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Coffee in Thailand, Part 1

Michael Babcock, Monday, April 1st, 2013

Over the past few years there has been a proliferation of places selling fresh-brewed coffee in Thailand. This blog looks at some of the places where this phenomena is taking place.

For the most part, the coffee is pressed coffee (as with “espresso”), made to order. More often than not, you’ll see the whole beans and the grinding mechanism in the same place – at many of the smaller places, the coffee is ground to order.

Espresso Machine

Thai coffee making machine

Coffee

Cup of coffee

Most of the coffee is dark-roasted; sometimes overly so. There is a lighter roast called “Blue Mountain” that is available at some places – I tend to order that when it’s available and find it much to my liking.

Sign Close-up

กาแฟสด (kafae sot) sign

(Click images to see larger version.)

If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll want to memorize two words of Thai in the Thai script (spelled without an intervening space): กาแฟสด, pronounced kafae sot. กาแฟ (kafae) means “coffee” and สด (sot) means “fresh” – so “fresh coffee.” It’s probably not strictly necessary because the stands and cafes selling coffee are also recognizable by the espresso machines and the coffee beans they usually display; in addition, the signs often include a cup of coffee (as to the left). In some places, there’s a sign in English. On other occasions, knowing the script has helped me find a place I might have overlooked.

Local Stands & Coffee Houses

I’m now finding these “fresh coffee” stands all over Thailand. In Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other larger towns, you’ll find them on the streets and in markets, often just a simple cart with the coffee grinder and a small espresso machine. The picture below shows a coffee stand found on Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thong Lo – pronounced “tawng law”). It’s a fairly typical example.

Coffee Stand

Thong Lo coffee stand

Making Coffee

Thong Lo barista at work

The pictures below show another coffee stand, this one found at Worarat Market in Chiang Mai. The barista makes a very good cup of coffee.

Coffee Sign

Sonnen Cafe in Worarat Market

Thai Barista

Barista at Sonnen Cafe


Coffee Stand

Sukhothai coffee stand

Stand Close-up

Close-up of stand

I am seeing more places where you can purchase a coffee and sit down. We visit a the Sathorn Golden Textile Museum in Sri Satchanalai (in Sukhothai province) that has this coffee stand; they have excellent “blue Mountain” coffee. This stand is found indoors amongst a number of other shops.

Coffee Beans

Coffee beans in Sukhothai stand

Sukhothai Coffee

Blue Mountain Coffee


Coffee House

Before Sunset Coffee

Barista 2

Mae Hong Son barista

I’m also finding more places that we would think of as a proper café – some place to buy a coffee and to sit and enjoy it. This is “Before Sunset Coffee” and is perched right on the edge of a beautiful view in the parking lot at Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu in Mae Hong Son. (More pictures here at Before Sunset Coffee @ 1095.)

Coffee To Go

Caffe Latte at Before Sunset Coffee


Sign

Sign to Samut Prakan Cafe

Coffee Stand 2

Stand in Imperial World

I’m guessing that much of the increase in popularity of coffee initially was driven by Western tourists who wanted their morning fix. Now more and more Thai people seem to be embracing the drink. “Coffee houses” are making their appearances in the neighborhoods as well. Kasma owns a townhouse out in the Samrong district of Samut Prakan, which is immediately adjacent to the SE corner of Bangkok. It’s a very Thai neighborhood: usually I’m the only westerner I see on the streets, in the markets, or even in the Imperial World shopping center across the way; Imperial world has at least 7 or 8  non-chain coffee shops in addition to Amazon, (one of the chains). With so few westerners to be seen, Thais must be buying coffee. Even in the local fresh market there (Talat Samrong), there’s a fresh coffee stand. I do know that over the past couple of years our driver, Sun, is drinking more coffee.

Sign Close-up

กาแฟสด (kafae sot) sign

My favorite place to get coffee is a no-name coffee house on Sukhumvit Road in Samrong. This cafe is found on the odd-soi side of the Sukhumvit between soi 111 and 113, marked only by a กาแฟสด (kafae sot) sign. They make a rich coffee made with foam, a real caffe latte. (The second picture in this blog, at the top of the page, is a caffe latte from this cafe.) Thais must be it’s primary customers: there just are not enough of us fahrangs (the Thai word for westerner).

Cafe

Samut Prakan Coffee House

This shop is owned by a young lady who says it is her “hobby.” She also has a regular job. I’ve only seen her there once; the other times there’s been the same young woman employee, friendly and competent. I don’t think the cafe has free wi-fi, like so many coffee houses in the United States,; I imagine it’s only a matter of time before this is commonly offered. I have seen it advertised at coffee houses in the touristed areas, particularly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Many Internet cafés also sell coffee; I frequent one in Chiang Mai.


Do check out Coffee in Thailand, Part 2. It completes our survey of places to get fresh-brewed coffee and talks about what to expect when you order coffee in Thailand (price, quality, etc.).


Written by Michael Babcock, April 2013