BANGKOK, Nov 16 — Forget about iced lemongrass tea. For the freshest sips in Bangkok, hop on over to these popular cafés and boutique roasters serving specialty coffee in the Thai capital. Most are conveniently located in the trendy Sukhumvit-Thonglor-Ekamai neighbourhood. A quick motorcycle taxi (motosai lapjang) ride from the nearest BTS Skytrain station, and you are ready for some seriously good brews.
Down the rabbit holes
Just off the busy Sukhumvit Soi 55 in Thonglor is possibly the smallest café in Bangkok. Casa Lapin, which means “the rabbit’s home” in French, is the brainchild of architect Suraphan Tanta. The aroma of freshly-brewed coffee washes away the noise of the streets outside. Old and familiar tunes are played from vinyl records.
According to Sand, our quirkily named barista, his employer was exasperated with the lack of good coffee in the capital. A year of barista training in Chiang Mai later, Tanta opened this hole-in-the-wall café in 2012 with a bias towards slow brewing methods.
Since then, two new “rabbit holes” have appeared. Casa Lapin X 49 is hidden in a small alley off Sukhumvit Soi 49. The mild claustrophobia of the original gives way to a cosier space here (though to call it roomy would be a stretch). Dark glass bottles sitting on the ceiling-high wooden shelves give this café a laboratory feel. Random vases of wildflowers and warm lighting encourage lazy afternoons of flipping through art books while nursing a cappuccino.
Their newest branch, Casa Lapin X Ari, is situated next to the BTS Skytrain of the same name. This Brooklyn-inspired café has an industrial ambiance with DIY wooden stools and design magazines scattered along the walls. Relax in this hipster haven where baristas will carefully brew your single origin drip coffee for you.
A bit of Venezuela in Little Tokyo
If there is any wonder about Bangkok’s cosmopolitan status, look no further than the Japanese quarter of Phrom Phong. Nestled in a row of manga book rental stores and ramen restaurants is an unassuming café with a minimalist décor and a distinctly un-Japanese name.
Ceresia is owned by Venezuelan sisters Marian and Lucia Aguilar, and Thai roaster Garin Asavaroengchai (also Lucia’s husband). Lucia shares, “We wanted to open the shop in a multicultural area. As a result, we have been visited by people of many nationalities.”
Most are curious about the single origin beans that Ceresia imports from Central and South America as well as Africa. Marian explains, “We display our coffee beans in open bins so our customers can see what we offer. This way we can also explain the characteristics of each bean to them.”
Asavaroengchai adds, “It’s our passion to share information with our customers because we believe that every step of producing such quality coffees has to be recognised. Owners and farmers have been working very hard to grow and produce these quality coffees for us so we may experience and enjoy such distinctive aromas and flavours in every cup.”
My favourite filter coffee here is a La Joyería Lot 212 from the Colombian region of Antioquia. This washed processed bean is full-bodied and sweet, with a satisfyingly long aftertaste.
From roast to roots
Following the success of Roast Coffee and Eatery, possibly Bangkok’s most popular brunch destination, owner Varatt Vichit-Vadakan has opened Roots Coffee Roasters, his secret sanctuary in nearby Ekamai.
Open only during weekends, this smaller space is where the real action happens. Vichit-Vadakan explains, “We use this as my office during weekdays. Roots also houses our central kitchen which supplies pastries to Roast as well as our roastery.”
The affable barista and roaster is especially proud of their one-of-a-kind bar, made from re-purposed wood. Here hardcore “beanhunters” may sample the latest beans sourced by Vichit-Vadakan from all over Thailand and around the globe.
My flat white made using their Bruna blend is silky smooth. Head coffee roaster Korn Sanguankeaw tells me the blend consists of 40 per cent honey-processed Thai Prao District, 40 per cent Brazil Carmo de Minas and 20 per cent Guatemala Huehuetenango.
For iced-coffee lovers, try their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere cold brew. Floral and tea-like, with a light acidity, this is perfect for sipping slowly on a warm, sunny afternoon.
Vichit-Vadakan also conducts coffee-related classes and workshops such as barista training and cupping sessions at Roots. There is no cashier; you are welcomed to leave what you like in their “honesty box” though 100 baht for coffee and 50 baht per pastry are recommended.
These days, the latest fad seems to be fashion boutiques that double up as cafés. Usually this is no more than an excuse to serve half-hearted caffè lattes to would-be fashionistas. At One Ounce for Onion though, the coffee lovers may find a cup that bucks the trend.
The café is a collaboration between niche, multi-brand store Onion and local coffee roaster Brave Roasters. Ekameth “Tay” Wipvasutti, who runs Brave Roasters, first got into coffee when he was studying music at Mahidol University.
Wipvasutti shares, “I went to Chiang Mai in search of good coffee and trained under the owner of Happy Espresso. There, I learned how water ratios and timing affect the flavour profile of espresso coffee. I continued my education by ordering beans from famous roasters in the US and UK.”
After realising most beans available locally were dark roasts, Wipvasutti decided to start roasting his own last year. His single origin beans are decidedly home-grown such as a chocolaty washed coffee from Pa-Mieng Doi Saket, Chiangmai. Light with berry notes and a spicy aftertaste, this is not a brew one would find everywhere.
Besides filtered coffee, Wipvasutti also makes excellent espresso, perhaps the best I’ve had in Bangkok, which is no mean feat. Syrupy with a lively acidity, just the way I like it. Is this a fashionable espresso? I wouldn’t know, but it sure is really good coffee.
• Casa Lapin: Thonglor Art Village (between Soi 17 and Soi 19), Sukhumvit Soi 55, Bangkok
• Casa Lapin X 49: Soi Songphinong, Sukhumvit Soi 49, Bangkok
• Casa Lapin X Ari: 1/F, Noble Reform, Phahon Yothin Soi 7, Bangkok.
Ceresia Coffee Roasters
593/29-41 Sukhumvit Soi 33/1, Bangkok.
One Ounce for Onion
19/12 Ekkamai 12, Sukhumvit 63 Road, Bangkok, Thailand.
Roast and Roots
Roast Coffee and Eatery: 2/F SeenSpace, Thonglor 13, Bangkok
Roots Coffee Roasters: Ekamai Terrace #2-4 (between Soi 15 and Soi 17), Bangkok.
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on November 15, 2013.