It’s no secret that the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand is obsessed with coffee shop culture. In the fashionable Nimmanhaemin area, it’s not unusual to see two, or even three coffee shops in a single block. But having spent many months over the past 10 years in what most consider to be the cultural capital of Thailand, I can tell you unequivocally that all coffee shops in Chiang Mai are not created equal.
Many baristas have no clue how to make a good cup of coffee. Brews are often bitter or weak. International shops that have edged into the market (Starbucks and Gloria Jean, to name two), are wildly expensive compared to the independent local shops. But more importantly, anyone with 100 square feet of unused space seems to think they can make a fortune by buying an espresso machine and slapping up a coffee shop shingle. Rarely is any thought given to space planning, comfortable furniture, fast wifi, air conditioning, and well-trained pleasant staff.
Three years ago, I found coffee shop bliss in Chiang Mai. Just around the corner from my guest house, I noticed a new sign for Cozy Cafe and Coffee. It was their opening day, so I wandered in for a peek. The staff welcomed me with huge smiles and pointed me to an adjacent room that was comfortably cool. I sank into one of the overstuffed chairs to wait for my Americano and looked around the spacious room. The scattered sofas and chairs were upholstered in hodgepodge patterns that somehow worked together to create a homey atmosphere. Magazine racks offered reading material and pleasant music played in the background.
The ambience was so pleasant that I decided to stay a while. I hooked up to their rocket fast wifi and ordered a meal. Not only was their food delicious, it was extremely affordable. My Americano was just 45 baht ($1.29 USD), and their entrees averaged around 75 baht ($2.15 USD). Three hours later I was still there, writing.
Fast forward three years and I’m spending more and more time in Chiang Mai. Cozy Cafe has become a second home to me whenever I’m in town. I know the owners and all the employees by name, and they greet me by my first name as well. Since I’m learning the local language, they speak to me in Thai and regularly teach me new words. I sometimes spend entire afternoons sipping Mango shakes and scarfing down their delicious Ghang Keow Wahn (green curry over rice). I no longer have to tell them to prepare it vegetarian and pet mak mak (very, very spicy) – they just know.
Earlier this year I met Mayuree, the owner of the cafe, along with her daughter and son, Champ and Mae. The property that now houses the coffee shop was the family’s personal home until they moved to be closer to Mayuree’s office. They rented the property for several years, until May suggested to her mother that it might be a good location for a coffee shop. They soon joined the uber-competitive fray of coffee shop culture. Fortunately, in their case, they did everything right.
Unlike the early days when it was virtually unknown, Cozy Cafe has been discovered by Thais and tourists alike. Though it’s often busy, it’s never overcrowded because Mayuree and her family have kept pace with the growth. Just last month, they began building an addition. So far, the glass walls have gone up, and silver mosaic floor tiles have been laid. I’m willing to bet that the furniture will be just as attractive, and as comfortable, as in the rest of the shop. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the coffee and food will continue to be the best in Chiang Mai.
Author’s note: Don’t be fooled by copycats! Whenever a business in Chiang Mai is successful, someone inevitably opens a shop with a name that is just slightly different. Cozy Cafe and Coffee Shop is located outside the Old City, just south of Chiang Mai Gate on Suriyawongse Road.