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Teh tarik – the quintessential local beverage. If there was such a thing as comfort beverage, this would be it for the people in South East Asia. Teh tarik is comprised of black tea, sugar, and condensed and evaporated milk mixed to frothy perfection. What’s so special you may wonder?
Teh tarik literally means “pulled tea”, which is exactly what teh tarik artisans do before it is served. The tea and milk are poured through the air between two cups until it reaches a rich, frothy texture – skilled teh tarik artists never spill a drop! More than just showmanship and tradition, pouring teh tarik through the air cools the tea and produces a foamy head. The graceful pours by artists bring out the full flavor of the tea in milk by combining the mixture to extreme saturation. Teh tarik is typically served in a clear glass so that the perfect mixture can be seen and appreciated.
TEH KOPI CULTURE
Perhaps more important than the drink itself is the underlying culture behind it. Locals gather in kopitiams or Mamak shops – our version of cafes called coffee shops – to hang out, gossip, have late night supper, watch football. Like most things, it is best enjoyed with a bunch of friends, but heck…teh tarik and kopi tarik has been the trusty companion of lonely souls at 3 am. Enjoy it all weather, but for me nothing beats having a teh halia in cool rainy weather and enjoying the aroma of ginger as I exhale into the drink. Ahhhhhhhh…….
So DO NOT leave Singapore until you’ve had teh tarik or kopi tarik at a local kopitiam. Tribe’s suggestions for the best ones are at 21 Bussorah Street. There is no name but this place is practically an institution and locals know it as the teh tarik stall with the old man with the white beard opposite Kampong Glam Cafe. If you can’t get a seat, the one at Kampong Glam Cafe ain’t too shabby and you probably can’t tell the difference. You can also try the stalls at Adam Road Food Centre.
HOW TO ORDER:
1. Tea (“teh”) or coffee (“kopi”).
2. Hot or cold. Drinks are typically served hot, unless you specify “peng” which means chilled with ice. So if you want hot tea, you say “teh”. Ice tea, you say “teh peng”.
3. Next type of milk and sugar levels. Add the following expressions to your order:
For less sugar: “siew dai”.
For no milk: “O” (as in the letter O)
“Kosong” means empty or plain to ensure that both milk and sugar are left out.
For evaporated milk: “C” (as in the letter C)
For ginger: “halia” (usually goes better with teh rather than kopi)
4. Say “kau” if you want your coffee or tea thicker or less diluted.
Putting it all together, if you say “kopi-C-siew dai“, you have just order a coffee with evaporated milk with less sugar. Didn’t catch that? Well, you can simply say teh or kopi for the basic unadulterated drink. It’s not rocket science, and enough trips to the mamak stall and you’ll get the hang of it (just as you did with Cap-half skim grande to-go). Generally, kopi stall uncles are a fun bunch and if they see a valiant attempt by a non-local ordering, they are usually on hand to give you a crash course. So worry not, they don’t bite.