The best cafes in Bangkok
Bangkok is famous for its gastronomy but what about a good old cup of joe ? Cafes are opening up everywhere in the Thai capital. Explore our selection of the best ones in Bangkok.
The smell of freshly poured coffee is probably the closest I've got to Proust's madeleines. I can still clearly remember how the little boy I used to be, asked his grandmother to dip a sugar cube in her cup of warm black coffee. It's only natural that few years later I was drawn to drink my own sweetened morning cup of joe. Moving to South East Asia, I was afraid though that it would be difficult to get my caffeine fix on a continent so clearly identified for Europeans with the consumption of tea. And even if tourists usually go for the labeled "Thai Iced Milk Tea", or chaa yen, most Thai people actually prefer their kaffae yen, a very dark and smoky roast served with syrup and condensed milk over ice. To add to the folklore, buy it straight from the streets. You can easily detect those vendors swinging their cheesecloths to passer-by.
Cafés, the places to be seen
Thai coffee culture is evolving though at the same rhythm than the rest of the society with big gulps of Westernization while still managing to keep a uniquely Thai flavor profile. So if the young crowd is ordering espresso, you better believe that it will be iced. It might be an abomination for the java connoisseurs but that’s the way Thailand appropriates the concept of globalization.
Coffee is such a big part of the culture - especially for the new generation - that the movie Coffee please has been released just on the topic of coffee cultivation, and some love stories in between. Having such a huge popularity, it’s not a surprise that Costa Coffee, the biggest player in the British market has decided to open, last September, its 1,000thshop in Siam Paragon, at the heart of Bangkok. The UK's first chain is joining long time comers such as the American Starbucks (where no one asks your name), The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, the elite's favorite Dean and DeLuca, the Japanese Farm Design or the Korean Tom N Toms.
Coffee lovers now long for more than just a good brew. It's all about the concept and the décor. Places like It's happened to be a coffee shop (Siam Paragon) play on that hipster wave that is sweeping Bangkok from its feet with a lot of mismatching vintage furniture, retro-chic touches and great irony. Trendy districts such as Thong Lor, Phrom Phong or Ari are seeing coffee shops opening by the dozen all with their own indie identity. Night owls, expats, hipsters, Instagram addicts and tourists brave the heat or/and the rain to sip on a soul-warming and energizing beverage.
Casa Lapin (6 locations all around Bangkok), probably the trendiest of them all, offers a choice of French press and drip coffee, in a casually relaxed atmosphere. Thoughtfully designed by Thai architect Suraphan “Tonk” Tanta, the rabbit house will surely trap your heart.
Roast (Seenspace, Thonglor Soi 13), run by Varatt Vichit-Vadakan, as its name highlights, is roasting its own beans. Even if it is supplying many cafés around the country, it's always better to visit the original grounds, especially as its staff is very knowledgeable on all the process it takes before you can experience your succulent coffee.
Library Café / ไล-บรา-รี่ (Sukhumvit Soi 24), developed by architect Panjai Petra with a 1950's vibe, is also in my list of recommendations. As soon as you step in, you feel right at home. It is a marvelous place to read a book, catch up on your work (thanks to the free wifi, so rare in Bangkok) or gossip with friends.
Green is the new black
The emphasis of the new café scene in Bangkok is also on local and sustainable coffee. Thailand harvests about 4,000 tons of the dark beans per year through government projects and private companies. If until now high taxes protected it from the import of foreign beans, with the opening of the ASEAN free trade zone in 2015, quality has yet to become a preoccupation for local farmers. In that extent, cafes owners and informed customers can have an impact.
Café DoiTung (15 branches in Bangkok) is part of a royal project initiated by the late Princess Mother, Princess Srinagarindra, in 1988. It allowed substituting opium cultivation in the hills of Doi Tung by coffee forests. Café DoiTung uses only the Project's high-quality aromatic Arabica coffee beans harvested from trees grown at approximately 1,000 meters above sea level. The coffee cherries are hand-picked and selected before being carefully roasted and ground. While you enjoy your coffee, you can also purchase their blends as well as products (home ware, macadamia nuts, mulberry paper, clothes) made by ethnic minorities.
Doi Chaang has some of the cutest cafes in the Thai capital. Fun and cozy, they make you feel special. There is also a big bonus to this franchise as all the blends are “Beyond Fair Trade.” Half of this Canadian company is actually owned by the Akha Hill Tribe farmers in Northern Thailand. Using their own resources and initiative, the farmers of Doi Chang Village have also established an Academy of coffee to aid the farmers in their abilities as cultivators and processors, in respect of the local environment, of a world-class Arabica coffee.
Gallery กาแฟดริป (Bangkok Art and Culture Center) created by Thai photographers Piyachart Trithaworn and Natthiti Ampriwan is as arty as it is crazy about the drip brew method. The beans are mostly sourced from Lee Ayu Chuepa, of the Akha hill tribe community in Chiang Rai, which then they roast themselves in Bangkok. The knowledgeable coffee lovers are now starting to host trips to the farm up north so that you can get to really know where your coffee comes from.
Roots (Sathorn) is a great coffee place which takes care of everything from picking the right farmers to the best baristas in order to get the best and most eco-friendly coffee experience for their customers. Check out their website to know everything about their ethic and coffee-loving concept.
The future of tourism in Thailand might find its new kick in the growing trend of food tourism, or those who travel the world with a fork in their suitcase. The wealthiest and most adventurous will head to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, in the grounds of Anantara's Golden Triangle Resort in Chiang Rai, where you can sip a cup of Black Ivory, beans handpicked from elephant dung, which retails at $50. One of the most expensive brews in the world.
After invading Chiang Mai and Bangkok, the new trendy café culture with hip interior and local products is now spreading to smaller communities, a new step to cultural and touristic revival. A cozy and innovative café can convince foreigners to go the extra mile, outside of the major touristic paths, and visit a place not mentioned in guidebooks. Poppysmic Café in Ang Thong (2 hours from Bangkok) illustrates this phenomenon. The stylish coffee shop imagined and managed by Phon Wanvirot U-Thaikan, is bringing back some chic to this Thai charming countryside. The vegetal and organic café is the perfect place to relax after exploring the city and its surroundings, which host the Great Buddha of Thailand (302 ft), the tallest statue in the Kingdom, and the ninth tallest in the world. The benefits of coffee are apparently limitless. It can energize your day and even a whole country!