The center of Bangkok’s fledgling coffee community is in the Sukhumvit area, sandwiched roughly between its 55th and 63rd side streets, or sois. This is a guide to (some of) the coffee shops therein. Within a three-kilometer radius, with no shop more than a 10-minute walk from the next, a person could feasibly visit all seven of these spots in a single day. But while it's perfectly acceptable to use this as a jumping off point for exploring Bangkok coffee, the actual best way to do so is to simply get here, find a shop, and ask, “Where else should I go?”
That was what I did about a half-hour after arriving in the city for what essentially amounted to a 36-hour layover on my way home to Cambodia from the Thai coast. Within 10 minutes of sitting down at Roots Coffee on Soi Sukhumvit 55—which just so happened to be the closest reputable establishment to the Airbnb, according to a pre-trip Google search for “good coffee bangkok”—three baristas were huddling around a scrap of paper poring over the question, debating ideas, areas, and opinions on Thai coffee.
This is standard practice in Bangkok: shops where you find not just a willingness but an enthusiasm for sharing information about other shops.
So the Roots baristas made me a list, and a schedule for the next day based around opening times and my girlfriend’s only requested activity in the city: a midday jaunt to the Thai Red Cross’s Snake Farm—which, by the way, is highly recommended. In fact, I’d make it my only non-coffee Bangkok recommendation. Come to Bangkok for the coffee, and stay for the snakes, which you can watch being milked and have your picture taken with, Britney Spears- style.
But really—you should come for the coffee.
Hands and Heart Coffee
With early opening hours and a slightly out of the way location on the south side of main thoroughfare Sukhumvit Road, Hands and Heart is a perfect place to start a day of drinking coffee. But the shop, entirely devoted to cold brew and hand-dripping on the AeroPress and Kalita Wave, is a destination throughout the day—not just 7 a.m. The barista on bar during my visit explained that a recent bloom in the popularity of drip coffee among the city's Instagramming youth—combined with Hands and Heart's stark white decor—make the shop a preferred spot for selfies. But Hands and Heart is more than that. Its coffee-forward model highlights roasters from around the world—most recently it featured a selection from Has Bean Coffee and The Coffee Collective. With a second location opening in the commerce hub of Siam Square in April, it's clear that the passion put into the pared-down model—the coffee menu essentially boils down to black, white, hot and cold—is working.
Kaizen Coffee Company
The year-old Kaizen Coffee Company is a two-story shop tucked away in a small urban strip mall on Sukhumvit 63, meaning it can be easy to miss, even with its indoor spiral staircase. Look out for a tell-tale cold-drip orb in the window, as well as faint traces of an Obi-Wan Kenobi blue-color scheme on the facade—you'll find it. The shop is owned by two brothers and offers everything from espresso to siphon to one of the city's only nitro cold brews. Although Kaizen doesn't roast its own coffee, there are plans to start within the year—for now though, Kaizen subcontracts a company to produce its own imprint featuring beans from Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, which are brewed alongside options from other local and international roasters. And while Kaizen is known for its excellent coffee, its food menu is insane—think everything from egg-based savory Australian-style sandwiches to a litany of pastry-case offenders. Kaizen is already a lynchpin in any Bangkok coffee tour, but expect it to only get better—kaizen, in Japanese, is a philosophy espousing the pursuit of continuous improvement.
This shop was just a month old when I stopped in on my way from Kaizen. From the outside, Ekkamai Macchiato looks like the house of someone with more sensibility and style than you. And in fact it is—the owner's. Before it was a multi-roaster, Thanawit Kittikosin's coffee shop was his childhood home. The kitchen where he now brews coffee (from a rotating cast of local roasters including Phil Coffee Company, Roots, and Bottomless Espresso) is also where he cut his teeth experimenting with drip coffee as a teenager. As the neighborhood shifted, however, and after insistence from friends and family members that he turn his coffee hobby into a business, Kittikosin began renovations on the house, converting its downstairs into a cafe and upstairs bedrooms into co-working spaces. The installation of a La Marzocco Linea Classic completed the transformation, and Ekkamai Macchiato opened its doors as both the newest and one of the oldest faces in the fledgling coffee district.
One Ounce for Onion
Founded simply as Onion, a small eyeglasses shop, more than half a decade ago, the store that now occupies a low-slung, wood-paneled building within a maze of Ekkamai alleyways has become an all-purpose clothing store stocking brands that would make even the most twill-and-selvedge-clad consumer's heart sing. But if you go, you’ll likely need a boost from One Ounce for Onion, a side-car coffee spot with seasonally rotating, manually pulled espresso at its heart. Using coffee roasted in-house under the Brave Roasters imprint, the coffee focus here is Thailand—although some beans are imported, the vast majority are domestic. The barista working when I visited explained that the intent with Brave and Onion is not just to make a good cup of coffee, but also to prove that good coffee can be made out of Thai beans (like the Flag Bearer Espresso blend). Of all the espresso I drank in Bangkok, Brave’s, whether for its standout packaging or complexity of flavor, stood out the most. And like at Kaizen, Onion’s brunch menu is killer. You can get a popsicle on top of a waffle here, for Pete’s sake!
Phil Coffee Company
Speaking of Pete, “Phil” is not a person’s name but an acronym for the four founders: Peter, Han, I Ping, and Laura Wang. Han, I Ping, and Laura are siblings, having moved with Peter, their father, to Bangkok from Kuala Lumpur when they were young. Phil itself was born three years ago out of an idea hatched in Melbourne, where Han was in college studying psychology. While his classes weren't inspiring, Australia’s reverence for coffee was—Han drank in that culture before dropping out of school and bringing the less conventional aspects of his education home. It didn’t take much to rope his sisters and dad into the business, and after a brief training stint in Taiwan, Han started a small roaster in a warehouse space on the outskirts of Bangkok. With some consultation from Ink and Lion Café, Phil began as a wholesale operation only, then moved to its current space, at the end of a circuitous alley off Sukhumvit 63, to meet the growing demand of its inner-city customers for a more convenient pick-up location. Phil currently offers a dizzying variety of both Thai and foreign single-origin coffees and blends—some of the packaging mascots of which just so happen to be adorable birds and bears.
Ink and Lion Café
The “ink” in Ink and Lion represents the artwork lining the walls of this small micro-roastery just a three-minute walk (through a grocery-store parking lot) from Phil. The lion is a nod to La Marzocco’s trademark spirit animal, which peers out from a GB5 at the packed cafe space of laptopped patrons. Where Ink and Lion really comes into its own, however, is when the two halves of its name come together in its coffee. Each coffee roasted in-house is designed from the ground up, from origin to roast profile to packaging. An artist works with married owners Kiak and Pui (full names Adithep Pinijpinyo and Nongphan Tangtaweekul, respectively) to tailor each calligraphed bag to the tasting notes of the coffee inside it. At last visit, three single-origin coffees from Ethiopia, Colombia, and Chiang Mai were featured, in addition to a full-bodied blend roasted at Pacamara Coffee, itself only a 20-minute walk away. Born in Bangkok, the couple spent time in the mid-aughts in the Bay Area, when the idea to bring a cafe model like Blue Bottle Coffee or Four Barrel Coffee back to Thailand was hatched. Four years ago, they returned to bring that idea to fruition, and business has been brisk ever since.
It's maybe fitting that Roots is last on this list, seeing as it was the first shop I visited in Bangkok, the shop I visited most, and is also considered the de facto godfather of the city’s movement toward specialty coffee. The Roots in Sukhumvit is on the bottom floor of a self-billed concept space/mall/gathering ground called The Commons that in reality looks like the concrete-and-glass library of the future. The roastery-cum-cafe was established as the coffee-focused arm of food-forward all-day eatery Roast, which has an excellent outpost on the Commons’ fourth floor that is worth a visit regardless of the time of day. The Commons’ ground floor is a market of restaurants and food stalls offering everything from Thai food to pizza, tacos, artisanal pot pies, and specialty coffee, courtesy of Roots. And special it is. In 36 hours, with a bit of assistance, I consumed three cold brews (which rotate monthly depending on the whims of the seasons and baristas), including two flavored with homemade peach extract and a third done up with nut milk and chocolate; three espressos; and countless mini and very delicious biscotti, which just sit at the end of the bar in a big glass jar, waiting for you to eat as many as you deem appropriate for the amount you’ve paid into an “honesty” container.
This isn't it for Bangkok coffee though—there are dozens of other spots worth your hard-earned baht throughout the city—but it should be plenty to keep you busy for a day.
Now go to Snake Farm, take some cool snake photos, post them with lots of snake emojis, and thank me later.