On your way to Thailand and wanna know whether the coffee’s any good? I’ve got your back.
I live and breathe coffee. I’ve also lived here long enough to know the ins and outs of the place. And where to get the best stuff…
So what is coffee like in Thailand?
Most coffee sold in Thailand is served iced, the sweltering climate sees to that. Your coffee will be served in a plastic cup with ice and a straw. Condensed milk, sugar or syrup can be added to it, too. On top of that, there are several nuances to understand that I’ll get to shortly.
The quality of the coffee varies massively depending on price point. Cheaper outlets use cheaper coffee, sourced in Thailand. Higher end joints may import their beans which results in a better taste.
Thailand has a large population with a growing number of coffee drinkers. I’ve just touched on the basics. Stick around and I’ll get into the rest.
What Is Coffee Like In Thailand?
The most striking aspect is that iced coffee is the norm. With temperatures that are 30*C or more all year round, and approaching 40*C during the hot season, the people who live or travel here combine their daily caffeine hit with a cool and refreshing treat. It’s so common that if you just ask for a Cappuccino, you will immediately be asked ‘hot or iced?’
The way drinks are made is different, too. Ask for an iced americano and you will be given an americano poured over ice, except with sugar or syrup added at the end whether you asked for it or not.
Adding sweetness to the drinks is common. Partly due to the cheaper coffee beans, and partly due to less knowhow on the part of the barista, coffee is not as good here. So adding a little syrup, sugar or sweetened condensed milk can offset the bitterness.
Coffee is becoming more and more popular, you will be able to find it everywhere. Finding good quality coffee is trickier. I find that the price is a good indicator of the coffee you’re going to get, as I’ll get into now…
How Does Coffee Change By Price?
At the cheapest end of the range, you can buy coffee from vendors who have a cart on the street. For 10-20฿, you get an instant coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. It’s aimed at Thai people looking for a cheap drink so don’t be surprised to see only Thai writing on the sign. I never buy this kind of coffee as I’m too much of a snob. It’s cheap and does the job, though.
This is the standard for Thai coffee. At this price, we’re looking at places that sell espresso coffee and usually have their own shophouse. There’s absolutely millions of these around the country of varying quality. I’d continue to go with adding milk and sugar to your drinks until you find somewhere you like.
When you spend Western prices, you get Western quality. At this price range, you get coffee as good as anywhere. Starbucks is everywhere here, as are other chains. But the best coffee is found at the Third Wave coffee places. You know, the ones that tell you all about how earthy and smokey their new Guatemalan blend is…
How To Order Coffee In Thailand
Every coffee shop you go to will have signs in English and Thai. You can easily see what’s available and it’s easy to order. The nicer places sometimes opt just for English!
There’s a fair chance however that your poor barista doesn’t speak English too well. Luckily, all drink names in Thai are translated from the English. So the Thai word for ‘Latte’ is laa dteeh (ลาเต้) and the ‘Cappuccino’ is kaa bpuu chi nhor (คาปูชิโน่). They’ll usually understand you, and if not, then just point.
Here are a few extra commands that might come in useful.
Add Shot – perm chaawt – เพิ่มช็อต
Most coffee shops will be happy to give you an extra espresso shot in your drink for 10-15฿. Worth bearing in mind for those who like their drinks strong.
Not Sweet – mai waan – ไม่หวาน
This little phrase is crucial if you don’t want your drink to taste super sugary. I use this all the time.
Put Milk – sai nom – ใส่นม
Say this when you order a drink that’s served black, like an americano or an espresso. If you want the milk on the side it’s better to say ao nom (เอานม) which means ‘Want Milk’.
Iced – yen – (เย็น) & Hot – laawn – (ร้อน)
The way to order coffee in Thailand is to say your order then either yen or laawn at the end. They will not know otherwise. So if you want an iced latte then you say latte yen. If you don’t do this, expect to be asked yen mai? or laarn mai? where the mai sound at the end means something like ‘is that right?’
What Are Thai Coffee Beans Like?
The hilly Northern parts of Thailand provide ideal conditions for growing the Coffea plant. Farmers have begun taking advantage of this and moving away from certain other crops that the so-called ‘golden triangle’ was famous for.
The flavour profile of coffee beans grown in Thailand is similar to that of most Asian coffees. Earthy, dark, smoky and peaty flavours are dominant. Contrast this with African or Central American coffees that are renowned for acidic and fruity notes.
Coffee beans in Thailand are a mixed bag. If you are looking to buy some, make sure you buy freshly roasted as opposed to the stale rubbish you’d get at a grocery store. Also, a quality roaster is a must. Here are a couple of options I like.
Roots. This is a speciality coffee roaster that is a little on the expensive side. Also a lot on the pretty damn good side as well. They offer a wide range of Thai single origin coffees and you’ll see their beans at the best cafes in Bangkok. Delivery is free, too.
Coffee Berry. This is a small chain that bucks the trend of mediocre 50 baht coffee places. You can get a great cup here for a bargain price. You can also flat out ask to buy their coffee beans from any outlet. There’s no signs, but it’s 200 baht for 250g, if I remember correctly. The only disadvantage is you don’t get any information about the bean.
What Are The Best Places To Get A Coffee In Bangkok?
High-quality Third Wave coffee does exist in Bangkok, although it’s not common. The prices are high as imported coffee beans are taxed. You’re looking at 120฿ or more for a drink. Worth it, though.
Here are some of my favoured haunts. Bangkok only. I know there’s great coffee everywhere in Chiang Mai and the rest of the north but I’ve only ever visited so can’t give a full rundown.
Ceresia. This is a coffee roaster and coffee shop all rolled into one. They import much of their coffee beans so you can see big vats of Costa Rica Tarrazu or some such on display as you order. They have a branch in Silom and one in Sukhumvit and both are pretty little places.
Casa Lapin. This cool little chain has a few locations around Bangkok and offers great coffee. You can entertain yourself by ordering weird things like a ristretto or having your coffee made with an Aeropress. Well worth a visit.
Also, the two places I mentioned for buying coffee beans (Roots and Coffee Berry) both have locations in Bangkok where you can visit and sample the coffee. They’re worth checking out as well.