Thai coffee worth the taste

There is a new generation of coffee aficionados in Thailand growing and spreading the value of single origin, organic, Arabica coffee.  It’s a transformation and business opportunity in the making.  Only discriminating coffee lovers need apply.

One of many unique drip coffee houses in Bangkok, Gallery Drip Coffee at the BACC (Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center).

Two countries in the Indochina peninsula are known for coffee production: Vietnam and Thailand.  Vietnam ranks as one of the top five coffee exporters worldwide — producing mainly robusta coffee used in industrial blends for the masses.  As a side note: the coffee made and consumed locally in Vietnam is delicious, but most are not pure coffee.  Like typical Thai coffee, local coffee is mixed with grains like soy or corn, crushed seeds such as cardamom or sesame, and of course, sugar.  Normally, condensed milk is added to balance the bitterness while heightening the yummy factor.

These coffee plants have replaced poppy flora on many hills in northern Thailand.

Thailand, on the other hand, has been developing high-quality arabica coffee in the altitudes of the north.  The government of Thailand, like Peru a couple of generations ago, incentivized hill-farmers to convert illegal drug crops to legal ones (in Thailand’s case it was an effort to limit farming of the opium poppy plants.  Peru’s inducement was to curb cultivation of the coca production).  Because of growing demand, the legal crop of choice above 3,000 feet is arabica coffee.  So far in Thailand, the results have been impressive.  As a second side note: a substantial proportion of coffee consumed and shipped out of  V&T is rumored to be transhipped from Laos and Myanmar, both of whom are coming into their own as coffee producers. 

Beans being washed and separated the morning after picking at the Doi Chang coffee farm.

Some small roasters in the USA, such as Brooklyn Roasting, have started carrying artisanal Peruvian coffee beans in a portfolio with names we are familiar with, like Brazilian, Colombian, Costa Rican, and Ethiopian.  Seeing Peruvian arabica single origin is rare.  Finding Thai single origin is non-existent.

Green beans packed and ready for roasting.

Not many Thai coffee plantations are very large.  The industry is made up of countless individual family-owned and operated farms trying to make a living.  Fortunately, there is a slew of serious, young Thais who have been working hard bringing their local coffee to a superior level.  On a per capita basis, there are more Thais seeking good quality coffee than in America or Europe.  Consequently, in Bangkok, as well as other major Thai cities,  you can find many independently operated roasters and coffee houses who specialize in slow-drip, pure, single-origin coffee.  And it’s not cheap.  A cup of drip coffee is typical $3-4 USD equivalent.  But Thais are drinking it.

If you are a coffee lover interested to help spread the beans,  FS would love to help kick-start the process.  Thailand arabica beans deserve a place with small roasters in the USA.  Drop me a line if you are so inclined.

Craft Coffee at Chatuchak Market ( The owner, Mic, in the middle, recently attended a coffee cupping competition in Taiwan where the winning coffee sold for $1,000/kg. His drip-only bar sells high-quality single-origin arabica Thai beans.

Bean just picked at Doi Chang the day I arrived there last month.

Small batch drying.

The Doi Chang Farm House is one of many coffee plantations in the Doi Chang area.

Now a passionate, full-time coffee farmer, MiYo is managing the coffee harvesting and production on the farm her grandfather started at Doi Chang.

The trip to Doi Chang meant riding across streams.

View from the bean delivery/wash house in the evening at Doi Chang.

Beans being delivered to Doi Chang by about 45 families, a process that takes several hours daily.

It was cold enough in the altitude of the coffee area outside of Chiang Rai that I coveted a small wood burning pot.

On the way from Chiang Rai to Doi Chang.

Large areas are required for sun drying.

Par, a local Thai handbag designer, and coffee lover, recently turned her design attention to creating a new metal dripper. The result is one that functions expertly with the slow-drip style and also has an artsy kitchen appeal.

Everyone, minus the goofy looking guy on the far right, seemed like an expert at this open cupping recently at 93 Army coffee shop in Bangkok, hosted by the young woman with thumbs-up in front, a coffee farmer, roaster, shop owner, and coffee entrepreneur dedicated to the trade.

The black honey roast, black drip coffee the other day was worth the drip wait.

Had a choice last week between two SO Thai coffees in a small coffee shop in Khong Chiam, near the Mekong river.

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