Brewing Authentic Malaysian Kopi: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering the Art of Kopi Making

by - October 01, 2020


Malaysian Kopi C with creamer, held in hand with morning sunlight filtering through the steam rising from the cup.

Savour the Richness of Malaysian Kopi C


How to Make Traditional Malaysian Coffee - Kopi

Celebrate International Coffee Day with Malaysian Kopi

    Waking up to International Coffee Day inspired me to finally write about Malaysian Kopi and the unique experience of Kopitiams. If you haven't visited Malaysia yet, you're missing out on incredible food and unforgettable coffee experiences. While travel might be off the cards for now(I'm writing this during the peak time of COVID-19), you can still enjoy the rich flavours of Malaysian Kopi right at home. Let's dive into the world of traditional Malaysian coffee and learn how to make it yourself!

What is a Kopitiam?

    A Kopitiam (a traditional coffee shop) is one of the most authentic and humble coffee establishments you can find. These coffee houses are prevalent in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and Southern Thailand. They offer a unique style of coffee called Kopi, along with Teh (tea), beverages like Horlicks and Milo, and simple meals.

    The word 'kopi' is a Malay term for 'Coffee' and 'tiam' is the Hokkien/Hakka term for a shop (店).Kopitiam menus typically include half-boiled eggs with soy sauce, salt, and pepper, bread toast with kaya (a coconut-based jam made with egg, coconut milk, and sugar), and various local delicacies.


raditional ivory-colored Kopi Tiam cup with green floral patterns, filled with strong black Kopi, spoon on saucer, set over a Mandarin newspaper.

Classic Kopitiam Moment with Black Kopi


Experiencing a Kopitiam in JB City Centre

    One of our favourite Kopitiams is Kin Wah Kopitiam in JB City Centre. Even at 6 AM, this small corner lot is bustling with people. The setting is simple, with tiny red plastic stools and rickety tables. Despite the chaos, the agile waiters ensure your order is served correctly. Our usual order includes a strong Kopi O (black coffee) or Kopi (with milk), Milo Ais (iced Milo) for the kids, and toasted butter kaya bread. They also serve delicious Malaysian dishes like Nasi Lemak, Mee Goreng, Mee Rebus, Karipuffs, and Kuihs.

A Poetic Moment in a Kopitiam Alley

    Sitting in the alley near this Kopitiam once inspired me to write a poem. The moody, about-to-rain weather and the surrounding crowd sparked these lines


Sitting in an Alley ...


An old street in the heart of a city 

A street tended to look clean

Buildings proclaiming their age

Named to be as Vintage...

A style fascinating the present generation

Different faces pop up every now & then,

Inquisitive looks, a look which holds newness.

Tourists, locals, photographers, residents...

All walking around the streets

What these streets hold for them

Is completely unknown

To the onlookers...

Typical styles unique to themselves 

Are the shops lined up in the alley 

Some ancient

Like pages from a yellowed

Dog-eared book 

With age-old owners 

Lingering around with ease 

Maybe, they’ve lived their life

In this alley clock-in, clock-out

Rusted out in the withering times

Stooped and shrivelled out of old age... 

Living a life of their own...


Some shops decked up to look old

Showcasing the commercials.

Fascinating the odds

Quite synonymous is the style 

Of a barbershop, small and lighted

Lined up with Decors from a thrift shop.

An age-old red building flaunting the tradition 

Typical restaurants catering food in the name of classics

Small Kopitiams, bakeries & eateries

Streets with painted walls

Captivating the curious eyes 

Encasing an urge for a click...

All along I sit in my car,

Watching with awe,

The street, an age-old alley

Standing out in the sands of time.

The dimly lighted shops

Smells wafting from nearby restaurants

The moving crowd 

The curious little faces

With expressionless definitions

All the more the moving cars

Moving so close to our car, 

That I get alarmed when each one passes by...

The name of the Street is 

Jalan Tan Hiok Nee

Johor Bahru



raditional ivory-colored Kopi Tiam cup with green floral patterns, filled with strong black Kopi, spoon on saucer.
Classic Kopitiam Moment with Black Kopi

    Let's delve back into the world of Malaysian Coffee—Kopi. During a visit to Singapore, I had a fascinating chat with the Kopi maker (is it alright to call him a Barista?) at a Kopitiam located beneath the National Arts Centre at Esplanade. Curious about crafting this delightful brew at home, I asked for his secrets. With a warm smile, he assured me it's quite straightforward. The essential ingredient? Simply a good quality coffee powder.

    Here's his method: All you need is a mug, a coffee sock, or a fine-meshed filter—nothing too fancy or complicated. First, measure the coffee powder and pack it into the coffee sock. Next, place the sock into the mug and pour in boiling water—ideally between 90°C and 95°C. Let it brew for a few minutes, and voilà, you've made Malaysian-style Kopi. Whether you prefer it strong and bold or light and mild, adjust the brew to your taste. Add a sweetener and enjoy it as a robust Kopi O (black coffee) or dress it up with creamer or condensed milk for a creamier Kopi C.

    In the diverse world of Kopitiam culture, every variation of coffee and tea carries its own signature. I was initially intrigued by the unique 'initials' used—Kopi O (Kopi Or (or) Kopi Kosong), Kopi C (truly Kopi Si), Kopi Peng, Teh O, Teh C, Teh Halia, Teh Tarik, and many more, each with its own distinct character.


What You Need to Know About Malaysian Kopi


raditional ivory-colored Kopi Tiam cup with green floral patterns, filled with strong black Kopi, spoon on saucer, set over a Mandarin newspaper.
Classic Kopitiam Moment with Black Kopi

    Malaysian Kopi is distinct from your typical coffee due to its strong, rich flavour and unique preparation method. Unlike the more commonly known Arabica beans, traditional Malaysian Coffee is made from Robusta beans, which are known for their higher caffeine content and bolder taste. This coffee is traditionally roasted in a mixture of butter and sugar, giving it a caramelized aroma unlike any other, making this Kopi Recipe uniquely Malaysian.

Enriching Your Kopi Experience

    To fully immerse yourself in the Malaysian coffee culture, try pairing your Kopi with some classic Kopitiam treats like kaya toast. The combination of rich coffee and sweet, buttery toast makes for a delightful breakfast or snack.



Explore more Beverages, here...


Cuisine - Malaysian(Hainanese)
Recipe Type - Beverage
Difficulty - Easy - Medium
Serves - 1
Author - SM   

Brewing Time - 5 Minutes
Preparation Time - 5–10 Minutes

For more traditional Malaysian recipes and beverage guides, visit Essence of Life - Food.




"Unveiling the Art of Traditional Malaysian Coffee - Kopi: Your Complete Guide"


A cup of strong Kopi C or Kopi Si, accompanied by a small white porcelain creamer jug, set on a saucer with spoon over a Mandarin newspaper.

Stir and Sip: Creamy Kopi C

Essential Tools for Brewing Kopi:

    To get started with Malaysian brewing technique, you’ll need a few basic tools, just the most simple, but traditional Kopi gears.

  • Kopi Sock: This cloth filter is the key to authentic Malaysian Kopi.
  • Kopi Pot: Preferably stainless steel, used to catch and brew the coffee.
  • Porcelain Cups: To serve the Kopi in traditional style (with green floral prints).

 Then, of course, you would need some roasted and ground coffee powder. It’s really simple, all you need to do is to immerse (brew) the Kopi powder in hot water for about 3–5 mins to get a kopi concentrate. Then, remove the kopi grounds, dilute if necessary and serve!


Let's see how it is made traditionally,

  • This recipe allows you to scale up your kopi brewing and to cater for more.
  • The Coffee brew ratio is 12- 15gms of Kopi powder for every 240 ml Cup 


Step-by-Step Guide:

Ingredients to Brew Malaysian Kopi:

Ground Coffee Powder: 12-15 grams
Hot Water: 240 ml

Optional Ingredients:


Sugar/Brown Sugar


Creamer/Condensed Milk

Malaysian Kopi Brewing Method:

Brewing Kopi O/Kopi Or (Black Coffee):

  • Place the Kopi sock over the pot.
  • Add coffee to the sock and pour water heated to 90°C - 95°C.
  • Ensure that all the Kopi powder is thoroughly saturated.
  • Allow it to brew for 3–4 minutes, then gently tap to mix.
  • Gently remove the sock, tapping out the brew
  • Serve in a porcelain cup with optional sweetener.
  • I typically enjoy my Kopi strong and unsweetened, which in local terms is known as Kopi Gao (or Kopi Kau).
Making Kopi C/Kopi Si (with Condensed Milk)


Pouring creamer from a creamer jug into a cup of strong black Kopi, with drops of creamer clearly visible, set on a saucer with a spoon over a Mandarin newspaper.

Morning Cuppa - Creamer infusion into Kopi O


  • Follow the same steps as above but add a tablespoon of condensed milk or creamer to the cup before pouring the coffee.

Variations and Tips

Malaysian coffee variations:

    Explore other popular Malaysian coffee variations, like Kopi Peng (iced coffee) and Kopi Po (diluted coffee). Each variant offers a different experience and caters to various palates.

Malaysian Kopi C with creamer, held in hand with morning sunlight filtering through the steam rising from the cup.

Savour the Richness of Malaysian Kopi C

Notes & Tips:

  • This brew leans towards the robust end of the spectrum, often referred to as "Kopi Gao" or "Strong Coffee," a preference I personally favour. 
  • Adjusting the strength is simple—simply vary the amount of water added to tailor your cuppa to your taste buds. 
  • For a milder version, known as "Kopi Po," dilute the brew with additional hot water, ensuring to maintain the temperature for optimal flavour extraction. 
  • Conversely, if you fancy a chilled variant, transform your Kopi into "Kopi Peng" by pouring it over ice cubes in a tall glass for a refreshing treat.

A Quick Tip:

  • In the absence of traditional Kopi gear, fear not! A humble mug can serve as a worthy substitute for the stainless steel Kopi Pot. 
  • As for the essential coffee sock, a quick trip to your local hardware or utility store should yield a suitable alternative.

    Now that you know how to make traditional Malaysian Kopi, you can enjoy this invigorating beverage from the comfort of your home. Experiment with the strength and sweetness to tailor it exactly to your taste. Whether you’re sipping a robust Kopi O or a creamy Kopi C, making traditional Malaysian Kopi at home allows you to experience a piece of Malaysian culture. Celebrate International Coffee Day by brewing your own Malaysian Kopi and enjoy the rich, bold flavours that make this coffee unique.



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  1. This looks amazing!!! Thank you for sharing.



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