Thai cuisine may have overshadowed Thai drinks but it’s time to redress the balance
Whether you crave a cup of coffee after stuffing your shopping bags in Bangkok, want to sip beer gazing at rolling blue waves by the beachside or indulge in something stronger in its lively pubs and bars, Thailand has much to offer. But don’t let your gaze stop at the familiar international brands—a country with a rich food culture also has on offer local versions of beverages, whether it is coffee or beer and rum.
Thai coffee and tea
Cafés selling premium coffee line Bangkok and other cities like Chiang Mai, not surprising in a country where verdant coffee bushes clothe hilly slopes in north and south Thailand.
However, the local Thai coffee tradition developed around its own unusual brewing process. Kafae Boran, a sweet, traditional Thai coffee, became popular during World War II when coffee became scarce and expensive. So the quality of coffee was reduced during the roasting process by adding grains like corn, brown rice, spices, sugar and even soy beans. This was brewed through a cotton bag steeped in boiling water and the cuppa was finally topped with sweetened or condensed milk. The calorie-packed drink proved to be a runaway success.
In the hot tropical country, the Kafae Boran method is also used to make an iced version—the sweet Thai iced coffee or Oleang, which is much in demand. Had black or with condensed milk over lots of ice, its unique aroma comes from the combination of coffee and the smoky notes of the roasted grains and seeds. Pick it from a street stall and have it on the go.
For those who like their caffeine more potent and are willing to pay more, there is a booming café scene offering lattes, espressos and artisan coffees.
Walk down any of the street food markets and you’ll notice locals sipping an orange coloured milky drink. That is the local ice tea called Cha Yen. Orange in colour, milky and sweet due to the condensed milk in it, this is a one of its kind and something you would have never tasted before.
In a country of beautiful beaches, beer is much in demand among those lounging by the ocean. Singha, Leo and Chang are the most popular ones in the country.
Singha was the first beer to start production in Thailand in 1933 and was an instant hit. With a strong, malty flavour, this lager beer with 5 per cent alcohol goes well with spicy food which is one of the hallmarks of Thai cuisine.
For those on a budget, Chang is the beer of choice as it is less expensive than Singha and much stronger because it has a higher alcohol content. The logos of both these beers are animals—while Singha is a mythical lion, Chang means elephant. Another best-selling beer in Thailand is Leo and it’s quite a smooth one.
Thai whiskey and rum
Thai people enjoy a glass of whiskey and rum and several are manufactured in the country. What sets them apart is the dash of spices and herbs—after all this is Asia!
Mekhong, also called the ‘Spirit of Thailand’, is known locally as a whiskey but is more of a rum and is reddish in colour and quite strong with notes of vanilla, ginger, citrus and toffee. Made with Thai herbs and spices and aged for five years in an oak barrel, SangSom has been a popular rum since the 1980s. It is best enjoyed with some cola.
Phraya is a high-end luxury rum that has even won awards. There are two kinds—Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum and Phraya Elements. Both taste quite smooth and are rich in flavour, a combination of sweet and spicy. Yet another rum that people enjoy is Issan which is made from the juice of red sugarcane.
Ever thought of adding a vineyard to your touristy to-do list in Thailand? Then get set for some wine tasting. Although wine isn’t a part of traditional Thai culture, the country is now home to vineyards that can easily compete with much-sought after labels from Burgundy or Napa Valley.
The wine revolution happened as advanced viticultural techniques made it possible to grow grapes even in tropical climates. Close to Bangkok, PB Valley Khao Yai Winery is a sprawling 1,000-acre vineyard which makes wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz.
Hua Hin boasts one of the largest vineyards in Thailand, Monsoon Valley, which produces both red and white wines including Shiraz and Chenin Blanc. In northeast Thailand there is the family-owned GranMonte Vineyard and Winery, next to Khao Yai National Park. Crafted by Nikki Lohitnavy, GranMonte makes some of the most decorated wines of Thailand, which include Heritage Syrah blends as well as the exclusive limited-production Asoke Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah.
So head out to Thailand ready to delve not just into its famed local cuisine, but also prepare to sample and savour its wide range of local drinks.