Chiang Mai is saturated with coffee shops leaking out creamy iced lattes. You can’t walk a block around the Nimmanhaemin Road area, a hip neighborhood packed with both Thai and expat residents, without bumping into a coffee-serving establishment. Among the green mermaid conglomerate and local shops, Ristr8to stands out for its award-winning owner and barista, and delicious, signature hot and cold coffee.
Arnon Thitiprasert, Ristr8to’s owner, has won the Thailand National Latte Art Championship three years in a row. In 2015 and 2016, he represented Thailand at the World Latte Art Championship, placing fifth and 11th respectively. He also participated in the 2011 World Latte Art Championship, placing sixth overall. But Thitiprasert made the best of these performances at the 2017 World Latte Art Championship in Budapest, Hungary, where he took home the top prize, becoming the 2017 World Latte Art Champion.
Perhaps it was a matter of “practice makes perfect'—Thitiprasert has spent much of the last few months practicing his pours for customers at the Ristr8to Lab, one of Ristr8to’s three locations in Chiang Mai. A drink he's poured hundreds of times is called “The Satan Latte,” which comes in a cup in line with the World Latte Art Championship's regulation size and shape. In order to retain a proper coffee flavor despite the added milk for the artistic addition of latte art, Ristr8to baristas add an extra shot of ristretto to the drink. Thitiprasert says the Satan Latte is one of his most popular drinks.
I sat down to speak with Thitiprasert at Ristr8to Lab in the middle of this training process—neither of us knew that he'd move on to win the big event. He brewed me a traditional long black—doppio ristretto over warm water (but not boiling)—and made himself a Satan Latte so that I could see his latte art in action.
We sat outside, where the music was a bit quieter and evening chatter and falling sun provided a sense of peace. Inside the shop, loud rock music makes it feel more like a bar than a traditional coffee shop—it’s a welcome break from the crooning, low-volume vocals that typically come out of Thai cafe speakers.
Thitiprasert explained that he got his start in the coffee industry when he moved to Sydney, Australia to improve his English. He got a job as a barista to pay the bills, and just so happened to work alongside some accomplished latte artists along the way. He had always enjoyed art and found coffee as a way to apply it—it took time, however, to acquire a taste for the drink and fine-tune his craft. He worked in various shops around Sydney and ran his own for a few years before deciding to return to Thailand. His reason was simple. “Thailand is home,” Thitiprasert said.
I asked about why Thitiprasert chose Chiang Mai to open Ristr8o rather than a location in southern Thailand, where he originally lived. He explained that he hoped more Thai people would appreciate hot coffee, so he wanted to open a hot coffee shop in one of the colder locations in Thailand.
Thitiprasert also wanted to be in a city where he thought the coffee industry could grow, and given Chiang Mai’s rate of urban development, artistic population, and close proximity to the coffee farms of Northern Thailand, the only region in the country where Arabica grows, it seemed like the perfect city to set up shop. In 2011, Thitiprasert opened the original Ristr8to. Ristr8to Lab, geared toward the more experimental coffee drinker, and Doppio Ristr8to, the company's third location, would come later.
Ristr8to serves both single-origin coffees and blends comprised of beans from Thailand, Colombia, and Mexico. The single-origin coffee rotates monthly, and in the near-term will highlight Thailand, Colombia, Guatemala, and Kenya.
Every year, Thitiprasert takes staff members on a trip to a different country to study coffee culture. Because of these travels, the Ristr8to menu includes drinks influenced by places around the world including Melbourne’s Magic, a flat white, and the Gibraltar. There are also unique drinks like the Cigar8to and Grandmother Mocha, as well as alcoholic offerings—“Coffee in Good Spirit” on the menu, named after the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship.
As for Ristr8to’s name, Thitiprasert explained that he wanted to put the number eight into it because Arabica coffee has 44 chromosomes, therefore doppio ristretto must logically—or perhaps illogically—have double that. Its significance is why every menu item’s price has the number eight therein, and Ristr8to open at 8:08 in the morning, and close at 11:08 in the evening.
Ristr8to—indeed the entire progressive coffee scene in Chiang Mai—appears to be doing well. At the time of opening, Thitiprasert says that many days the shop only sold eight cups of coffee. Now each shop sells hundreds. The city is becoming a destination for coffee lovers, and now with a World Latte Art Champion among its ranks, that esteem is only going to grow. “It’s about increased knowledge,” Thitiprasert tells me. “Being part of the culture and support[ing] other shops is everything.”
In tribute to Arnan Thitiprasert's vision at Ristr8to Chiang Mai, this article contains exactly 888 words.
Edie Wilson is a freelance journalist. This is Edie Wilson's first feature for Sprudge.