The city of Chiang Mai, Thailand is unlike any other. Meaning “new city” in Thai, this place balances old and new, local and global, natural and urban in a uniquely compelling way. There are ancient monasteries and UNESCO heritage temples. There are roving hordes of digital nomads arriving from every corner of the globe. There are beautiful historic landmarks and Michelin star restaurants, lush mountains and elephant sanctuaries, colorful buildings and intoxicating street food. And throughout it all—nestled in alongside seemingly every facet of life in this place—there is coffee, coffee, coffee.
Roaming Chiang Mai gives visitors a glimpse of just how ingrained coffee is in the everyday lifestyle. From the city streets to the mountaintops, from fast coffee and tea carts on every shopping street to globally inspired, gorgeously modern specialty coffee bars, coffee lovers are absolutely spoiled for choice here. Yes, you will find the modern classic “Thai coffee” and “Thai iced tea” with abundance in this place, made with sweetened condensed milk and the perfect foil to the spicy-sweet-savory-sour symphony of flavors found in Thai cuisine. But that’s just the start. There are hundreds of cafes here—some built for quick service, others for co-working or quiet contemplation. You could tour this place just for coffee and never see it all.
Quietly, perhaps without much hype, Chiang Mai is one of the most exciting coffee cities in the world. Here’s some essential places to visit to get you started.
Situated inside Old City in Chiang Mai, Mars is one of the first buildings that catches the eye after peering through the 13th-century-built Saun Dok gate. The shiny metallic exterior extends into the cafe space leaning heavily into its space station on Mars theme.
All of the choices in this guide are beautiful, but Mars takes the cake—you cannot help but take pictures while you’re here, and no one can blame you for sharing on social media. Fully equipped with two photo areas, the middle bar lounge affixed next to a floor-to-ceiling lunar projection with dim lighting and intimate seating matched with a synth-wave playlist fits the Martian exploration vibe.
The backroom is open to guests who want to take part in the photo booth and photo stop in front of a wall of redrock. While the crowd was very minimal at the time, all guests were limited to a three-minute session of selfies. Otherwise, you are free to roam and enjoy your drink.
Visuals pleasantries are abundant including Mars’ signature drink menu. The simplest drink on the signature menu is called the Mars, which pairs chocolatey espresso paired with creamy whole milk. Drink it alongside a slice of Oreo cheesecake before heading back out to walk to Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan.
W8 x Viangpha
Chiang Mai is a wonderland of Thai traditional crafts, and the work of Thai craft artisans should be high on your experience list. The city’s famous Sunday Night Market is the perfect place to do this, spanning the length of the road between Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan to Tha Phae Gate on the east side of the city.
Found right outside the eastern gate is W8 x Viangpha cafe (pronounced like “double-you-eight”). Enter through the staircase to the second floor to visit the cozy coffee bar. Here you’ll be greeted by a small, charming crayfish in a display tank. The lush, green balcony on the second floor is a warm wooden spilt level, with plenty of space to work on a laptop or admire the locally painted artwork.
Chiang Mai stays warm all year round, and so cafes keep plenty of cold drinks at the ready. W8’s iced smoked cinnamon latte is chilled to cool down, but manages to still capture the natural warmth of smoked cinnamon. You can smell it coming as they walk the drink over to your table. I also really enjoy their Black To The Moon signature drink, which features espresso layered over natural strawberry soda with an orange slice.
Carrot is located in the south part of Chiang Mai. Tucked between narrow residential streets and Wat Pan Whean, it’s just a seven-minute walk from the Chiang Mai gate.
Carrot is laid-back in style, and feels almost like drinking coffee in someone’s home. Here you can choose a seat from two floors of tables and couch, and out the back door is an enclosed courtyard perfect for a bit of reading or enjoying a quiet coffee date. Signs throughout the courtyard read “I Carrot live without coffee” which is hard to disagree with.
On bar during my visit were three distinct coffees, all roasted by Carrot. These included a light roast blend of coffees from Ethiopia and Chiang Mai, a medium roast of coffees from Pang Khon and Brazil, and a deep, dark roasted Thai coffee from Thep Sadej with nots of chocolate and brown sugar. Here is where I also tried one of my favorite signature drinks in the city, called the Carrot No. 1 and featuring cream cheese foam with sprinkled sweet carrot cookie crumble over the top of espresso.
Roxpresso is located near the Wat Chai Si Phum, attached to a hostel attached to a hostel nestled on Moon Muang Road. This corner of Chiang Mai’s old city is relatively quiet and conveniently close to several food markets in the area. With calming white interiors and splashes of holographic plexiglass, the entire space made for a beautiful spot to relax after walking inside the city walls.
Roxpresso uses 100% Arabica beans locally sourced from Chiang Mai. This shop is on the higher end of drink prices, but for the craft cocktail-like experience it was well worth the cost and wait. Unlike most places, Roxpresso specializes in ROK espresso style, a hand-pressed espresso shot that doesn’t use electricity. Expect to take it slow as it takes longer than pulling an espresso shot from a machine, especially if you opted for an iced drink. Roxpresso wouldn’t dare throw a few ice cubes in a glass. Your drink’s platter holds a handmade ice ball as well.
When your drink is ready, the staff will walk a platter full of utensils and a customized name tag to you. Assemble everything slowly, sip, enjoy.
Graph opened its doors in 2009, and today has four locations across Chiang Mai. Graph Contemporary is located in the old trade neighborhood on the east side of the Ping River and Graph One Nimman, Graph Ground, and Graph Quarter are to the west of Old City near the ultra tourist-friendly Nimman neighborhood. Each location has its own unique menu and design charm.
Graph One Nimman is a great option for those looking to take a quick break from shopping at the daily market space in the One Nimman plaza. It’s a small space with about five tables on each side of the speed bar. This location is truly meant for intimate conversation, and is not Wi-Fi enabled. The shop is known for its large selection of signature drinks along with single origin offerings from Graph’s roastery, GATEWAY Coffee Roasters.
My favorite of the signature drinks here is the Honeybee. It’s a multi-layered espresso-based drink made with a black coffee jelly foundation, mellow caramel frappe middle, and topped with whipped cream, coffee powder, and a honeycomb. It’s a feast for the eyes, and it was as fun to mix the jelly into the drink as it was to sip it through a straw.