Coffee has been grown and consumed in Southeast Asia since the late seventeenth century and since then each country in the region has developed a different way of drinking their favourite bean.
Here is our guide to coffee culture in Southeast Asia:
Thailand, along with many other South East Asian countries, has only three seasons: hot, humid, and cool! So knowing where to get a nice cold drink is an absolute necessity.
Lucky then, there is a strong cold brew coffee scene in northern city of Chiang Mai. There are hundreds of coffee shops in this city, not including the street stalls dishing out delicious Thai-style coffee. Though, coffee in Thailand has only really started to pick up and take hold over the last decade. Most Thais still drink tea mixed with condensed milk, but these days, there is good coffee in most of the larger towns and cities.
Areas around northern Thailand have been producing great coffee for the last twenty years.
Cambodians traditionally prepare coffee by roasting until nearly black, mainly by using vegetable fat. Once beans have been roasted they are ground up, and this fine powder is used to brew a very rich and dark cup of coffee. Mostly, the coffee is brewed using either a cloth sock-like sieve.
A tradition of coffee growing in Cambodia started with the French colonialists in the 1700s.
Think of Vietnam and pristine beaches, rice paddies in a country with breath taking beauty springs to mind. Think of coffee and Brazil, Colombia comes to mind, right? In actual fact. the world’s second largest exporter of coffee today is actually Vietnam! However, domestic consumption used only 8% of the beans produced.
French colonists might have introduced coffee to Vietnam, but a cup of coffee every morning soon became a local habit, though rarely is a coffee taken on the go. There are variations of drinking coffee that use of yoghurt, eggs and even fruit. Safe to say that Vietnamese coffee has certainly developed a style of its own. Busy, modern Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) has maintained its strong cafe culture even amidst its growing responsibilities as Vietnam‘s economic center.
Coffee was introduced to Laos by French colonialists in the early twentieth century and it has been a staple drink ever since. Today the crop still remains the country’s largest agricultural export with some of the world’s finest coffee is grown in Southern Laos. Coffee culture is catching on in Laos, with Western-style coffee shops sprouting up in cities and towns all over the country.
Malaysia’s land resources mainly consist of producing and exporting of palm oil, rubber, sugar and tea and they do not prioritise coffee.
However, now that the country’s domestic coffee market is beginning to take off this is beginning to change. Kuala Lumpur, thriving with its large, well-educated middle class, is spearheading Malaysia’s coffee culture and production may now be emphasised, particularly in light of high worldwide coffee prices.
Here coffee has a rich, unique tradition behind it. Indonesians call it kopi, and it is usually brewed in a cloth pouch. This pouch is rinsed but rarely washed between each brew, meaning it develops a distinct savoury flavour.
Additionally, coffee beans are traditionally roasted in a wok with butter and kernels of corn. This gives a certain sweetness to the coffee alongside a depth of flavour unlike anywhere else in the world.
picture courtesy of: Takenoh Nursery, Sumatra, Indonesia, on a Keurig coffee plantation