Over the past few years there has been a proliferation of places selling fresh-brewed coffee in Thailand. This blog follows part 1 in looking at some of the places where this phenomena is taking place and in looking at at what to expect when ordering coffee in Thailand.
This is a continuation of Coffee in Thailand, Part 1.
(Click images to see larger version.)
Restaurants & Gas Stations
You don’t see a lot of fresh brewed coffee in local restaurants. You’re more likely to see them at a food shop that serves mainly breakfast and lunch, such as our favorite breakfast place in Mae Hong Son. (See my blog, Mae Hong Son Breakfast.) This restaurant makes a very rich, good coffee, served, as they do in many places, with a Chinese tea chaser. They do have a cart outside their restaurant (below left) with a picture of coffee and the magic words กาแฟสด – kafae sot – meaning “fresh coffee.”
Many restaurants, particularly noodle shops (or roti restaurants) serve the more traditionally available kafae yen (see below).
One place where you can increasingly find coffee stands is at gas stations. Often they will be a chain, such as Amazon (as to the left), but on other occasions, just a one-off shop. There are two gas stations in Samut Prakan near our townhouse: both have a “coffee hut” attached to them.
Some of these outlets are very efficient: a tour bus will roll up and they’ll turn out the drinks. Some other outlets are not so efficient: they seem flustered when they have more than a couple of customers. Presumably, the large tour operators have figured out where to stop.
Starting Out – Kafae Yen
When I started coming to Thailand in 1992 there were very few places to get a good cup of coffee. Mostly what you could find was the Thai กาแฟเย็น (kafae yen) – iced coffee served with both evaporated and condensed milk (sometimes just condensed) and very sweet; kafae yen is almost like a dessert. It is made from coffee mixed with corn and soy beans, called by one brand “Oliang Powder Mixed.”
You’d find this mainly at street stalls and some noodle shops; they also invariably offered Thai iced tea – ชาเย็น (cha yen). The coffee is made by putting the grounds in a coffee “sock” and seeping it in water, much like making tea; sweetened condensed and evaporated milk are then added. (Kasma’s instructions for making Thai Iced Tea) can easily be adapted for kafae yen.) It was, and is – it’s still widely available in markets – easy to find such stalls by looking for the characteristic metal pots with the coffee socks in them used to brew the coffee (see above right) and also by the stacks of condensed milk at the front of the stall.
There are still many stalls and noodle shops that serve kafae yen and cha yen, such as the one above in an Ayuthaya market. The main heading on the sign to the above right is กาแฟโบราณ – kafae boran; boran literally means “ancient” so the sign is advertising “Coffee in the old-style.” If you click on the picture you’ll get a larger version where the text is easier to see. The first two items on the lower left are กาแฟเย็น (kafae yen) – Thai Iced Coffee – and ชาเย็น (cha yen) – Thai Iced Tea. The other items on the sign include tea with lime, Nescafe (instant coffee), black tea, cocoa and oliang, which is iced coffee without the added condensed or evaporated milk. These items are sold at pretty much all similar stands; many also offer Ovaltine.
The first western-style coffee I remember seeing was with a chain – Black Canyon – that is fairly widespread, particularly in malls and at the airports; there are a number of different chains in Thailand (more later on this). Then, a few years ago, as early as 2004, individual coffee stands started to appear. We would see these both at stand-alone locations and also connected to gas stations. The quality was always a bit iffy at these stands.
At many stands, it was clear that the workers weren’t really coffee drinkers. You’d get misspelled signs, such as this “Frend Roasted” (for French Roasted). At one stand Kasma asked to have a caffe latte made with “Blue Mountain” beans and was told: “Oh no. You can’t make a latte with Blue Mountain beans.” Kasma asked her what kind of beans you did use, she was told: “Latte beans.” Sure enough, there was a container of roasted coffee beans labeled “latte.”
There are a number of coffee chains in Thailand. The first was probably Black Canyon and they also have a spin-off chain associated with them called Caffé Nero. I see them mainly in shopping malls and airports. Then there’s Amazon – perhaps a little more widespread: I see them in some shopping malls and also at a number of gas stations.
Then there’s the biggie – Starbucks. You find Starbucks in malls, in many stand-alone shops across Bangkok, Chiang Mai and other cities (such as Hua Hin), particularly where there are westerners.
Another chain is Rabika. There’s Coffee World, founded in Bangkok, that has locations in 9 countries. There are others whose names I don’t know.
The only chain where I’ve bought coffee recently has been Amazon. The prices there are at least competitive and reasonable; the other chains seem to like to charge much more.
Coffee in Thailand – Prices
The prices depend on where you get the coffee. At most of the stands, the price for a latte seems to be anywhere from 30 to 45 baht for a hot latte with 35 or 40 pretty standard: figure on an extra 5 to 10 baht for an iced latte.
Most lattes seem to be about 10 ounces, not as large as some of the ones in the U.S.
The chains are generally higher. Amazon seems the most reasonable with a latte costing about 50 baht (hot) or 60 baht (cold). The Black Canyon I checked out was 95 for a hot latte and 110 for an iced. At the Starbucks in Hua Hin, the prices were 85 and 100, respectively. It’s possible that these drinks are larger: I’ve not tried them.
An “espresso” (so plain coffee) or an Americano (made by adding hot water to an espresso) are somewhat cheaper. (Click on the pictures to see the prices more clearly.)
At Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, we avoid the chains (Cafe Nero, Starbucks) on the 3rd floor, where you pay 90 to 100 baht for a latte. Close to the domestic arrivals on the second floor, there’s a stand called “The Miracle” that has a latte for 40 baht. Quite good.
Coffee in Thailand – What you Get
What you get in Thailand is not always what you expect based on your experience elsewhere. I suggest that you order what you think you want and enjoy what you get: it’s sometimes difficult to convey what you do or don’t want and the barista is probably used to making it a certain way. It’s a good chance to practice being flexible.
One thing you won’t get is decaffeinated coffee: I’ve never seen it anywhere. As far as I know, they didn’t even have it at the Starbucks in Hua Han.
At many places, particularly (in my experience) the smaller, street-side stands, a latte includes condensed milk. At the stand in Thong Lo (talked about in Coffee in Thailand, Part 1) the latte was made by adding espresso to a cup with some condensed milk and some heated milk – no steamed milk at all. In some of the indoor stands I’ve gotten a latte that had some condensed milk added. It adds a sweetness and it sure isn’t a latte as I think of it from my experience elsewhere.
It’s possible that you get more consistency at the chains, though I can’t verify this with Starbucks or Black Canyon. I have had a number of drinks at different Amazon outlets and they can vary quite a bit.
Many other places do steam the milk and make a latte in the traditional fashion – steamed milk added to the coffee and a certain amount of foam and volume to the milk. My favorite place in Samut Prakan does it this way and makes a wonderful version.
The iced drinks are a little more standard: condensed, sweetened milk is just part of the deal, along with the ice and coffee. Many Thais seem to prefer the iced drinks; That’s often what Kasma usually orders – an iced latte or a mocha. Given how hot the climate can be in Thailand, that does make a certain amount of sense. The iced drinks are fairly similar to a kafae yen though usually not as sweet. One recent trip member said one mocha she ordered was very much like a Starbucks Frappé.
Mochas can very quite widely, from very chocolaty to not very chocolaty at all. Often cocoa powder is used. The sweetness can vary quite a bit, as well.
If you want just plain coffee, it’s sold as “coffee,” “espresso” or “Americano.”
You usually need to have some patience when buying coffee in Thailand. Often each cup has to be ground to order and carefully made by hand so you usually can’t just pop in and out.
There are, of course, exceptions, such as the coffee hut at a gas station where we stop on the way down south that is used to dealing with busloads of tourists. However, at another gas station, it can take an inordinate amount of time to get a cup of coffee.
It’s best to never go into a stand expecting instantaneous, speedy service.
Origin of the Beans
Most places where I asked the origin of the beans, I was mostly told that they were just ordered from their supplier.
At least some, possibly a great deal, of the coffee is grown right in Thailand. The Akha hill tribes in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are growing coffee. Throughout Krabi province you’ll find stands advertising “Krabi Coffee” and it is coffee that is grown in Krabi.
I spoke to a Thai man who said he was opening a series of coffee shops throughout Thailand (I did not get the name) and that his coffee was coming from Malaysia.
Do read our other Thai Coffee blogs:
- Coffee in Thailand, Part 1.
- Coffee in Thailand, Part 3 (The North).
- Coffee in Thailand, Part 4.
- Coffee in Thailand, Part 5.
Written by Michael Babcock, April 2013