BANGKOK, Nov 6 — It’s a sombre time to be in the Thai capital. Our northern neighbour’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej died recently. The streets of Bangkok were filled with hundreds of thousands of Thais bidding their beloved monarch farewell during the funeral.
Some of my friends were thinking of postponing their trips to Bangkok during this time of grieving but I told them to reconsider: their visit can be a show of support to our Thai friends, and travel doesn’t have to be only about having raucous fun.
Travel can be a time of reflection, a time of slowing down to observe. What better way than having coffee with our Thai friends? From a Japanese-influenced minimalist coffee bar to the newest outpost of a burgeoning Thai café empire, there is always a great cuppa being brewed somewhere in Bangkok.
Yes, great cuppas and heart-warming conversations.
Kaizen Coffee Co
Originally introduced to the West by management consultant Masaaki Imai, kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. While typically used as part of business strategy, Australian-educated Thai barista Arnun Wattanaporn and two partners are redefining the term to showcase the growth and journey of specialty coffee in Bangkok.
Located on the quiet end of Ekamai (a distance away from the BTS station), Kaizen Coffee Co has an ultra-clean, all-white décor. Minimalist lines appear to be the only features of the sprawling wall. This puts all the attention on the coffee, particularly the process of brewing it, thanks to a prominent espresso and brew bar.
Beyond the essentials of the Aussie bean scene — think flat whites and long blacks — Kaizen Coffee Co also offers hand-brewed filter coffee and nitrogen-brewed cold coffee. The latter is very appropriate, given Bangkok’s sweltering climate.
Besides coffee, Kaizen Coffee Co’s brunch fare will alleviate any hunger pangs between cuppas. Staples such as a breakfast bun with bacon, cheese and a fried egg or tomatoes, avocado and feta on sourdough do the job nicely. The peanut butter milkshake is admirably thick.
Rather than depending on a menu of beans by foreign roasters, Kaizen Coffee Co’s philosophy is to support local coffee farms and roasters. Every cup brings you closer to the close-knit and ever amazing Thai people.
582/5, Soi Ekamai 26-28 (Tai Ping Tower), Bangkok, Thailand
Open Tue-Sun 8am-6pm; Mon closed
Casa Lapin x26
Sometimes it’s good to know what to expect before you even arrive at your destination.
Such is the case with Casa Lapin x26, one of the newest branches of the Bangkok-based café company. With beans sourced from Thai roasters such as Pacamara, Roots and Brave Roasters, the quality of coffee is always consistent. The joy is in discovering what else they have to offer here.
Casa Lapin x26 is the largest Casa Lapin outlet thus far, with their usual mix of high ceilings, industrial-style décor and use of aged wood. Wide windows suffuse the space with natural light. The entrance is worth a mention; the plethora of plants and dried flowers courtesy of an in situ florist called Wallflowers.
At the rear is a more refined sit-down dining space to supplement the hip café area, as well as a hostel and co-working space called ONEDAY. The biggest surprise is their menu, which elevates typical café fare with Thai-influenced dishes such as flash-fried crispy eggs served with a spicy shellfish gravy. A perfect spot to sip and sup.
51 Sukhumvit 26, Khlong Tan, Khlong Toei, Bangkok, Thailand
Open Mon-Thu 7.30am-10pm and Fri-Sun 7.30am-12am
Hands and Heart
What’s black and white and an oasis of cool in humid and hot Bangkok?
The answer is Hands and Heart, a tiny café hidden inside a condominium (that, in a quintessential Thai display of contrasts, is located on the same row as the popular Sukhumvit 38 night market stalls). Here, it’s all about hand-brewed coffees using Aeropress, pour-over or Chemex.
Everything is in a calming blend of blacks and whites. From the black marble bar and white bean bags to black coffees served in white cups and white coffees in black ones, Hands and Heart resembles a serene Go board in mid-game.
Homemade pastries range from squares of red velvet and carrot cake to pitch-black charcoal croissants that better fit the minimal, black-and-white décor. If you haven’t acclimated to Bangkok’s weather, quench your thirst with iced coffees or heat-relieving herbal juices. (One, nam dok anchan, is made from bunga telang, the blue pea flower used in Peranakan cuisine.)
Travellers to Thailand are encouraged to dress in black during this mourning period, as a sign of respect. It’s a blessing to be here at Hands and Heart, where friendly baristas — often in contrasting white and black — brew with care and gentle smiles on their faces. Little wonder coffees arrive perfectly crafted; there’s a bit of love in every sip.
G/F, Ascella Condominium, 33 Sukhumvit Soi 38, Bangkok, Thailand
Open daily 7am-9pm
I Am Coffee
Regular café hoppers in Bangkok know most of the indie coffee bars congregate in Sukhumvit, predominantly the Phrom Phong, Thong Lor and Ekamai stretch. Head elsewhere and you might be hard pressed to find a decent spot for your cappuccino fix.
These days, however, residents further south in Silom are learning they don’t have to trek quite so far for their cuppas. Located on Sathorn Soi 8, I Am Coffee is the epitome of a secret café. As with such hidden sanctuaries, it is also quite a treasure. The coffee — espresso-based — is top-notch. The baristas are more than happy to strike up a conversation if they’re not busy.
Is the café’s name a nod to the sublime Italian film starring Tilda Swinton, I Am Love? The real inspiration is more amusing: it’s actually from the barista-owner’s favourite Nikon commercial; he’s also a photography buff. With a smile that lights up Silom, he’d do well in front of the camera as well as behind it.
Books, plants and comfortable chairs create a relaxing ambience. Besides coffee, bottles of fresh passion fruit juice are delightful — every sip a burst of sunshine. Enjoy a hot scone fresh out of the oven, accompanied by creamy butter.
If you manage to grab a window seat, look out into the alley resplendent with bamboo, palms and banana plants. Rest your eyes and your nerves after navigating the bustle of Bangkok.
44/1 Soi Pipat 2 (Sathorn Soi 8), Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
Open Mon-Fri 7am-7pm; Sat 7am-5pm; Sun closed