Dining Out 1 minute 24 May 2016

Ghee, that is some smooth kopi!

Roll back the years with a look at one of our nation's oldest and most indulgent beverages

Singapore beverage coffee

Bulletproof coffee - black coffee laced with a knob of luscious grass-fed butter - is the latest beverage trend to catch on in the West, with some Silicon Valley types even touting modified versions of it as a health product.

But what most people don’t know is that long before they were playing around with the notion of buttered coffee, Singaporeans have been consuming it in its most basic form, better known as kopi gu you. We tell you everything you need to know below.

What is kopi gu you?
Think silky, robust coffee with notes of salted caramel - that's pretty much what you get with a cup of freshly brewed kopi gu you (literally coffee with butter in the Hokkien dialect). While traditional sock filter kopi (a local staple of black coffee with condensed milk) may be a tad harsher than the Arabica brew by that Instagram-friendly new cafe, there’s something quite endearing about it, and the additional lump of butter helps to soothe over any rough bumps.

Where to get it?

Once a mainstay in the coffeeshops of decades past, this now-dwindling beverage can be found only in a handful of time capsules such as Tong Ah Eating House on Keong Saik Road and Heap Seng Leong Kopitiam on North Bridge Road. In the latter, owner and coffeemaster Shi Pong Hsu still stirs up cups of that creamy goodness in a sleepy, nostalgia-steeped space unadulterated by the pressures of modern living. 

What difference does the butter make?

We're talking butter here. Gorgeously creamy, melt-in-your-mouth butter that should be added to everything, right? Stir it into your regular cup of kopi and you wind up with a harmonious blend of sweet and savoury notes that glide smoothly down the throat.

Said to be a practice that stems from Hainanese coffee shops in the pre-World War II days, the age-old tradition of stirring butter into already made cups of kopi has given way to a more palatable alternative today. In modern renditions, the butter is incorporated earlier in the coffee-making process: coffee beans are first roasted with butter, margarine or lard - caramelizing the outer layers and rounding out the rougher taste of the Robusta beans used in the local coffee shops - before being ground into powder and brewed.

 Why drink it?

Proponents of the Bulletproof coffee movement wax lyrical about its fat-burning properties, and a multitude of general health benefits, but there's an ongoing debate about their veracity, and whether it should be drunk on a regular basis. 

Adding a slab of butter to local kopi, similarly, was believed to not only provide an extra dose of energy, but also to keep the balance as butter is seen as a "cooling" food while coffee is deemed a “heaty” one. Word is that opium smokers used to drink it as a remedy to line scratchy throats. 

While the jury is still out on whether these claims have any scientific merit, generations of Singaporeans have been sipping the decadent morning treat, if for nothing else but simply because it is delicious. And in a land of foodies, that's perhaps reason enough.

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