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In Search for Kopitiam Aroma

As you may have known from this blog, I spent a fairly amount of time in Singapore, and its culture has a special place in my heart. One of the many things I miss is the Singapore kopi (coffee) and kopitiam (coffee shop).

In Singapore (and Malaysia), kopi is actually not a plain coffee. It is coffee with condensed milk. When I moved back to Indonesia, I tried to satisfy the need for nostalgia with Nescafe instant coffee and local condensed milk. As time goes by, I realized that it was not the same. Then I used real ground coffee, making the taste richer and more original.

However, things changed again when I bought Singapore-brand Cafe 21 instant coffee. I tasted something different that I could not find in a local ground coffee. After posting that finding on Facebook, my Singaporean friend Don opened my mind that such taste actually comes from the margarine that was used to roast the coffee. So I began searching for more, the “nanyang” coffee.

I tried the supposedly real Nanyang ground coffee, which in most cases come in bags, like the tea bags. Ah Huat Kopi O is one example. However, it somehow does not taste and smell the same. It’s just plain bland. The reason is still a mystery for me until now.

In this last occasion, I bought the Toast Box ground coffee “powder”, which does not come in bags. There is a slight nanyang aroma when I made the coffee using V60 coffee filter, but it was still far from perfect. The surprise came when I left the residue for about an hour. Just when I was about to throw the leftover away, I smell that unique aroma of the kopitiam! Therefore, my conclusion so far is: the kopitiam aroma actually comes not from freshly brewed coffee, but from the leftover coffee.

So this “Screw the French Press, we’ve got the socks” poster at most Ya Kun Kaya Toast stalls now makes very sense for me. The socks keep the leftover from the first brew, to the next, and the next, and so on!

Disclaimer: this conclusion does not come from a scientific study, nor it is peer reviewed.