More variations in the taste of tea

Hideaki Sugai jpshs at NUS.EDU.SG
Sat Apr 25 07:04:20 UTC 1998

It's very exciting to see how the descriptions of the type of tea in
Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, which are in a geographically very
close area, are in fact different.  This fact suggests that comparing
the words for taste must be a very difficult job which needs some
	I asked a local Chinese-Singaporean (from a Hokkien family)
about the type of the tea and the result is as follows:
		Sugar		Milk
teh kosong 	no		no
teh si		no		yes
teh au (o)	yes		no
teh		yes		yes

The above facts prove that David Gil's markedness theory is right!  In
Singapore, if one orders tea or "teh" in local pronunciation, tea with
sugar and milk (in fact the milk is sweet condensed milk) will be
served.  "teh si" is milk tea which uses "evaporated milk" (the brand is
usually "Carnation brand".  The taste of this tea is a little bit sweet
).  If you want American equivalent of "black coffee", order "teh
kosong".  "Kosong" means 'empty, zero' in Malay.
	The etymology of "au = o" in "kopi au = kopi o", according to my
informant, is not "crow" or "zero".  But "au = o" means "black" in

Hideaki SUGAI
Japanese Studies
National Univeristy of Singapore   		

> To Paul Hopper's latest message:
> > Jim's note on ordering coffee brought back memories. Maybe David Gil
> or
> > someone can amplify, but I remember (it's been a long time) the
> > following Malay paradigm:
> In fact I was half way through the previous message when Paul's
> request
> arrived.
> > Kopi o (I guess this is Jim's Kafei wu, as people told me the o was
> > Chinese) = our black coffee (I guess it did have sugar; everything
> in
> > Malaysia has sugar)
> I'm indebted to Jim for the "crow" etymology; until then I had blindly
> accepted the folk etymology offered by most Singaporeans and
> Malaysians
> for _o_, namely that it's a "zero" for "zero milk".  (A Malay-variant
> of
> this folk etymology has it that it's an echo of the two vowels in
> _kosong_, the Malay word for "zero".)
> > Kopi hitam (hitam = black/dark brown) = sort of regular coffee - a
> small
> > amount of cream or milk
> I've never heard this one, though that may be because I try to avoid
> those
> white creamy chemicals that are referred to as _susu_ "milk".
> David Gil

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