The Exotic Bean

Coffee Traditions in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia)

The Coffee Traditions of Southeast Asia

image of Karnataka coffee beans

If you think that all the world’s coffee drinkers live in Europe, the United States, and Columbia, you couldn’t be more wrong. Coffee is enjoyed the world over these days, and Asia recently overtook the U.S. and Europe as the region that drinks the most coffee. To take it a step further, coffee is no stranger to the cultures of Southeast Asia either.

Coffee has been grown and consumed in the countries of Southeast Asia since the late Seventeenth Century, and as one might expect, each individual Southeast Asian country has a slightly different way of taking their coffee. Read on for our quick guide to the coffee culture of Southeast Asia.

Coffee in Thailand

Although the culture of coffee in Thailand has only really started to take hold over the last decade, the area around the northern village of Doi Chang has been producing some of the world’s best coffee for the last twenty years. Most Thais still drink tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk, but these days, you can find good coffee in most of the larger towns and cities.

image of Doi-Chang thailand coffee

Coffee in Vietnam

In Vietnam, coffee culture goes back to the French colonial days, along with the Vietnamese love for baguette and beef stew. The coffee drink of choice in Vietnam, café sua da, is made by percolating hot water through finely ground beans into sweetened condensed milk, then stirring and pouring this concoction over ice.

Coffee in Cambodia

Coffee culture is quickly taking hold in Cambodia, with a host of coffee shops opening in the major cities and larger towns over the last five years. The coffee is strong and the cafes are patterned after coffee shops in the West.

Coffee in Laos

Some of the world’s finest coffee is grown on the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos. Until recently, almost all of this coffee was exported to the West for consumption. Coffee culture is catching on in Laos these days, and Western-style coffee shops are sprouting up in cities and towns nationwide.

Coffee in Indonesia and Singapore

image of drinking coffee in singapore

In Indonesia and the island state of Singapore, coffee has a rich, unique tradition behind it. They call it kopi, and it is traditionally brewed in elongated cloth pouch of sorts. This pouch is rinsed but not washed between brewings, and develops a savory flavor of its own which it imparts to future cups of coffee.

Additionally, the coffee beans in Singapore and Indonesia are traditionally roasted in a wok with butter and kernels of corn. This imparts a sweetness and depth of flavor to the coffee unlike any you may have had elsewhere in the world. Coffee is typically served in shops along with toasts and other types of baked goods.

Southeast Asia’s Coffee Culture Is as Varied as Its Geography

From the richly developed, unique kopi culture of Indonesia, to the barely emerging gourmet coffee craze in Laos, Southeast Asia’s coffee culture is as varied as its geography.

Many nations have their own indigenous styles of drinks and methods of brewing, while some others are adopting European and American style drink menus and brewing methods. Regardless, it’s truly a great region to sample a variety of interesting coffee styles and preparations.

[Photos Via: Wikimedia Commons; ChiangRaiBulletin; DavidandFamily]