Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Chiang Mai and the high rise of Oriental Espresso

If you think coffee, you think Seattle or Copenhagen or London or ...., but Chiang Mai Thailand? Not directly.
Fact is that Chiang Mai's cafe culture and coffee production is creating a buzz.

Want to know how 'developed' a country is? Don't waste your time confusing statistics, but simply look at how much coffee it consumes. The top coffee-drinking country's in the world also enjoy the highest standard of living, while those who eschew the brew come in at the bottom of the list.
To be fair, this is an overgeneralisation and highly unscientific. Yet there is the past in which we saw that coffee drinking did a lot of good the people and their community. Is it a concidence that Microsoft and Starbucks both came of age at the same time, in the same city of Seattle?

Coffee not only gets the brain going full-tilt, but it is a vehicle to connoisseurship ; like fine wine, art and complex music.

Chiang Mai, that disarmingly city in northern Thailand is certainly on prime example of the above stated 'theory'.
Aside from a breakneck boom in five-star and boutique hotels, cutting-edge restaurants and bohemians art galleries, the town is advertising its ambitions most evidently in the explosion of a domestic coffeehouse culture.
Where five years ago, 'fresh coffee' meant you had just broken the seal on your jar of Nescafe, today you can't wander for more than two minutes without spying a flashy new coffeehouse, or even just some humble little espresso machine at a roadside shack.
Happily, unlike some other Asian cities, Chiang Mai has steered its upward momentum with a ginger style that has come typify what makes the town so appealing to visitors.

Starbucks made their appearance in the streets already a year ago. And where the Seattle-based chain has often been known for the way how they build up their espresso bars next to the small coffeehouses and eventually running them out of business ; it looks like the opposite is happening now.
Wawee, 94, Cafe Nero, Smoothie Blues, Bake and Bite, Kopitam and others are full of costumers, while Starbucks hosts far less, primarily rich Thais from Bangkok and foreigners who are bound by brand loyalty.

Besides of the fast rise of espresso bars we also see a very productive coffee bean production, with local, mostly fair trade, brands like Duang Dee, Doikham and Kocth. Specialty coffee picked and processed and roasted it the same country you drink it ; this opens huge opportunities... and definitely worth a visit.

(inspiration and information from Oliver Benjamin's article for Fah Thai Magazine)

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