Although kopi gu you is a dying tradition, Heap Seng Leong is one of the surviving coffee shops in Singapore that still sells this old-school drink. Entering their humble space is often described as walking into a museum showcase of a 1950s kopitiam. We settled in to the throwback of a place for breakfast with kaya toast, eggs, and kopi gu you.
Everyone knows the iconic Singaporean kaya toast breakfast but have you tried it with a cup of traditional kopi that is served with a stick of butter in it? That, or steaming tea with condensed milk and a slab of yellow butter.
Kopi served with butter in it is called kopi gu you and literally translates to “coffee butter” in the Hokkien dialect. It is said to have been first found in Hainanese coffee shops in Singapore back in the 1930s. Today, instead of adding butter to coffee, coffee beans are usually first roasted in butter or margarine to achieve the same effect.
What primarily differentiates Singapore’s kopitiam coffee from those in fancy coffee houses is the type of coffee beans used. Robusta coffee beans creates a blend of coffee stronger in caffeine which jolts you awake.
They have a harsher taste than your usual espresso which is smoother and more complex so adding butter to it is meant to lend it a caramelised flavour and dull its strong flavour.
At Heap Seng Leong, a breakfast set of a drink with kaya toast and soft boiled eggs are affordably priced at S$3.60.
The butter that came in our kopi and teh quickly disintegrated into a yellow film on the surface of our drinks. A buttery aroma wafted up as we brought the glass cups up for a sip, overwhelming the scent of the coffee and tea. Drinking it down though did not leave any greasiness and made the drinks slightly thicker and smoother.
Slices of traditional white bread were toasted and flipped on a charcoal stove to brown both sides before they were lightly scrapped with butter knives to remove any burnt bits. Orange Hainanese-style of kaya spread and two squares of butter were sandwiched between two slices of toast before they were cut into triangles to be served.
The old furnishing and dim lighting inside felt like a serene contrast to the modern coffeeshop right beside Heap Seng Leong. Time stood still as we started our day there and nourished ourselves while the uncle who wears the same pajamas each day went about pouring coffee for other customers. Having a slow breakfast there made for a peaceful morning.
10 North Bridge Rd, #01-5109
Tel: +65 6292 2368
Daily: 4am – 8pm
Nearest Station: Lavender