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What is Hor Ka Sai Kopi? Origin of Tiger Bite Lion Coffee 虎咬狮 · 好架勢


Ellone introduced me to hor ka sai coffee at her Ah Song Hakka Mee outlet in Impian Emas, Johor Bahru.

It's a blend of Nanyang kopi (sock brewed Robusta coffee with condensed milk) with Milo (chocolate flavoured malt powder).

To me, it's like a local version of caffè mocha - brewed coffee with chocolate. Bitter, sweet, chocolaty in a thick, creamy, smooth body.

Hor ka sai is believed to be invented in the 1950s in the then British Malaya.

Ho kai sai or 虎咬狮 is the Hokkien Chinese way of saying "tiger bites lion". No one is sure how this fanciful moniker or the bitter sweet chocolaty concoction came about.

Its birthplace is often attributed to Taiping, Perak, presumably in a kopitiam or coffee shop in the 1950s. Some say hor ka sai originally came from the fishing town of Kuala Kurau in northwest Perak state near the border with Penang. It spread mainly around northern Peninsula Malaysia e.g. to Penang which is also sometimes mentioned as the place of origin.

As for the catchy name, there are a couple of speculations (there are no documents or even oral history, so it's all coffeeshop chatter, literally).

A widely cited one has it that the concoction gives the drinker such a huge boost of energy and vigour that it could make a tiger bite and subdue the king of the jungle.

Another said that it was a miners' energy drink. Perak state was the centre of Malaya's tin mining industry during its heyday. Hor ka sai provided the miners the shot of energy that powered them to move great loads during their day at the mines.

Yet others claimed that hor ka sai 好架勢 is actually a Cantonese expression.

It is the Cantonese way of commenting in an envious sarcastic tone about someone's showy display of wealth or status. Perhaps that was because hor ka sai was the most expensive hot beverage in the coffee shop's drinks menu 😄

May I create another hor ka sai urban legend? 😜 It's the 1950s, Malayan nationalism was rising. The locals wanted to free themselves from the British yoke. Some unknown persons invented the name hor ka sai to remind themselves of this dream of freedom every time they drink their chocolaty coffee - which was every morning ☕

Did hor ka sai 虎咬狮 meant the Malayan tiger was springing up to bite (challenge) the British lion? There you are, invite me for your kopi session next time 🫢

Which theory do you think is the correct answer?

Whatever its origin, join in the fun. When you are in Perak or Taiping or Kuala Kurau, try a hor ka sai.

I will find out where you can get hor ka sai in Singapore and Johor (please help me with it 🙏). Starting, of course, with:

Ah Song Hakka Mee in Impian Emas 👈 click

Written by Tony Boey on 6 Sep 2023


  1. Hello Tony, thanks for sharing. You could find the uniquely taiping food and drink like horkasai at JB Bukit indah. A shop that runs by authentic Taiping Lang, they have the real Taiping/Sepetang taste.


    1. Thank you. I hope to visit when I have the opportunity.

  2. Tried and love it. Taste like mocha but sweeter and more gao

  3. Hi! There's two stalls (with the same name) at bendemeer market that sells this drink.

  4. Can find this drink selling in kopitiam just outside city square JB Sentral


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