Updated November 18th, 2017.
What the hell is going on in Chiang Mai, Thailand? I’d heard rumours, whispers over the net, of this recently established coffee lover’s paradise, but I had to see it to believe it (sorry Google).
I travelled to Chiang Mai, and as soon as I reached downtown I saw why it‘s referred to as the Coffee Capital. The sheer number of coffee shops in Chiang Mai is enough to overwhelm even a seasoned coffee enthusiast like myself. I thought I’d seen everything, but this took the cake.
Today I am going to give you the low down of my tour through Chiang Mai’s cafe culture, and show you 5 reasons why you should visit if you’re a coffee fanatic.
Chiang Mai’s Cafe Culture
There are literally hundreds of coffee shops in this little city, not including all the street stalls dishing out delicious Thai-style coffee. If, for some reason, that last statement doesn’t impress the gravity of the situation to you, then you could spend two months in Chiang Mai, visiting a different coffee shop each day, and just barely scratch the surface (and someone actually did).
Despite how overwhelmingly saturated this city is, its coffee culture is relatively young. Only in the past few years has it become the behemoth that it is, and — like anything geared for rapid growth — it is constantly changing. In the blink of an eye, a well renowned shop could be gone, and a new one would pop up around the block to fill the void.
To help you navigate this ever-growing maze, here are 5 things to help you distinguish between the outstanding and the outdated:
#1 – Cold Brew Coffee
Thailand has only three seasons: hot, humid, and cool, which makes knowing where to get a cold beverage an absolute necessity. Luckily, there is a strong cold brew coffee scene in Chiang Mai to satisfy your craving and cool your brow.
For some seriously tasty cold brew, head over to Graph Cafe and take a dip in their ice-cold Nitro cold brew. Its creamy smoothness and invigorating brightness is perfect protection from the overbearing heat. After you’ve finished your Nitro, grab yourself a bottle of their cold brew to store back at your hotel for later.
#2 – Co-Working Cafes
For you world travelers living life out of your backpack, not only is coffee important, but so is having a space to work and chill and access the internet. Like any metropolitan area, finding space – enough space to relax without being elbow to elbow with a stranger – can be very difficult.
There are a few coffee shops and co-working spaces in Chiang Mai that are perfect places to stretch out and plug in with a good cup of joe. One of my favourites on my trip was Impresso Bar, an open work area with friendly, roaming baristas and plenty of comfortable seating.
#3 – High Quality Coffee
Among all the trendy looking coffee shops, it can be hard to determine which actually serves good coffee and not just catchy design. To make it easier for you, there is one telltale sign of an exceptional coffee shop: they roast their own beans.
Two shops that I visited, Omnia Cafe and Ponganes Espresso, stand out from the rest, because they both roast and brew, which ensures that your cup of coffee is as fresh as it could ever be. A shop that does both is a shop that has complete control over the entire process. Omnia and Ponganes are both very devoted to their trade, and their devotion shines through in their coffee.
#4 – Locally Sourced Coffee
Another way to separate the bad shops from the good when in Chiang Mai is to look for shops that source their beans from the local plantations. Just outside the city there is a village inhabited by the Akha people, whose lives revolve around the village’s coffee plantation.
Within Chiang Mai is a coffee shop which gets both its beans and its name from these hard working coffee farmers. The Akha Ama coffee shop supports these mountain villagers by almost exclusively buying and using their beans.
However, not only is a cup of coffee here go to support a good cause, but it is also damn tasty. For the owners over at Akha Ama, coffee is not just a passion, it is a way of life.
#5 – Variety and Excitement
As important as it is to look for serious shops devoted to their trade, it is also important to keep an eye out for the unexpected and the unique. With so many coffee shops lining the streets begging for your money, one single shop can easily get lost among all the rest.
In order to stand out, some shops have specialized or expanded in creative ways. Ristr8to, for example, makes darn good coffee, but makes an inhumanly delicious ristretto (guess where they got their name). Another unique shop, The Nimmanian Club, is a combination cocktail bar and coffee shop. The baristas in this place use their knowledge from bartending to craft unique coffee-based cocktails.
Though it may seem overwhelming at first, Chiang Mai is must visit for any coffee enthusiast.
About the writer: This article was written by Alex of the website Home Grounds – a website dedicated entirely to that magical brown brew we call coffee. You can find out a little more about the coffee shops that Alex visited here, but don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail.
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