How to make kopi

When i first started drinking kopi at Kopitiams, a cup of kopi costs 60 cents. Some time around 2005 or 2006, if my memory doesn’t fail me, there was a price hike to 80 cents. Well, nowadays, as you know, it typically costs S$1 or S$1.10. Have you ever wondered how much a cup kopi really costs (in terms of the raw material only)? I don’t have a definitive answer, but i would guesstimate that it’s around 30 cents.

I used to patronize coffee chains such as Ya Kun, but have since cut back (to almost zero) due to the ever increasing price. They have gone from S$1.40 to S$1.80 in a very short span of time (probably just 3 years or so), and i thought that was too much. I’m very sure the raw material cost for such a small cup of coffee is no more than 30 cents, especially when they buy in bulk. So i thought, why not make kopi myself?

Making kopi is really simple. If you drink kopi, you must have seen how it’s done. You simply need to soak ground coffee in hot water and mix it with sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk – that’s all there is to it, really! For brewing kopi at home, you don’t need any special tool, except a “sock”. I got my 2 Ringgit sock from a neighbourhood kitchenware shop in Malaysia. It’s not so good as it doesn’t filter fine coffee particles so well. It’s high time for me to find a upgraded replacement but I have been lazy to do so.

My well used sock

The other tool that does help a lot is a French press. It keeps the ground coffee in place when pouring out the coffee, and this practically eliminates the occurrence of heavy ground coffee sediments in my coffee, which I get if I relied on my sock alone. Also, this way, you don’t get a lot of coffee ground poured into the sock, which would drastically slow down the flow of coffee through the sock. I suspect there is yet another advantage – you get better aroma if the coffee flowed through the sock quickly, since more of the oil in the coffee flows through rather than get absorbed by the sock.

Ground coffee kept from flowing out of the French press

Here are the steps in making kopi:

1. Boil water. While boiling water, put ground coffee into the French press. I would estimate that the amount of ground coffee to use is about 1/6th of the volume of the kopi you’re making. You will need to do trial and error to find out the amount of coffee that works for you. I do like my coffee slightly stronger.

2. The recommended temperature to brew coffee is 90-95°C. If you used boiling water (100°C) on the ground coffee, it will not taste good (likely to turn sour). If you wanted to be precise, you could use a thermometer, but here’s what i found to be the most reliable method: pour a little room-temperature water onto the ground coffee until it is fully soaked, then pour the just-boiled water. This way, the coffee is guaranteed to be not treated to boiling water.

3. Stir (i like to use a chopstick to do this) and cover (without pushing down the plunger of course). Let it sit for a few minutes.

Chopstick works well for stirring

4. In the meantime, you can get the milk ready. I use 2.5 spoons of evaporated milk and 1.5 spoons of sweetened condensed milk for my large mug of coffee (probably 330ml). Again it takes some experimentation to find the quantity that will suit your taste buds. I don’t add any sugar, but you might find that you need to. Since the milk is stored in the fridge, when you use it to make coffee, it needs to be warmed up, otherwise the coffee will end up being lukewarm. I do so using the microwave oven, very handy.  My preferred way of warming the milk is to heat the mug in a pot that is filled with inch-high water, for about a minute. This way, the mug itself also gets heated up, which ensures the Kopi will not cool down too much when poured into the mug. This is similar to pouring hot water into and around the cup like they do in a real kopitiams.

Warming the milk (and mug)

5. When you’re done preparing the milk, your coffee should also be about ready. Gently press the plunger down, then pour the coffee through the sock into the mug with the warm milk. If you’re making just a standard cup (250ml) of kopi, the volume of coffee from the French press is probably enough to fill the cup. In my case, where i make a big mug of kopi, the volume of coffee from the French press only fills 2/3 of the mug. Instead of just adding hot water to the kopi, i pour hot water into the french press. This way, you will have a more complete extraction of the coffee. You must have noticed that the way kopi is made in a Kopitiam is they add hot water. That is because use a super concentrated coffee. Adding hot water ensures that the coffee is served really hot. This does not apply at home when you’re just making one cup at a time. To make concentrated coffee, you’ll need to use a lot of ground coffee. It doesn’t make sense to, afterwards, dilute the coffee with hot water. What you want to do is to use just the right amount of ground coffee that can give you the strength of coffee that you want, and to extract as completely as possible from the ground coffee you have used.

6. In step 5, your kopi is actually done, but in case you were interrupted during the kopi making process, or you forgot to warm your milk, then you can still fix it by heating it up in the microwave oven pot. This is akin to adding hot water like it’s done in a Kopitiam. In fact, if you’ve taken too long to drink you kopi, you can always pop it into a microwave oven the pot to heat it up again. Lukewarm kopi should not be tolerated.

kopiHomemade kopi

Milk Storage
Regarding storage of the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, well, after they have been de-canned, they both need to be stored in a fridge. For the sweetened condensed milk, you can just use any container, as it keeps very well in the fridge due to the high sugar content. Evaporated milk tends to spoil (curdling happens and the taste is altered) within a week even when kept in the fridge, using a normal container. To make it keep better, i store it in a mason jar under vacuum. This way, it lasts more 2 weeks without much noticeable change in taste.

Mason jar for the evaporated milk and a porcelain container for the sweetened condensed milk

Sourcing for coffee powder
If you’ve read this article up to this point, you might be one of those who would get serious about making kopi at home. I suspect you do not have any idea, though, about where to get the most essential item needed for making kopi – coffee powder. Part of the reason i felt motivated to make kopi at home was someone (an ang moh in fact) mentioning in a Facebook comment that a particular coffee roaster in Singapore was “best in the world”. Renowned food blogger Leslie Tay recommends them as well – Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory. Well, i am now their regular customer and i highly recommend that you check them out. They are a very friendly couple. Update: these days I get my coffee powder from the wet market where they cost $6 for halk kg. Ho Tit is too expensive. I like the coffee powder from Hougang Hainanese Village Centre, the ground floor shop at the very corner near the car park ramp.

kopintoastKopi with toasted homemade bread

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7 responses to “How to make kopi”

  1. sp Avatar

    You get me interested to try this kopi powder. My family prefer making kopi (robusta only) everyday using the traditional sock. Really nothing compares to that homemade cup of kopi ya..Like you, I make my own bread and toast spreads, whatever my family likes. It’s a lot of work but I learn and enjoy every bit of it.

    Btw, really enjoy reading your posts, especially your taobao recommendations 🙂 Thanks!

    1. yenkai Avatar

      Wow, thanks for your very kind comments. I’ve made kopi long enough now (about 2 years?) to the point that i can claim that my homemade kopi is mostly better than those from kopitiam and foodcourt. You make your own toast spreads as well? You win!!

      1. sp Avatar

        Yeah! *victory hand sign*

  2. Avery Avatar

    May I know which specific shop you got your rm2 coffee sock?

    1. yenkai Avatar

      Hi Avery, I got it from a hardware/kitchenware shop in Kluang. It is also sold on Aliexpress, or if you buy from Taobao direct you can find many options, including those with a stand which is a lot more convenient.

  3. HD Avatar

    Very detailed guide for making kopi.

    May I know what is the reason why you still need to filter through the sock after the French press though?

    1. yenkai Avatar

      Hi HD, the French press filter is rather coarse, and, depending on the kopi powder seller, the grind can be very fine. Also, there’s the possibility that the filter fails and an opening is created at the side allowing the powder to come through. Anyway, even with the sock, there will still be sediments at the bottom of your kopi. I suspect this doesn’t happen with the kopi you get from a kopitiam because they make a huge volume at a time and only pour the upper portion that is sediment free.

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