Chiang Mai is a chill-out jewel of the North, with a manageable population, enough space to go around and a great many interesting things to do to keep you occupied for days. It also draws in the largest expat population attracted to the quiet yet well-equipped environment for doing digital nomad work, with great working spaces, affordable accommodation and of course amazing cafes whipping up our favorite cuppa joe. Here we go!
Interestingly, Chiang Mai is home to one of the best coffees our editors have ever tried, and its barista is ranked no 6th in the World Latte Art Championships. And he’s probably ranked pretty high for other non-latte art categories too! We’ve tried a couple of coffees at his flagship store in Chiang Mai (At Nimmahemin road), and we love the Satan’s Latte the most. The blend is intriguing to say the least, with enough roast to feel the aroma at the back of your nose, yet not bitter at all. In fact it’s a little sweet with a lingering aroma of caramel and nutty flavours. This is one coffee you dont need anything to go with – The mark of a great blend of beans done just the right way.
The other coffees are amazing too, such as the cigar8to and ficardie as well as cult coffee specialties like the Tokyo ‘Dirty’, San Francisco’s ‘Gibraltar’ and Spain’s ‘Cortado’. Having tried all these in their nation of birth, I’d say Ristr8to does them pretty damn well. Better than many in their respective countries even.
They also have a menu of alcoholic coffees ranging from the Mexican Latte (with Kahlua & Bailies) to Dirty Ethiopian Mother (Jameson, Kahlua & Bailies). Gotta give it to them for naming such great names. Best is they’re all priced very reasonably, with the classics at around 88baht (US$2.5) and the alcoholic ones at 128baht (US$3.66).
Don’t miss out on their desserts while you’re there too! The cheddar cheese ice cream is THE BOMB. I know this is a post about coffees and cafes, but this is too good to not share! Miss it at your own risk. And it does go well with any coffee! The waffles are also very fluffy and slightly crisp on the outside. Nobody would tell you this, but they actually go best with the cheddar cheese ice cream as a dip rather than the ones given with the waffle set. Thank us later!
If you have to choose only one cafe to go for your coffee fix, choose Ristr8to, we guarantee you won’t regret it.
*Because it’s so popular, we don’t recommend working there as there’s usually not enough space and just too many people. Enjoy your coffee and find another more conducive place! 🙂
2) Akha Ama Coffee
This little gem of a place serves exquisite coffee that is quintessentially Thai, yet surprisingly modern. Located just a little bit North of the old city, this little space is extremely popular among both foreigners and locals. Thoughtfully designed by its founder, they also have a commitment to social impact and a wonderful track record of working with communities to produce the best beans.
3) Penguin Ghetto
This little off-beat cafe is a little out of town and a little hard to find, but it’s pretty worth it! With such an atmospheric location and nice decor and only a few tables, it’s a wonder it doesn’t get filled up more often. They’re most famous for their cold brew lattes, which are cold brewed for a few days before being turned into ice cubes. You get served a huge glass filled to the brim with coffee ice cubes and a pitcher of milk to add to it. It’s the most generous serving of cold brew ice cube latte I’ve ever seen! The taste is impeccably great too, and should be more than enough for even the hardest hardcore caffeine addict.
Their dessert is worth a mention too, with hot favorite being its Chocolate pasta. Made with chocolate, they manage to turn it into a very al-dente pasta that is so bouncy and smooth. Eat it with the sauce and cream and it literally slithers ever so comfortably in your mouth before sliding down your throat. JUST AMAZING. You gotta try it.
4) D Bistro
This quaint old building is located right smack in the middle of town, with its architecture probably celebrated and very well conserved, looking at the banners that sell the heritage of the building. Dont be fooled by the seating area in the front, it only has like 2 tables. Continue on to the back and you’ll pass by a beautiful serene garden with interesting sculptures and water features before another section with almost 20 tables greet you. This beautiful space is almost never full, making it a great place to work, and most of its coffees are great too.
Their other drinks are worth a mention too, in particular their greentea ice cream float, which comes in a nice glass jar that’s filled to the point where the ice cream drips uncontrollably down its sides into a little saucer. (Don’t worry its all part of the plan) It gives you the feeling to wanna go all barbarian on it and suck it all up. The thick and flavorful drink truly satisfies, especially in the hot weather. The food is great too, especially the dry stir-fried bacon pasta with chilli. Oh the umami and the wok fried aroma. A simple dish, a complex indulgence.
5) Mingmitr Cafe
This is a coffee pureplay just outside town. Selling just a few cakes and biscuits in addition to its coffee, its definitely not living up to its potential. But the coffee is really pretty good. The cafe itself is very beautifully designed as well with spacious seating. What’s special here is probably its Thai coffee. Their usual lattes and cappuchinos are good too, but noting spectacular to rave about. This is one of the only places to serve really good Thai coffee – The ones made with sweet condensed milk. Its not too sweet, perfectly balanced and the right blend of roasted blend unique to the region.
6) Un Deux Troix
This little french themed place stands out for its very French designed facade and of course a french sounding name. There’re guitars lined throughout the cafe and even an entire band’s worth of equipment inside that is fully functioning. The coffee is great too, and even things like Ice Lemon tea is properly shaken with a thin layer of foam on top that gives it some complexity and deep flavor. Food is sadly forgettable. Some of the cakes do look interesting though.
7) Woo Gallery
This little nook is famous for its decor, with vintage furniture and tons of greenery throughout the cafe. You’ll feel right at home in this comfortable little cottage. The coffee has a number of complex undertones and while they don’t have different blends nor do they tell you about the blend itself, its still pretty much a well-done local roast.
They have a great selection of food too, albeit on the pricey side. The second floor has a art gallery to indulge your artistic senses in while you sip the great coffee and enjoy the pitch perfect service dished out by the most attentive waiters and waitresses here.
8) Wawee Coffee
While chains almost never make it to our lists in backstreets all over Asia, this is one of those special ones that actually have something good to offer beyond what chains usually offer – great locations, ubiquity and overpriced products. Wawee has nicely designed cafes that are usually pretty big, easy enough for you to always snag a seat, thats why its almost always popular with the expat and tourist crowd. Its central locations make them easily accessible.
Their coffee is great because they use locally sourced beans. Not just for the sake of using. We all know of those shops claiming to be ‘organically, sustainably, locally farmed’ but they just turn out to be crap, and sometimes even mixed with some nescafe from who knows where. But Wawee’s coffee really have a distinct aroma to it, similar to how Brown Cafe’s coffee have a distinct taste from their local blend. Its also very value for money, their big sized coffee is truly humongous. I’ve never had such a big cup before for just a little over US$2! Just see the very high cup of coffee here.
Enjoy your coffee fix! Buy us one some time if we ever meet! 🙂