Coffee. I love coffee. A morning espresso is a vital cog in my daily routine that I can’t easily skip. But finding the best coffee in Bangkok – or indeed any good coffee, is a surprising challenge.
Before moving to Bangkok, I was pretty confident about finding good coffee in the Big Mango after a friend reassured me it was a cornucopia of amazing brews. I trusted his judgment because he is a) Australian b) cool and c) a Proper Coffee Person or PCP. PCPs are the hardcore of caffeine – never without their own supply of beans, able to tell you with clarity what a flat white is, obsessed with the size of their grind. You know the type. I am not that type of coffee lover. As long as it’s hot, strong and not overwhelmingly acrid I’m happy.
Bangkok has been something of a culture shock in this respect.
Bangkokians love coffee. There are coffee shops everywhere and vendors on every corner selling coffee. On paper it’s ideal – the only tiny flaw is that, as far as I can tell, the coffee that’s enjoyed here is, umm, not actual coffee.
To give an example, I ordered an espresso last week from a perfectly respectable looking stand (they had a proper, swishy whooshy coffee machine thing). I received the following:
Now, call me old-fashioned, but that is not an espresso. I will accept that there is an espresso in there somewhere, but it’s most definitely not alone. This was the equivalent of asking for an egg and receiving a large chocolate gateau.
In Bangkok, a normal coffee is both iced and full of condensed milk. If you just ask for an espresso, you will get a pint of icy, sugary gloop. It actually tastes fine, but it is not what I’m looking for and contains many more diabetes than I am interested in consuming.
It’s easy to understand why Thais go for the cold stuff in perennial tropical weather. There’s also something of a national sweet tooth which explains the fondness for sugar. When you can get an actual hot coffee, it’s often quite bitter and tough to drink, presumably because it’s such an unusual request. Also be prepared to be looked at, justifiably, like you’re insane for ordering a hot drink in this climate.
Even in more specialist coffee places like the ubiquitous Coffee Club, the standard is an iced beverage. I’ve asked for a hot espresso on three occasions in there and been presented with: a bad espresso, a bad Americano, and most memorably a quadruple espresso on ice with a side of sugar syrup from a very confused-looking lady.
In order to find something a bit more familiar requires a bit of investigative work both in terms of location and in knowing what to ask for.
Where to get the best coffee in Bangkok
Thankfully, we’ve tracked down a few good places in our time here so far that serve up some of the best coffee in Bangkok. Be aware that a decent espresso or similar will set you back around 100baht which is pretty punchy by Thai standards.
Convent Coffee – Soi Convent, Silom. My fave. This little shop is easy to miss amongst the sprawling street vendors of Soi Convent, but is probably my favourite coffee haunt so far. It’s usually quiet, decidedly un-flashy and serves a great americano for about 50 baht. Check out the Kuay Teow Khae noodle shop down the road, or the litany of amazing food along Soi Convent. Seen here among Bangkok’s finest cheap eats.
Library – Warehouse 30, Bang Rak and Jam Factory, Khlong San. Artsy but undoubtedly great coffee. Added bonus at Warehouse 30 is that you’re right next door to Sweet Pista, home to one of the greatest burgers I’ve ever tasted. Beans are roasted on site and are delicious, if pricey.
Golden Mount Coffee – Golden Mount Temple, Yaowarat (Chinatown). Something a little different. One of Bangkok’s grander temple complexes, with a centrepiece artificial hill and temple, Golden Mount also boasts an eclectic coffee shop. Set halfway up the walk to the summit of the Golden Mount, this coffee house offers welcome respite from the heat with properly made coffees in addition to delicious, cooling fruit sodas. The fact that the majority of patrons are monks adds to the fun.
Pacamara – various – One for the hardcore. All manner of brews and potions are on offer at this speciality place. Espressos pack a punch but are just the right side of bitter. There’s also a good range of cold brew and a good cola cold brew (because who doesn’t want more caffeine with their caffeine?) if you want something chilled that isn’t just sugar. The Siam shop, between Siam and National Stadium BTS, is my favourite. Beware Google maps for the Siam shop, there are two listings, one of which is a liar as illustrated by this highly professional diagram.
Doi Chaang – various – these are dotted around Bangkok and definitely pricey but have good coffee in a nice setting. There’s one just outside Chatuchak market near Kampaeng Phet MRT if you want a break from that particular madness.
Phufa Coffee – various – means something like ‘mountain sky’ in Thai, these are small shops and cafes which are part of a royal project. Coffee is nothing special, but comes with a small pink drink on the side which is somewhat addictive. No idea what it is.
Muanchon Coffee – various – zero fuss and frills at these small outlets dotted around town. Won’t win awards, but will net you a drinkable Americano for 29 baht (24 if you bring your own cup). Unbeatable value!
Roast – Thong Lor – The Commons Soi 17 (top floor) – hipster as f spot for coffee and brunch with a particularly good piccolo latte (think macchiato/cortado). Far too cool for me to be anywhere near this place, but the coffee is good (as are the sweetcorn fritters – a line I never thought I’d write). Busy at the weekends!
Walden Home Cafe – Khlong San Somdet Chao Praya 15
Achingly hip (just look at their IG), tiny new place in Khlong San with excellent brews. Particularly good piccolo and reasonably priced. Beautiful decor and excellent food, because who doesn’t want sausage and potato on toast (update may 2019 – sadly discontinued but the toasted sarnies are a hit)? If you go to Iconsiam stop by.
Sarnies – Charoen Krung Soi 44, Bang Rak, Sathorn.
Ultra hip new place in Bang Rak, a few minutes from Saphan Taksin BTS. Great black coffees and beans available to buy. Also sensational food. Pricey, and expect a wait on the weekends, but this is excellent stuff.
Red Diamond Specialty Coffee – ICONSiam
At the flashy end of the new mega mall is Red Diamond. On the ground floor, it’s in the middle of the area near the doors to the boats. Prices are high, but they have a range of beans and tasting notes with each coffee. Usually I’m not into that level of faff, but here it works nicely. I like the Old School blend for a monstrous caffeine hit with a good flavour.
The key word to get what you want is ‘rawn’ – meaning ‘hot’. As standard, Bangkok coffee is ‘yen’ (cold/iced). This being Thailand, the official romanised spelling and reality are quite different. The letter R is a purely theoretical concept here in Bangkok, it’s actually pronounced as L (me neither). So you need to ask for ‘laaawn’, stretching the ‘a’ as though you were posh and talking about your garden.
Throw this on after your chosen brew (espresso lawn, americano lawn) to make yourself clear. You can also bulletproof your order with ‘mai sai waan’ (don’t put sugar) to avoid and bonus syrup.
Happy hunting – and if you have any tips or places let us know!