The Daily Grind: Bangkok’s Coffee Scene
I remember travelling around Thailand ten years ago, when a wake-up call at an island resort usually involved a watery cup of instant coffee. How the times have changed. Bangkok has led the charge of a revolutionary coffee industry scene, with gourmet roasters, well trained baristas, and exquisite latte art dominating the landscape, much to the delight of java junkies. Here’s a look at a few of the top spots and local favorites.
Actually, it isn’t true that Thailand was always a coffee wasteland. I’ve long been a fan of cafe boran (which means “ancient coffee” in Thai), the dark and densely sweetened coffee you can buy on the streets, or as served in the Hokkien Chinese cafés found in the south of the country. The coffee is similar to Vietnamese-style coffee, although it isn’t long-dripped into a cup, but rather the strong robusta grounds (often mixed with brown rice, soy beans, and even corn!) are put into a sock filter, and then steeped in boiling water. While it certainly isn’t Ethiopian single origin, those who like something sweet (and iced in hot weather) will really enjoy it.
If you’re touring around Chinatown, then you should by all means drop by Eiah Sae, a coffee shop that is some 65 years old and is one of the oldest in Bangkok. Set in a small side street, the café is constantly filled with chain smoking old men, most of whom look as if they have been coming here since Eiah Sae opened. The stained old art deco-styled purple walls were recently repainted lime green, and still feature old paintings of King Bhumibol playing his saxophone. The cafe boran they serve here comes from the owner’s great-grandparents’ original recipe. It’s worth coming in here just for the atmosphere alone.
The coffee culture in Bangkok received a major boost when coffee roasters Pacamara came on the scene. Founder Chartree Treelertkul was the only Thai instructor for the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) at the time, and his coffee shops combined fine techniques and knowledge along with importing some of the world’s best beans, as well as then tapping into the burgeoning arabica growing trend in northern Thailand, and eventually stocking his cafés with 70% locally grown beans, supporting local growers.
Today Pacamara has sleek cafés both in Chiang Mai and in Bangkok, and their flagship store in Thonglor 25 is both a café and a coffee academy, known as the Specialty Coffee Lab. They specialize in nitro and cold brew creations, and are at the forefront of Bangkok’s coffee industry.
Another must-visit spot for getting your fix of fine brew is Roots Coffee. Roots started out as a group of coffee loving friends wanting a coffee-centric space for bean lovers where one could not only drink, but talk trade. Their small shop was only open to the public on the weekends, with the rest of the week being devoted to barista education classes and refining their superb roasting techniques.
They’ve since opened up to bigger and better things, with several branches, including their flagship spot at TheCommons in Thonglor, where you can try single origin roasts from Ethiopia or South America. Visitors can even kick back along the Chao Phraya and marvel at the views now, with their new operation sharing space with Supanniga (an excellent Thai eatery) at Supanniga X Roots. Don’t forget to sample their renowned cold brews. I recently had one that was mixed with chrysanthemum and oolong tea, and had pieces of dried jackfruit added as well, creating an exquisite mélange of flavors.
If you’re a fan of pour overs, then you should make a visit to the Gallery Drip Coffee, also one of the early coffee cafés entries in Bangkok, and still going strong today. Many folks end up coming here just for the excellent location, downstairs in the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, making it the perfect spot before or after exhibition viewings. The owners here are standing all day, hunched over several drip filters like a pair of mad scientists, pouring the perfect temperature water at the exact right slow speed and angle, all in the name of the perfect cup.
They source the best blends both from Akha harvested slopes up north, as well as exotic beans from around the globe. The owners happen to be artists as well, revealed both in the homey decor of the café, and in the aptly named coffee-table book of photographs they’ve put together, entitled In The Name Of Coffee, on display in the shop.
For an all-in-the-family coffee experience, head to Ceresia Roasters. The small coffee shop hides down at the end of Soi 33/1 in Phrom Phong (they now have a second branch in Sala Daeng) and is all about the beans. There’s no Wi-Fi here, and you’re not coming to work, but to be a caffeine snob. Owner Bret Asavaroengchai runs the place along with his Venezuelan wife Lucia Aguilar and her sister Marian.
The sisters grew up in a coffee growing family and really know their stuff. Everyone here is happy to talk with you about the latest beans they’ve sourced, mainly from single-origin farmers around the planet. Beans here are roasted daily in small batches to maintain flavor and you can sit back and marvel over all the high end coffee equipment that furnishes the small café.
It might not yet be Melbourne, Vienna, or San Francisco, but you can certainly be picky these days in Bangkok when it comes to a cup of good Joe. May the buzz be with you.
Eiah Sae – 101-103 Padsai (off Yaowarat) Tel. 02 221 0549
Pacamara – 66 Thonglor Soi 25, Tel. 02 048 5900, https://www.facebook.com/pacamaracoffee/
Roots Coffee – TheCommons, Thonglor Soi 17, Tel. 097 059 4517, https://rootsbkk.com/
Gallery Drip Coffee – Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC), Ground Floor, Tel. 081 917 2131, https://www.facebook.com/GalleryDripCoffee/
Ceresia Roasters – 593/29-41 Sukhumvit Soi 33/1, Tel. 098 251 4327, http://ceresiacoffeeroasters.com/