Graph Café is a lovely little coffee shop in the heart of old Chiang Mai which just happened to be at the other end of the lane from the guest house where I spent the second half of my week in the city. Coincidence? I think you can probably work that out for yourselves…
Part of a small chain, which consists of a brunch spot (Graph Table) on the next street over, a high-end coffee shop (Graph One Nimman) in the new One Nimman shopping mall, and a coffee shop/roastery (Gateway) on the main road into Chiang Mai, this is the original, a tiny spot serving some excellent Thai coffee, with a seasonal blend on espresso and a surprising range of single-origins on pour-over, all roasted at Gateway. There’s not much seating, with space for 10 inside (if everyone shares) and a few more sitting on the step out front.
What turned out to be one of my favourite spots during my recent trip to Chiang Mai was also one of the hardest to find, although it was well worth the effort. Cottontree Coffee Roasters epitomises much that is good about Chiang Mai’s (and, indeed, Thailand’s) growing speciality coffee scene. It’s relatively new, having been set up in 2015, catering to a local crowd, offering both Thai-grown and imported coffee, but with the light roasts beloved of the third wave. The name “Cottontree” by the way, is a play on the names of the owners, a lovely young couple, Fai (Cotton) and Ton (Tree).
The coffee shop, which doubles as the roastery, is perhaps the most beautiful of those I saw in Chiang Mai, which is saying something given how many beautiful coffee shops I found. With its high ceilings, and clean, uncluttered lines, it’s worth seeking out on aesthetic grounds alone. Cottontree roasts both Thai single-estate coffees and seasonal imports (currently Ethiopian and Kenyan single-origins). There are two options on espresso (one for espressos/ Americanos, the other for milk-based drinks) and two more on pour-over via V60, Chemex or Syphon. If you’re hungry, there’s a range of freshly-baked cakes and pastries.
Hideout Coffee is, quite literally, Portsmouth’s best kept secret when it comes to coffee. Right in the city centre, a few minutes’ walk away from Canvas Coffee, it’s tucked away down a side street with no external advertising, not even a name. You really do have to know it’s there. And that’s how Hideout likes it, giving it a speakeasy-like atmosphere, like you’re in a secret, members’ only club.
Hideout opened in the summer of 2017, effectively the in-house coffee shop for design agency I Love Dust, whose offices are above Hideout. Indeed, to get to I Love Dust, you go through Hideout first, which is in the small entrance lobby to offices. There’s room for just 10 seats, the coffee coming from a La Marzocco Linea tended by head barista, Jordan, who serves a standard espresso-based menu using a bespoke house-blend from Coffee@33, just along the coast in Brighton.
I spent the first five days of my time in Thailand trapped in hotels with bad coffee and no chance to explore the coffee scene, before heading off to Chiang Mai for a week. However, I’d allowed myself three days on my return to Bangkok to explore the speciality coffee scene before flying back to the UK. After the joys of Chiang Mai, with its abundance of excellent coffee shops, I discovered that Bangkok also has an excellent speciality coffee scene, albeit one that is a little more spread out and takes a little more finding.
I’d already heard about Lan Din Coffee when the owner, Nico, got in touch on social media with some recommendations. Conveniently located around the corner from my new hotel in the Sathorn district (I wonder how that happened?) I made a beeline for Lan Din as soon as I got off the sleeper from Chiang Mai on Saturday morning. A delightful spot, it serves a primarily espresso-based menu using a blend of coffee from (ironically) Chiang Mai, although there is a secret pour-over option if you ask nicely, as well as a range of cakes and pastries, freshly baked behind the counter every day.
I’ve made (and will continue to make) much about Chiang Mai’s speciality coffee scene and its championing of Thai-grown coffee. However, it would be wrong to give the impression that this is all there is. There are also plenty of internationally-inspired places roasting/serving coffee from around the world. And where better to start than with Chiang Mai pioneer, Ristr8to, which boasts amongst its many achievements current world latte art champion, Arnon Thitiprasert, as head barista?
Ristr8to is a roaster and chain of four coffee shops, two Ristr8tos and two sister shops, under the name Doppio. The subject of today’s Coffee Spot is Ristr8to Lab, the second Ristr8to and, as well as a coffee shop in its own right, home to Ristr8to’s 6kg Giesen roaster. Serving a bewildering array of espresso-based drinks using its Black Hand blend and a different single-origin every month through no fewer than six filter preparation methods, it’s a real treat for coffee lovers.
However, you don’t have to be a coffee geek to appreciate Ristr8to. It’s a lovely spot with seating outside on the terrace or in the air-conditioned interior, plus there’s table service and a dedication to hospitality that I’ve come to expect in Thailand.
Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, has a reputation as a foodie heaven. What I hadn’t realised, until I got here, was that it is a speciality coffee heaven too, with a strong emphasis on Thai-grown coffee and with the third-wave philosophy of farm-to-cup put into practice. Without even trying, I had a list of more than 10 places to try, although top of pretty much everyone’s list is Akha Ama Coffee.
A social enterprise, with direct relationships with Thai coffee farmers, Akha Ama has been going since 2010. There are three branches so far, two coffee shops in Chiang Mai itself and a new roastery/coffee shop, Akha Ama Living Factory, about 20km north of the city. The focus of today’s Coffee Spot, Akha Ama Coffee La Fattoria, is the second of the two coffee shops and the one you are most likely to come across since it’s right in the centre of the old city.
Serving a variety of Thai coffee, mostly as blends, but with some single-origins, there’s a choice of both hot and cold/iced coffee on espresso and pour-over. There’s also a decent range of beans which you can buy. If you’re hungry, there’s a limited cake selection.
I’m currently in Thailand, which, I appreciate, isn’t Vietnam, but the climate and general feel of Thailand very much reminds me of Vietnam, which puts me in mind of my trip there last year. I found a lot of great coffee in Vietnam, including Shin Coffee, a small roaster/coffee shop chain in Ho Chi Minh City. Shin was a recommendation from Vietnam Coffee Republic, which I’d visited the day before. However, on my way there, I’d already spotted Shin and added it to my “should investigate further” list.
Shin had caught my eye from the street, with the rather provocative “speciality coffee” written on the window. Add to this a tagline of “best coffee in town”, this suggests that either it is very, very good, or full of bullshit. Fortunately, it was the former. Shin roasts all its own coffee, all Arabica, including a range of Vietnamese blends and a few single-origins from both Vietnam and around the world. There’s a traditional espresso-based menu (using a blend of Ethiopian and Vietnamese coffee), plus V60, Syphon, Aeropress and Cafetiere, as well as traditional Vietnamese filter coffee. Shin was also the first place I visited in Vietnam that serves decaf.
Having grown up just over the border in North Wales, Chester is, in many ways, my home city. I frequently pass though on my way to/from my Dad’s, but rarely stop, partly due to circumstance, but also because, when it comes to coffee, there’s not much to entice me to get off one stop earlier at Chester Station. However, with the arrival of the likes of Moss Coffee, that’s slowly changing.
Chester has struggled a little with speciality coffee. Apart from the well-established The Barista’s and Jaunty Goat, coffee shops, such as Moon Beer & Coffee, have tended to come and go. Hopefully Moss Coffee can buck that trend. It’s off to good start, serving an espresso-based menu with the Arboretum blend from Dark Woods, along with a small selection of locally-baked cakes. The owner, Daniel, is keeping things simple for now, with plans to expand in the future.
From Australia to Sloan Square via Winchester: Party on Pavilion is the first (for now) coffee shop of Winchester-based Aussie imports, The Roasting Party. It opened in August last year and I popped along during its second week with a promise that I would return the following month after a trip to Chicago. Seven months later and slightly shame-faced, I finally made my return on a sunny Friday afternoon after a hectic travel schedule that had seen me return to Chicago and China at the end of last year with two trips to the USA this year.
From the street, Party on Pavilion looks to be a tiny spot, just a counter and a bench, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a staircase off to the right which seems almost an afterthought. This leads to the Party’s best feature, a sunny loft space which runs the full length of the building, where there’s plenty of seating.
When it comes to the coffee, the Roasting Party’s Drake Blend is on espresso, with the Party Blend reserved for milk-based drinks. There’s also a selection of two or three single-origins which change every few weeks, available through either Chemex or Aeropress.
Like Berwick’s Steampunk and the somewhat closer Tincan Coffee Co in Bristol, Exeter’s Camper Coffee Co. is a coffee shop which started life in a van before moving into bricks and mortar. In this case, the van in question is Rosie, a 1964 VW Splitscreen Container Van, who is still going strong. There’s also a coffee shop at Exeter University, a hut at Exeter Chiefs rugby club and, since March 2016, today’s Coffee Spot in McCoys Arcade in the centre of Exeter.
Described to me by one of the baristas as the speciality wing of Camper Coffee Co., the shop serves a house-blend from Roastworks on espresso, which is joined by a guest, plus two more on filter. These change on a regular basis, Camper getting the coffee in 5kg batches and moving on when it’s gone, typically in seven to ten days. There’s also a well-stocked bar for beer, wine and cocktails, plus a range of sandwiches and cakes.
The space itself is quite small, tucked away right at the back of McCoys Arcade. However there’s a large outdoor seating area that’s not really outdoors, sheltering, as it does, under the soaring glass ceiling of the arcade courtyard.