Coffee is huge in Thailand, and I don't mean connoisseurs debating bean quality. I'm referring to the world of sugar-laden latte's, caramel mochas with dollops of cream floating on top, cappuccinos with copious amounts of that yellowy syrup stuff and processed green tea shakes that don't taste like green tea.
Of course, if you don't want your concoction sweet then just ask, and there are expressos and straight black for the purists, but if you want to develop diabetes then drink a few mochachocowhatsitsnames a week for a year or two.
I spend more time in coffee shops than most, working on my laptop and watching the madness of the world go by. Usually I used an independently-owned coffee shop near my apartment, where I'm pretty much part considered part of the furniture.
However, just recently I was left in a pickle because it closed down. And so I was left with the dilemma of visiting chain coffee shops, which I do every so often when out shopping or out of town, but I do prefer an “indie”.
Chain coffee shops in Thailand tend to attract a wealthier clientele: expats “farangs”, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean tourists, white collar workers and students frequenting malls living a “hi-so-like” lifestyle on the back of daddy's salary or student loan. While the average Thai tends to grab a coffee soi-side for half the price, twice the size, and no doubt with twice the sugar.
Regardless, indie or chain, coffee shops are interesting places, with people coming and going for all sorts of reasons; be it a rest, meeting, secret rendezvous or free internet.
All encompass their own vibe and unique qualities, and with about three or four to every mall, it's often a toss up on which to choose.
But not all were created equally, that's for sure. From WIFI access to chocolate brownie cheesecake prices, there are distinct pluses and downsides to each. So which is the best coffee shop in Thailand?
In this post I dissect the three most popular coffee shop chains in Thailand
1. Starbucks Coffee
It's the big one, and certainly the trendiest in Thailand – people even wear Starbucks tees – and going for a “Starbs” has become as common here as it is in the US, UK and other parts of the world.
But what are the pros and cons?
WIFI: Sadly WIFI isn't free. In fact it's an overpriced 100 Baht per hour. Clearly they don't need to throw in this free perk to increase business, either that or they don't what the likes of me sitting there all day making the place look untidy.
Customer Service: Generally I find the staff in Starbucks very friendly, and the staff in BKK are pretty darn enthusiastic about their jobs.
Those in the know will know that this is part of the Starbucks staff training, of which one core requirement is to learn your name and say it at least a few times every time you come in, and to memorize your order.
That said, most Starbucks coffee shops in Thailand tend to employ students who are naturally fairly upbeat due to the blessings of youth…sigh 🙂
Price & Quality: It's not cheap, and pretty much double what you'd pay at an indie.
A medium-sized cappuccino will set you back 95 Baht. Go large and expect to pay 115 Baht. Stretch to a Mochachocawhatsitsname and you are looking at 140 Baht if your add a lashing of whipped cream.
Cakes are pricey too, with basic muffins coming in at 65 Baht, and a piece of strawberry cheesecake at 95 Baht. Quality wise the coffee is okay, nothing to write home amount, but not offensive in any way.
Seating: Personally I think Starbucks never have enough comfortable seats. The chairs and sofas are few and usually taken, leaving the wooden chairs which are pretty uncomfortable. This is branch-dependent to some degree, but I feel this lends itself to the non-freelancer friendly policy. They want people to shop, come in and buy a coffee, stay 20 minutes and make space for someone else.
Recommended Drink/Cake: Cappuccino (Grande), Skinny Blueberry Muffin.
Noteworthy Points: They serve Soy milk for vegans
Overall TTL Rating: 3.4/5
2. Black Canyon Coffee
Black Canyon has a unique place in the market because it offers an extensive food menu, doubling as a restaurant of sorts.
It's pretty smart looking, too, with many branches offering huge comfy chairs and a flatscreen TV. But how does it stack up as a coffee shop?
WIFI: Cheaper than Starbucks but still not free. Last time I used WIFI there it was 50 Baht per hour. Go on, just give it away for free!
Customer Service: Being restaurant-like the service is fairly silver service by Thai standards, and although efficient, friendly and very “Khop Khun na ka”, it lacks the personal approach of independent cafes, even more so than Starbucks.
Price & Quality: Black Canyon is probably the cheapest commercial chain when it comes to drinks. They also have a great food selection.
85 Baht gets you an ice cream mocha, and you can eat a handsome dish like fish steak, chips and salad for under 200 Baht. Thai food here isn't bad by all accounts either; although naturally pricier than roadside restaurants.
Seating: Black Canyon is very comfortable, and the majority of locations have cushioned seating: sofas, armchairs and table chairs.
Recommended Drink/Food: Chocolate Ice Cream Mocha. Guy Paad Med Mamuang (with rice). Award-winning Pad Thai.
Overall TTL Rating: 3.8/5
3. Coffee World
WIFI: Free! And is pretty decent too, with an upload speed of 0.5Mbps and a download speed of 3Mbps+.
Customer Service: I always find the staff at Coffee World gracious and friendly, and seemingly more genuine than Starbs and Black Canyon.
Coffee World has more of that “independent” coffee shop feel to it, and perhaps this is the USP the management have chosen to secure their market position.
Price & Quality: The fact that you get free WIFI, and they don't pull funny faces when you've been in there 4 hours and only had two drinks, means that you do pay a premium for the privilege.
Drinks in Coffee World are roughly the same price as Starbucks, but can stack up more expensively on big sizes and more exquisite products like the Matcha Green Tea Shake with whipped cream, which comes in at 140 Baht.
Cakes also run beyond 110 Baht on fancier themes, although a chocolate almond brownie is a reasonable 55 Baht. Coffee here is fair, much like Starbucks, although certainly a different taste. I'd have to say Black Canyon is the winner when it comes to coffee taste.
Seating: Like Black Canyon, Coffee World is more than comfortable. And coupled with the free WIFI, sitting in this joint is a pleasure.
Recommended Drink/Cake: Iced Cappuccino (Alto). Almond brownie.
Overall TTL Rating: 4/5
My overall winner is Coffee World, largely due to the seating vibe and free WIFI, which is great if you want to get some work done.
That said, each chain has something unique to offer: Starbucks is always cool as a hangout vibe for meeting friends, with plenty of interesting people coming and going, and Black Canyon is awesome for a bite to eat.
However, nothing beats an independent Thai cafe with authentic music, a unique vibe, personal service, free WIFI, 60 Baht coffee and home cooked food and cakes.
I'll be adding to this list as I gather more intel…Watch this space!