Caffeine Fix: The History of Coffee in Thailand

Coffee has been grown in Thailand for centuries but it only first started leaving the country through exports in the last hundred years. The Middle East has been the dominating player in the coffee game, but that could all be changing as Thailand steps up. So, what does the history of coffee in Thailand look like?

It all starts with the Arabica plant. Famous for the small beans that it produces, the plant leads to the millions of cups of coffee that are drunk on a daily basis across the world. The Thai climate, it turns out, is the perfect setup for growing these beans. The hilly areas around Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai and the like provide the plentiful rain and high elevations that the Arabica plants flourish in. Furthermore, the southern parts of Thailand, thanks to their slightly different climate, lend themselves to growing a different type of bean known as Robusta.

Looking Back

Arabica is the money spinner. Not only is it harder to grow but it yields a higher quality bean per plant making it more expensive. The Robusta plant was, at first, Thailand’s preferred coffee bean. This is simply because growers could easily clear vast swathes of the rainforest to set up plantations. The lower quality, but higher yielding, fruit has fallen out of favour since the coffee culture has grown and become more distinguished.

Nowadays Thailand’s farming focuses on the more exportable Arabica bean. The bean has a far smoother, sweeter and more palatable flavour than the Robusta. As the industry began to grow some larger corporations began to exploit the land and farmers. Thankfully more and more people began to see the benefits of direct and fair-trade. This means that more and more local farmers are receiving a wage appropriate to the work they do.

Coffee and Thais

You don’t have to spend much time walking the streets of Thailand before you come across coffee in some way, shape or form. Iced coffees laced with condensed milk, small espresso Nescafe cans or a straight up cappuccino. The coffee scene is very much part of Thai life.

Of course, there are the major worldwide chains popping up across the country, if you’re in one of the major tourist hubs you’re never far from a Starbucks. But don’t stick with what you know. There are some amazing independent cafés in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and across the country. Make sure to try the freshly made, ice-cool cups from the street vendors too!

Bodegan Insider Tip

If you’re hoping to support the local producers why not pay them a visit? There are some great tours that you can do of the larger farms or just head into the mountains and talk with the locals. We’ve ridden an hour from Bodega Chiang Mai into the hills and happily enjoyed the freshest cup of coffee you can imagine alongside newly picked macadamia nuts. These are the experiences to hunt for!