#57 Monthsary: Kopi Siew Dai 半烧 Girl

“I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake.”
Lewis Black
“I drink coffee for your protection.”
“You are the Kaya Toast to my Kopi-O.”
“I always have coffee with less sugar, you know. Just you makes it sweet enough.”
Celeste Koh


I had this idea for the past few months. It began when I was having my daily morning routine of ordering a cup of our local kopi (coffee) for breakfast at the coffeeshop before I go to work each day. I would always order “Kopi Siew Dai 半烧 (ban shao)” everyday without fail until the aunties at the stall already know me so well that they would immediately make it for me when they see me approaching without even waiting for me to say a word.

A cup of kopi I ordered at various coffeeshops everyday. Something feels missing if I go a day without it!

And I would carry my cup of kopi to my table in a good mood while singing a simple tune of “Kopi Siew Dai Ban Shao” to Taenggu and calling her the Kopi Siew Dai Girl. So that’s when I started imagining a cute cartoon of her swimming in my kopi or an image of adding a teaspoon of her to my kopi as if I was adding sugar to it, sweetening up my day!

So what exactly is Kopi Siew Dai Ban Shao? Hehe ordering kopi should be considered an art in Singapore. There are many variations of how you would like your kopi to be. Kopi Siew Dai Bao Shao is my favourite combination. It means, Kopi = standard coffee with condensed milk, Siew Dai = less sugar, Ban Shao = half hot (less hot/warm). It’s actually not so common to order a kopi that is ‘ban shao’, but I like it ‘ban shao’ because it would be easier for me to gulp down my coffee quicker when it is less hot, especially when I’m in a rush.

You can make your own combination based on the following two basic factors.

Type of coffee

  • Kopi-O = Black coffee
  • Kopi = Coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi-C = Coffee with evaporated milk

Sugar level

  • Kosong = No sugar
  • Siew Dai = Less sugar
  • Ga Dai = More sugar

You can refer to the following chart that clearly depicts even more variations of kopi you could order from our local coffee stalls that I’m not even aware of myself!

So I had an idea to do something interesting and Singaporean style for a monthsary artwork this time round. My previous Mickey Singlish photo collage I did for PHOTO DAY 2019: SAY CHEESE, MY MICKEY MOUSE CHIOBU~ was probably an early sign that I was going to attempt making more localised Singaporean style artworks in the future.

To get started, I found myself a half cut teacup from Carousell which I was told is more commonly used for mosaic art.

I was actually surprised that I was able to source for such artistic stuff from a local Singaporean seller on Carousell. Similarly, the seller was also surprised and asked me what I was going to use it for out of curiosity because I turned out to be her first Singaporean customer to express interest in buying this half cut antique teacup from her. Her customers are usually from the US. Hahaha. This sadly reflects how dull and unpopular the art and craft making scene in Singapore is. It’s hard and uncommon to make a living from doing art here in Singapore, to be honest.

Anyway I was super happy that I was able to get a half cut teacup locally. It was a good sign that I could get started on making this artwork!

First, I took the wooden board out of a picture frame and covered it with a piece of baby blue coloured paper. I’m going to use it as the base.

Next I cut out my selected printed images of a side profile of Taenggu sitting cross-legged and a teaspoon filled with sugar.

And I glued both pieces into position at the edge of my board.

Then I proceeded to write the words “Kopi Siew Dai 半烧 Girl” taking samples from a few cute fonts I found on the internet. I would write in pencil first before writing over it neatly with markers and erasing away the pencil marks after that.

Feeling there are lots of empty spaces left on the board waiting to fill with more contents, I decided to add in the words “Lim Kopi Bojio!” at the bottom of the teacup as well. I took this idea from a tote bag that I saw at a “Mickey Go Singapore” merchandise fair that I visited last month. The words basically mean “why you drink coffee but never ask me along”. Hahaha.

Finally I stuck the teacup securely on its place on the board with a white glue.

Next, I can’t simply have an empty teacup without kopi inside right?? So I thought of filling the teacup with some substance that is brown in colour. I had gotten myself two possible materials that I could use: a brown Yankee candle and a brown soft clay. I eventually decided to use the latter since it is much easier and faster to work with whereas for the candle, I would have to melt it down into wax first and it is uncertain how the effect would turn out at the end.

Delightfully, I thought the soft clay actually has a bit of a chocolatey smell! 😆

With that, I thought the artwork was done already so I put the board back into the frame.

But… something felt plain and empty about this artwork, like it was lacking something. Then, another idea struck me. It’s common to accompany your kopi with pieces of kaya toast for breakfast in Singapore, so how about adding in a plate of kaya toast as well? Coincidentally when I was shopping at Daiso the other day, I found Kopi-O and Kaya Toast magnets (and other magnets of our local food) for sale and I delightfully bought them for Taenggu because I already knew I would be making this Kopi Siew Dai Ban Shao Girl artwork for our coming monthsary. But I didn’t know the kaya toast magnet would serve as a useful hint to me as something additional I could include in my artwork as well!

So here was what I did to enhance my artwork further. I printed out pictures of a plate of kaya toast, chose the one that is most suitable in size, cut it out and cut into half, and put each half piece on each side of the teacup.

Yes I think it looks so much better and complete now!

Now it’s time to add spoonfuls of detailed photos of the my completed artwork into your teacup! 😁☕🥄📸

Not forgetting these two precious Kopi-O and Kaya Toast couple magnets from Daiso as complementary gifts to my artwork for Taenggu. 💜

In the process of planning and making this artwork, I did ponder about the special meaning behind it. Who is this Kopi Siew Dai Ban Shao Girl? What kind of personality does she have? If you break down the meaning of ‘siew dai’ and ‘ban shao’, does it mean that this girl is someone who is not so sweet and lukewarm, in others words, not so friendly to others? Funnily, if that is so, then I think this Kopi Siew Dai Ban Shao Girl kinda reflects my own personality in real life. I am someone who is rather shy, reserved and emotionless at times because I do not know how to express myself well. I take a long time to warm up to new people and strangers. It seems like I have to slowly build my trust in someone first before I can fully open my heart to that person.

Then, what does it mean to be adding a teaspoon of Taenggu into my coffee? Sometimes I like to call Taenggu by the nickname “탕탕”. 탕 sounds like 糖 (tang) in chinese which means sugar. So adding a teaspoon of Taenggu is akin to adding sugar to my coffee! I guess this is like a metaphor of saying that having Taenggu in my life sweetens up my dull days, mood and personality, filling me up with more zest and optimism to move on and continue living this life.

Hehe hope you like my explanation of this artwork! Next time when you come to Singapore, you can consider having our kaya butter toast and coffee set (complete with 2 soft-boiled eggs) at my favourite Yakun for breakfast!

Love you Taenggu! Please continue to add a lot more sweetness to my life, thanks kekekeke.
HAPPY 57TH MONTHSARY, 탕탕 My Sugar 我的糖!! 커피 한잔 주세요? 😆☕️💜

With Love,
Your Girlfriend, Celeste Koh, The Kopi Siew Dai 半烧 Girl

Theme song this monthsary: “Sugar” by Maroon 5