Baristas, business owners and consumers discuss Bangkok’s recent coffee situation
Drinking coffee used to be much simpler.
Since the rapid shift from traditional industry to the digital age, more reasons are added to why people drink and buy coffee. In response, farmers, producers and baristas are working on new strategies to maintain the circulation of a diverse group of customers.
“The development of the local industry and production is ceaseless. It is stimulated by a dedicated process from growing to brewing, and from teaching to training. When the demand for specialty coffee rises, farmers turn to grow coffee and devote themselves to that growth in order to sell the finest products with the highest quality and price. When the yield reaches the retailers, they make an effort to roast, brew and maintain the coffee grade. When the clients are happy with the result, they are willing to pay for premium drinks. This is how the cycle survives. Each and every step costs, and we focus on improving and moving the industry forward by creating confidence among the consumers.
“The café culture in Bangkok has also seen some major changes in the past few years. Access gave way to café reviewers and café hoppers. As a result, businesses have become more alert, especially with the concept and design of their cafés. This establishes a diversified coffee drinking culture. As unique menus are introduced, competitions are initiated and people come with different objectives (Ait, barista at Ekkamai Macchiato and owner/mixologist of Old Bear BKK).”
Servicewise, many specialty locales are urged to keep up with advanced and diehard coffee lovers.
“A cup of coffee is increasingly expensive, particularly the signature and special menus. Except for some imported coffees, Ethiopian and Colombian beans are now cheaper because importers are able to source beans more easily and with more variety. Entrepreneurs and staff are more committed, leading to direct interaction with customers on countertops.
“A lot of people are deeply invested in coffee, which makes service quite challenging. They used to ask if the bean was Arabica, now they ask if we have Maragogipe beans (a subvariety of Arabica) which means they research prior to their visits. Bloggers and vloggers also motivate us to keep revamping our image, menu and social networking service. If we want to rely on the mainstream group of clients, we need to develop the external factors as much as we pay attention to the taste, consistency and quality. The most difficult clientele to satisfy would be the coffee buffs or workers in the same industry as their standard is higher than typical customers (Kittanai Kongtanarak, barista at Red Diamond Specialty Coffee).”
The aesthetic quality and Instagram worthiness might be tempting, but the initial purpose of making and grabbing a coffee is key.
“New coffee shops are budding, not only in the city centre or near public transport but also in alleys and corners where vehicles can’t reach or there is no parking space. This proves that location no longer hinders people from going out of their way for coffee. The power of social media or check-in drives them to stay in trend.
“As an owner who stays in-house to greet and welcome visitors, some locals are less keen on trying new things. Less than half are eager to try something different from what they are used to. Since our menu is Italian oriented, we neither use syrup nor have many iced drinks available. Most people are accustomed to iced and sweetened coffee. Some don’t care for coffee at all and would order anything photogenic. Some even order from a photo on their phone in order to stage the item for photography yet barely touch it.
“I started this business with passion. I wanted to introduce the real Italian espresso to Thais. Sometimes the clients cannot grasp this intention. What makes me happy is when guests are open to learning or know coffee. They end up as our regulars (Thanamas Assadamongkolphan, founder and president of Grazia Gelato & Coffee).”
Businesswise, competition and competitiveness are taking over.
“Coffee has become both a lifestyle and an essential that keeps us awake. It’s a growing market in Thailand, especially for Thai beans sourced from the north. We have a number of professional baristas who know how to bring out the best in our local beans. Cold brew has recently been popular, too.
“Café business gets competitive as there are new openings almost weekly. Many cafés are struggling to define their competitive advantage and to succeed in the market (Pavitra Kobkulsuwan, owner of Kay’s).”
On both sides of the spectrum, the fine line between being serious about coffee and still upping the media game can be blurred.
“People have more options. They can choose between local and imported produce. Many don’t only visit cafés to drink coffee anymore but also to take advantage of the ambience for their social media postings. During the first period of opening, some photogenic places get Instagram crowds which on one hand might change the original purpose of going to a coffee shop yet on the other hand could be free promotions for businesses.
“Bangkok coffee scene, in particular, gathers two types of consumers: first, the serious coffee enthusiasts who are well-informed and prefer tasting coffee straight from roasteries to appreciate their favourite beans in all aspects or try something new; and second, the café hoppers who follow new and trending places and prioritise the aesthetic qualities before anything else. If the business could retain both groups of clients after the opening period, they may establish a group of returning customers. Service, quality and consistency are the main factors that could help make that possible (Niti, coffee enthusiast and Instagram café hopper).”
At the end of the day, it boils down to which type of consumers an individual shop attracts and the other way around.
“The culture has evolved as we used to just want coffee, nothing more and nothing less. Now our thinking process is complex as we wonder how it’s processed and where it comes from, what its tasting profile is like and even what’s best paired with it. People now keep a record of coffee (Phat Nuanchen, coffee enthusiast and owner of Turn On Coffee in Phichit).”