Artisanal coffee roasters are reshaping the city’s café scene
Traditionally, coffee in Thailand is dark, bitter, and consumed with lots of sugar, condensed milk, and (usually) ice. It’s available on almost every street corner, and the beans are typically fully roasted, resulting in an undistinguishable taste regardless of the coffee’s origin. In this way prices are kept low but, unfortunately, so is the quality. In recent years, however, Thailand’s coffee culture has changed and expanded. While the typical Thai coffee style is still ingrained in the overall culture, Bangkok has seen a lot more specialized cafés and roasters opening up lately, and these businesses are focusing on quality coffee—trying to perfect the art of highlighting each bean’s taste and strength. We spoke with three of Bangkok’s most revered artisanal coffee roasters about their passion for the product, as well as their thoughts about coffee culture in Thailand.
Phil Coffee Company
Hidden away at the end of a quiet side soi that branches off Sukhumvit Soi 61, Phil Coffee Company serves quality single origin espressos and filter coffees as well as a few special blends. Open since November 2014, this artisan coffee roastery is run by three siblings: roaster Han Wang, and his sisters Jaszmine and I Wuen. It was during Han’s time studying in Melbourne that he developed a passion for coffee and, inspired by the Australian coffee culture, he visited a roaster in Taiwan and decided to get into the business himself. He attended a short training course, bought a coffee roaster machine, and spent three years experimenting and learning about the process—from roasting and brewing, to extracting and tasting—in a little shop in Bang Na. Thankfully he also made a lot of friends in the industry who were willing to share their knowledge with him.
Nowadays, the siblings import beans from all around the world, including Colombia, Kenya, Brazil, Nicaragua, and also Thailand. To keep things interesting, the beans are freshly roasted in small batches every week, and the options change regularly. On the day I visited, the ‘single origin of the day’ was from Kenya, and in order to get the most taste possible I was served a split espresso—one espresso and one piccolo (espresso with milk). It was slightly bittersweet in taste with a hint of salt, and quite strong. For the filter coffee, I tried beans from a farm in Colombia that revealed a bit of a floral note. To inform the consumer every cup comes with a small card listing the details of the coffee, including the farm, the processing method, and the coffee’s characteristics.
In addition to their large single origin selection, they also produce two special blends: their house espresso blend Urso, and their light roasted signature filter blend Hummingbird. All of their roasts are available for wholesale—they deliver to several venues, including Rocket coffee—and for retail. You can also order online, share a coffee pool with other coffee lovers to save money, or even sign up for their monthly coffee subscription program in which a selection of different roasts will be delivered to your home. Or, just pop by this cool café (open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm) and discover what you like while enjoying a cup in a relaxed atmosphere.
Ceresia Coffee Roasters
After the success of their first outlet on Sukhumvit Soi 33/1, the owners of Ceresia Coffee Roasters branched out just over a year ago and opened their second café in the Tisco Tower at 48/2 Sathorn Rd. The secret of their success is definitively their shared love and passion for coffee—in fact, their story is a true coffee love story.
The owners in question are Venezuelan sisters Lucia and Marian Aguilar (Marian now lives in Singapore) who, along with Lucia’s Thai husband Bret, opened both outlets. While coffee has always played a major role in the sisters’ lives—the two grew up on a coffee farm—Bret discovered his passion for a quality brew while living in London. The English capital was also the place where Bret and Lucia met (in a coffee shop, of course!). After moving to Thailand they started missing good quality, properly brewed coffee and so decided to set up their own business.
Upon entering their unpretentious, and minimally furnished café on the ground floor of the Tisco Tower (open Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm, and Saturdays from 9am to 5pm), it is evident that in here the world revolves around coffee. A big blackboard indicates the latest roasting dates, and large plexiglass bins are filled with assorted aromatic beans, offering customers a wide variety of high-quality single-origins and special blends.
Bret explains that most people have no idea of the history and hard work behind every cup, and that’s why Ceresia tries to be a sort of meeting point for farmers and customers. Every cup comes with a tag indicating the origin of the bean—my filter coffee was from a Colombian farm called Las Brias—and through their newsletter (available at the shops) they introduce the story of every farmer and their beans.
While the couple also delivers their roasted beans to other places across town, including Library Café and Tribeca, their main focus is on retail. “We want to encourage home-brewing,” Lucia explains, adding that it’s important to communicate with customers. They often hand out samples, and help customers understand and appreciate a good cup, as every single step—from growing, processing, roasting, brewing and even grinding—affects the end result.
Regarding the coffee scene in Thailand, the Ceresia team believes there is a market for everybody. Thai coffee is still a majority and will never go away, but the artisanal coffee culture is growing as more and more quality cafés pop up and people start to become more interested in the different flavours of beans. In addition, they are happy that this growing demand has had a positive impact on Thai coffee farmers, whose situation has improved dramatically over the past five years.
Facebook: Ceresia Coffee Roasters
Ink & Lion
Located on Soi Ekkamai 2 (off Sukhumvit Rd, Soi 63), and open only from Saturday to Tuesday, from 9am to 6pm, the Ink & Lion serves java junkies superb quality, handcrafted espressos, and pour-overs. The café’s combination of white-painted exposed brick walls lined with interesting artwork, and vintage wooden school tables, makes it a cool hang-out in which to enjoy a quality brew in an arty environment.
The idea to open a coffee shop was inspired while co-owner Adithep ‘Kiak’ Pinijpinyo spent time working in California. Amazed by the large variety and high quality of beans, as well as the general coffee culture in San Francisco, he really started to appreciate a good cup o’ joe. He decided to attend a one-day workshop, and has since been teaching himself how to roast. Together with his partner Pui, he opened Ink & Lion in 2013.
However, it was only this year that they started to roast their own beans in small batches. After some years of buying special blends from local roasters, they decided it was time for the next step—in order to shift the focus onto the beans and have more control over the quality and flavour. For now, there are three roasts available—Doi Thong Pattana (Thailand), Hacienda Supracafé (Colombia) and Gulili (Ethiopia)—and although the selection might be limited, each batch is of the highest quality, and the beans are also available for retail. A lot of thought has also been put into the packaging, and each of the three roasts has its own colour scheme, which both conveys its flavours and helps customers to decide.
Kiak believes that Bangkok’s artisanal coffee scene is fast developing, and there is great potential for expansion. For Pui and himself, their aspiration is to support and present Thai coffee to the world, while at the same time introducing high-quality coffee to local consumers.
Cold Brew is Definitely Hot
As competition in the coffee world heats up, the newest player in the game wants to cool things down. Cold brew coffee, made by soaking ground beans in cold water for 8 to 24 hours—the duration depends on the beans and is crucial for the final taste—is a refreshing alternative to your normal steaming hot espresso or frothy hot latte. And it’s becoming commonplace on more and more menus across town. But be warned… it contains nearly double the caffeine of conventionally brewed coffee.
One of the newest additions to the cold brew scene is Bhava Café, a tiny greenish grey kiosk tucked away in a collection of food stalls on Naradhiwas Soi 1 (not far from the Sala Daeng BTS station) which specializes in ‘nitro cold brews’. Never heard of such a thing before? Well, basically it’s cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen, giving it a frothy and smooth texture similar to Guinness stout. And, just like beer, it is stored in a keg and served from a modified beer tap.
The inspiration for the café came to Thai owner ‘Bank’ while he was studying and working as a barista in Sydney. When he returned to Thailand his goal was to start serving good quality coffee, and so he began to hand out free coffee in front of his house every morning for a year, before deciding to open his own stall at the beginning of July. After buying and modifying beer equipment and testing the perfect brewing times, he now offers a small selection of coffee with or without (B50/60) milk, as well as Thai tea.
Because this type of brew can be produced in large quantities and stored in kegs, it makes it easier for Bank to both control and keep up the quality of each final cup, and continue working as a full-time engineer. In the future he hopes to roast his own beans, but for now he explains to a roaster the exact profile he wants, after which he tastes the beans and only buys if they are up to his standard and requirements. In his shop there are just two different types of beans to choose from—both grown Thailand—which allows him to keep prices low and compete with the standard instant coffee, while supporting Thai coffee farmers to improve their coffee. However be aware that the shop is only open Monday to Friday, and only from 7am to 2:30pm. So no weekend wake-ups just yet.