forth in a thin stream between two pitchers until it is rich and frothy.

The Basics of Southeast Asian Coffee Culture

Well, there you have the basics of coffee drinking culture throughout a few of the main countries in Southeast Asia. If you absolutely have to have a skinny flat white, then you’ll have to look for one of the new Starbucks chains that are popping up throughout the region, or else try the hotel restaurant where you’re staying.

But, if you want to try the local goods and order them properly, the guide above should get you on your way. Happy travels and enjoy your coffee!