A Cup of Teh Tarik


Everyone has their own way of picking up their mood in the morning. Some do exercises, others have hearty breakfast. Mine is – a cup of teh tarik.


11 years ago, I was a second year student back in Singapore. My schedule was insane back then – I had four killer modules with endless tutorials and lab sessions. One of them was Database System. Its assignments were known as one of the hardest to pass for second year modules.

In NTU, sometimes there are modules which have two different lecturers for the whole semester – each covers half of the semester. For our first part of Database System, I had a German guy (ha!) named Dr. Timo. That was my first time having a Caucasian as my lecturer, so I was a bit … overreacting (pardon the word).

Dr. Timo was so smart – and we were lucky (or not?) that we didn’t only have him as our lecturer, but also our tutor and lab mentor. So in total, our group met him 4 times a week.

If a lecture is a session with the whole cohort, a tutorial is a small but more concentrated discussion group. For us the second year, tutorials were almost always happening in the early morning. Like 8.30 in the morning – which was unfortunate for us the nocturnals human being of NTU.

One day during Database tutorial, Dr. Timo started the conversation that went more or less like this:

“You guys looked so tired”
“ – nervous laugh – “
“Next week, I’ll bring you guys some drinks so you won’t be sleepy”.

We thought he was joking.

The next tutorial session, we were waiting for him as usual. But he was not in the room when the tutorial was supposed to start, and that was so unlike him. (Later I learn that this is so unlike any German at all).

Dr. Timo entered the room 5 minutes late and he brought with him a big tray with cups of tea. I was so amazed – he really remembered his promise!
Inside the tray, there were two types of tea served in cups. One with milk, and one without. The one with milk is called teh tarik and the one without is named teh-o. O literally means ‘kosong’ or ‘empty’ – means that the tea is bland and empty, haha.

I knew about teh tarik but I never tried it before cause the concept sounded so weird to me back then – you add milk to tea? How absurd! And being a broke student that I was, I never bothered to try it even though it’s considered quite cheap at the student’s canteen.

And then I had a lecturer who bought us teh tarik for free – so why not? Even if I ended up not liking it, at least I didn’t waste my own money. *stingy*
So I took a cup of teh tarik.

On my first sip, I felt so warm. The sweetness of the condensed milk made the tea tasted more enjoyable and it kept me awake. Perhaps it’s all the extra sugar. And somehow it made me less hungry (yes, I skipped breakfast quite often back then).

I can’t believe that I never tried it before.

After that day, I have been drinking at least one cup of teh tarik a day. I would have bought it from a hawker near my office on my way to work – and then I would have enjoyed it while prepping for my morning routine – checking emails, doing some works, checking my task list, and so on.

It has become a habit that now I feel so lost without my cup of teh tarik here in Germany. Sure I can still have a coffee with milk, but it’s different. There’s no more “Teh tarik, dabao!” (trans: “One cup of teh tarik, take away”) in the morning. Somehow my morning feels less energized without it – and maybe (again) it’s the sugar 😉

But I guess a cup of teh tarik everyday is not just about waking me up and getting me ready for my morning. It also reminds me of a nice memory – a simple gesture from a lecturer who really cared about his students. It was really, really powerful and memorable, that 11 years later, I still remember him and his dedication clearly.

Hopefully one day, I will be able to have that kind of impact too – that a cup of simple drink will make someone remember me years down the road.

A teh tarik fan,

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