Adding a binary touch to Singapore coffee (kopi) and tea (teh) culture

A Kickstarter project to promote the awesome scene of local kopi and teh culture

A while back, I came across an incident where a patron had to walk 10m away to confirm his friend’s kopi or teh order. As an engineer, I start to ask myself if there is a better way to remember such orders. Knowing these local kopi and teh orders can be confusing because they are made up from different languages (e.g. KOPI C PENG SIEW-DAI), I started designing a binary sequence to systematically ‘step’ through each order. It turns out that it would get super complex if I were to include all the possibilities (e.g. GU-YOU, SUA, etc.) so I decided to only include some of the more common terms to start things off, though I still ended up with 240 orders.

Through this process however, I also came to appreciate more of these local terms and I am still fascinated by how these languages can come together. To some extent, it really shows how the different communities have integrated seamlessly instead of forming their own separate enclaves. That led to the cultural diversity we have today.

Hence, in this Kickstarter project, I chose to produce T-shirts. Here’s why.

Front of T-shirt
  • It can really solve a problem; if I am wearing this, you can see it from 10m away. The numbers also make it easier for you to remember the order. I have developed an interactive page to help you with the computation. Also, for tourists who are not familiar with these local orders, that “KOPI C GAO KOSONG” label in front could help get you started.
Back of T-shirt
  • It helps to spread the word; The decoding table at the back is in English to maximise reach to an international audience. If you are familiar with the local terms, you will understand the one to one mapping and the dashes denoting default options (which need not be articulated).
Decoding table in local context
  • It is something I am confident of delivering; I did some research into T-shirt screen printing and heat transfer and revised my design a few times to make sure it can be printed. At least for now, I am more confident of delivering a T-shirt compared to other products.

I chose 2 colours for these T-shirts: black or white. Being more familiar with C++ and Java (the programming language, not coffee) rather than colours or designs, I chose something ‘safer’ that should go well with your casual wear.

To help connect people to these terms / orders / flavours, I have also created a few simple comic strips loosely based on these KOPI and TEH “characters”. It is like a backstage pass where you can sneak up on them to hear what they are talking about (hence titled “Overheard”). You will discover that these characters behave in a certain way due to their flavours. For example in “CLIQUES”, the flavours with milk group themselves together while ostracising the one without. In “ENERGY”, the flavour with the most sugar gets hyperactive.


I hope you find this project interesting and that it offers fresh perspectives on applying engineering concepts to culture. These T-shirts are suitable for locals, tourists, for yourself or as gifts. The campaign is currently still on (until 22 March 2017) at Kickstarter and the comic strips are available at Facebook. Let me know your queries or feedback :)

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