Coffee & Culture: Thailand

Bean Voyage
4 min readMar 8, 2018


Welcome to the second installment of our Coffee & Culture series, Asia edition! Today we will be taking you all the way to Thailand with Rujinun (Dream) Palahan! Dream is from the city of Bangkok, and was very excited to share with us about the coffee tradition from her hometown Bangkok.

When do Thai people often drink coffee?

In Thailand, breakfast will often come with a hot coffee, but in general, people are drinking coffee at all hours of the day. Traditional coffee shops are open late, some until midnight. In the evenings, generally the coffee is prepared with normal milk, but in the morning, people can be found drinking a special coffee recipe made with condensed milk.

So, what’s this special recipe?

Thai coffee is often served iced and called Oliang — “o” which means “black” and “liang” which means “cold.” It’s traditionally made by roasting espresso beans in a pan over a charcoal fire. They then add corn kernels and tamarind seeds, or other combinations of seeds including cardamom and soy, grind the mixture, and roast again. During the second roast, sugar is added and sometimes butter as well, and allowed to caramelize. This dry, ground, mixture is then brewed in water, cooled, and served over ice. You can combine or layer with condensed milk and evaporated milk for sweetness.

Often when you buy Thai coffee on the street, it comes in a plastic bag with a straw instead of a traditional plastic cup. Handy!

Another variation on these coffee recipes is called โอเลี้ยงจ้ำบ้ะ or “Oliang Jumba.” A sweeter and slightly fruity version, this recipe combines the Thai coffee blend with strawberry syrup (like the kind you would use to make snowcones) at the bottom — with ice, of course.

Tell us more about how people generally drink coffee in Thailand.

50 to 100 years ago, people would visit coffee shops regularly in the mornings as a place to socialize, talk politics, and read the newspapers provided. Since there was no television, the coffee shops were where people would gather to get their news and chat with neighbors. Nowadays, businessmen, students, families, and teenagers come to relax and work at the coffee shops. Especially in Bangkok, students are often working and studying at coffee shops, even late into the evenings. If you want your coffee on the go, in cities like Bangkok, coffee is sold from little carts, like this one:

These carts start selling very early in the morning, parking themselves in the busy downtown areas and on often very crowded streets. Between 4am and 10am, these carts can sell anywhere from 300–500 cups every morning. As you can guess, Thai people really like their coffee!

Could you give us some context on coffee production in Thailand?

Thailand is the 3rd largest producer of coffee in Asia, following Vietnam and Indonesia. A whopping 99% of the coffee produced in Thailand is Robusta variety, a lower-quality coffee that is produced in the south, used mostly in instant coffee products, and often exported around the world. The remaining 1% higher quality Arabica coffee is grown in the north on a much smaller scale. Recently, coffee production trends have begun to shift away from Robusta production to more sustainable and socially responsible Arabica farms, in response to the market demand for higher quality coffee. This shift could be huge for coffee farmers in Thailand, giving them the potential to increase their yield and profits.

Coffee culture in Asia is so rich, and Thai coffee is a great example of the unique way that coffee is able to cross global borders to connect all kinds of people around the world. Thanks so much to Dream for sharing her story! Stay tuned for more cultural coffee snapshots from other Asian countries and across the planet!

Coffee & Culture is a series unpacking coffee traditions around the world, while learning from the stories of connoisseurs. We recognize the danger of a single story, and will try to stay away from describing a culture based on these stories. If you enjoy these stories, feel free to subscribe to our newsletter for more!



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