BANGKOK, May 20 — There’s a distinct delight when one discovers a little nook in unfamiliar neighbourhoods when travelling. A place where one can feel at home even though one is far from home. A place where one can indulge in the simple pleasures of life, such as a cup of hand-brewed coffee.
Bangkok, like many other Asian capitals, has seen its share of Third Wave coffee bars springing up. Many have become destinations for tourists as well as locals. The love of a perfect shot of espresso or intricate latte art on a flat white seems to be universal.
But beyond these coffee hotspots — mostly congregated in the streets of Thonglor, Phrom Phong and Ekamai — are better hidden gems, often nestled along a dead-end soi or in a more far-flung location. Let us discover a couple of secret slow-drip sanctuaries of Bangkok together.
North of the city centre, concealed within the increasingly hipster neighbourhood of Ari, is a slow-drip haven that requires some hunting down. Some Time Blue, run by National Thailand Brewers Cup 2016 champion Sutida Srirungthum, is located along an unassuming tree-lined soi. Not the first place we’d go looking for coffee, much less the slow-drip variety.
In fact, the building that houses this café, we soon realise, is the headquarters for Sahamongkol Film International, the company responsible for Muay Thai martial arts hit Ong-Bak. One should expect fantastic kicks and fantastic coffee, perhaps?
Once inside, we are transported from the now default café décor of exposed concrete walls and rescued wood furnishings. Instead, mismatched vintage furniture and various coffee brewing equipment create a cosier, more welcoming space. Low-hanging lamps by the windows? How romantic.
The real action takes place at the coffee bar, however. The single origin bean menu is a seasonal one. An outstanding offering is the La Mula natural processed Special Geisha from Boquete, Panama. Sweet, floral and fruity — we detect notes of jasmine, papaya and passion fruit — this is a cup to remember. Another rarity is the Ethiopia Agaro Kaffe Washed Heirloom roasted by Berlin-based Five Elephants; full of juicy berry notes.
For something that’s always available though, we adore their Gravity Latte, akin to a double shot of espresso into a cold glass of creamy milk (as far as we can tell). Unlike Tokyo-based Bear Pond Espresso’s celebrated Dirty — an espresso shot between two layers of chilled milk, topped with another shot — the coffee here is nutty and balanced, a blend of Thai and Honduras beans.
The original, Srirungthum happily shares, can be discovered at her friend Mook’s Asama Café in Chiang Mai. This frank acknowledgement is typical of the camaraderie and generosity we have come to identify with the Thai coffee community.
There is this strong belief that everyone is better off spreading the gospel of the beans together. This extends to their faith in local beans from coffee farms up in the highlands of Northern Thailand.
Desserts rotate according to season and availability of ingredients such as the summery Passion Krub tart, banoffee cake, matcha panna cotta and homemade soufflé cheesecake. We like our coffee and our cake at Some Time Blue chilled on a rainy day; it’s all about the mood, you see.
On the opposite side of town is Simple Coffee, Simple Life, a coffee bar located inside a condominium just off the eastern end of Rama IX Road. (Consider it a pit stop before flying if you’re heading to Suvarnabhumi Airport.)
This colourful, sunlit café is home to yet another National Thailand Brewers Cup veteran. Barista Jaranya Chanwong is the reigning champion (2017 and 2018). Her enthusiasm for her craft is immediately apparent when we ask her to recommend a coffee. The way her eyes brighten is an experience in itself.
Chanwong often offers limited run beans and we are lucky to have tasted the beans she competed and won with this year. Roasted by DuckYou Cafetista, the Ninety Plus Geisha Estate Lot No. 095 had undergone the signature Jose Alfredo double fermentation process. The result is an exceptional cup; we detect dense wood tones with notes of dark cherries. It’s like sipping brandy, albeit without the alcohol. Still as heady though.
Her partner and shop manager Nat Samanthai is another cheerful presence at Simple Coffee, Simple Life: their smiles are infectious and light up the space as much as the morning sun. Eclectic bric-à-brac such as festive paper dragons and terrariums add a sense of whimsy. The stunning view of the condominium pool encourages visitors to relax.
Besides drip coffee, Simple Coffee, Simple Life also offers other dreamy concoctions such as a Watermelon Martini or Ipanema, an iced black coffee layered with coconut milk. Bites are courtesy of local baker Tid Jirasinkitti of Amatissimo Caffé.
The brown butter banana muffin and salted egg yolk croissant are truly out of this world, the best accompaniment we can imagine for Chanwong’s stellar coffee.
Whether it’s to geek out over coffee lore or to unwind with a slow-brewed cuppa, these cafés are a reminder that even when we are travelling, there are always secret places waiting to be uncovered, a home away from home to call our own.
Some Time Blue
55 Soi Phahon Yothin 2, Phaya Thai, Bangkok, Thailand
Open Mon-Fri 9:30am-6pm; Sat-Sun 10am-5pm
Simple Coffee, Simple Life
S1 Condo Rama 9 Soi 45, Suan Luang, Bangkok, Thailand
Open daily (except Wed closed) 9am-5pm