Specialty coffee is on the rise in Thailand, and the coffee world is starting to notice. The younger generation prefers coffee to tea, and coffee production is ramping up in response.
This article explores the coffee industry in Thailand. It’s characterized by youths driving a vibrant coffee culture and creative processing methods.
A Complete Guide to Thailand Coffee Production
Thailand is the third-largest coffee producer in Southeast Asia, growing about 30,000 tonnes annually. However, demand far exceeds supply; annual Thai coffee consumption is over 80,000 tonnes!
A History of Thai Coffee
Coffee has only been grown in Thailand since the 1970s. Before this, northern Thailand was part of the infamous “Golden Triangle,” a hotspot for heroin production (1).
The King announced a “Royal Project” in 1976. The goals were to restore ecosystems, enhance the country’s international reputation, and introduce new cash crops to local farmers, including coffee beans. They planted two ancient coffee varieties, Typica and Bourbon, and many Arabica plants persist.
Growing Regions, Climate, and Varietals
Thailand’s coffee production and consumption habits are divided by geography, according to local coffee professional Safak Akkose (2).
South of Bangkok, you can find Robusta. Some coffee shops still use it. In northern Thailand, it’s almost impossible to find Robusta.
Arabica beans are grown primarily in the northern part of the country, in the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son. These regions have relatively high elevations, cool climates, and sufficient rainfall to grow specialty coffee.
Typica and Bourbon are still grown but present challenges due to their susceptibility to pests and diseases. As elsewhere, hybrids are becoming popular. Thailand developed its own hybrid coffee plant, Chiang Mai 80, blending the disease resistance of Catimor with the cup quality of SL-28 (3).
The nation’s southern half has lower-elevation farms with greater sun exposure. They produce Robusta coffee exclusively, primarily for instant coffee.
Flavor Profiles and Processing Methods
Thailand has the youngest farmers of any country on Earth, with an average age of 25 – 35. This dramatically impacts the coffee sector.
Young farmers are willing to innovate and experiment, and Thailand has become a hotbed for creative coffee processing methods.
Many Thai coffee farms share similar soils, so unique processing methods produce flavors that help a coffee stand out. Not every experiment is a success, but creativity pushes the industry forward.
Coffee in Thailand is often low in acidity, with a rich mouthfeel and syrupy sweetness. Typical tasting notes are brown sugar, chocolate, orange citrus, and a slight earthiness – similar to coffee beans from India, Sumatra, and Sulawesi.
Thailand Coffee Culture
Thailand has long been a tea-drinking country, but the current generation is driving a coffee revolution. The domestic coffee market is estimated at $1 billion, of which $33 million is specialty coffee. Nowadays, Chiang Mai is home to numerous specialty coffee shops.
Thailand may be best known internationally for Thai iced coffee, but coffee shop owners note evolving trends inside the country. Espresso yen is a popular chilled blend of espresso, milk, and condensed milk. Dirty coffee is a cold glass of milk capped with a fresh espresso shot.
Top Thailand Coffee Brands
It is challenging to enjoy Thai coffee outside of Thailand because very little coffee is exported, and the government encourages local consumption by placing large import tariffs on coffee.
If you can’t track down Thai coffee, consider Lao coffee as an alternative.
Roast level: Medium
- Tasting Notes: Cherry, Milk Chocolate, Earthy
- Brew: Espresso, Moka pot, French press
Bluekoff single-origin Arabica coffee is one readily available brand. This organic medium roasted coffee comes from the province of Chiang Mai. The peaberry beans feature complex flavors of cherries, milk chocolate, brown sugar, and a hint of citrus acidity. A subtle earthiness and heavy body make these beans wonderful brewed as an espresso or Moka pot.
Thailand is an up-and-coming coffee region worth watching, especially as the Thai coffee industry is only 50 years old. With a new generation demanding specialty coffee, and young coffee farmers keen to deliver them the best beans, there is tons of growth potential.
What is Thai traditional coffee?
Thai traditional coffee is oliang, also known as Thai iced coffee. People usually make it from strong Robusta coffee, sugar, and ice. Indeed, the translation of oliang is “black and iced.” However, popular variations add milk and/or condensed milk.
Which country is number one in coffee production?
Brazil is number one in coffee production, producing over a third of the coffee grown globally. In 2020, Brazil grew 7,844,000,000 pounds of coffee beans, of which approximately 70% were Arabica and the remainder of Robusta beans.
What is the best brewing method for Thai coffee beans?
The best brewing method for Thai coffee beans depends on the specific beans. A full body, creamy mouthfeel, and sweet flavors with a hint of Earth characterize many Thai coffees. Brew a fantastic cup of coffee with an espresso machine, Moka pot, or French press.
- Old Qtr Coffee Merchants. (n.d.). Understanding Thailand’s Coffee Growing Industry. Retrieved from https://oldquartercoffee.com.au/blogs/news/understanding-thailands-coffee-growing-industry
- Anindya, M. (2022, November 29). Tapping into Thailand’s burgeoning specialty coffee scene. Retrieved from https://newgroundmag.com/2022/11/thailand-burgeoning-specialty-coffee/
- Noppakoonwong, Uthai & Khomarwut, Chatnapa & Hanthewee, M & Jarintorn, S & Hassarungsee, S & Meesook, Sataporn & Daoruang, C & Naka, Patcharada & Lertwatanakiat, Supattra & Satayawut, Komate & Pereira, A & Silva, Maria do Céu & Varzea, Vitor. (2015). Research and Development of Arabica Coffee in Thailand. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280740360_Research_and_Development_of_Arabica_Coffee_in_Thailand