Golden Rivers of Coffee in Cambodia

Sipping a good cup of coffee is a ‘lifestyle’ and multimilliondollar business in Cambodia these days.

Local Cambodians in Phnom Penh used to be sitting in dark cool alleys near the busy markets having their daily shot of caffeine, sweet milk and when it’s hot their café toek doh koh toek gok (ice coffee).

Over the last eight years things have changed dramatically in the Cambodian coffee landscape; brand new coffee ‘palaces’ or rather places are popping up everywhere. Catering to the young more prosperous Cambodian generation to meet socially and study at Browns or at Café Amazon or Starbucks. There is also Gloria Jeans, True Coffee, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Costa Coffee. Still the market seems not to have been saturated yet.

More and more mobile coffee outlets are seen on the streets as well these days. Starbucks, with 20,891 stores in 62 countries, arrived in Cambodia in 2015 and now operates three locations, including the Phnom Penh International A i r p o r t and the Siem Reap International Airport. Café Amazon has 34 shops all over Cambodia. Inside Phnom Penh, they have 26 and the remaining 8 are in the provinces. They expect to achieve an expansion to 200 shops within 10 years.

Also from Thailand, Cafe Cha Payom has ambitiously entered the Cambodian market with 25 outlets and plans to operate 100 by 2019. Established in 2010, Brown Coffee is one of Cambodia’s most recognizable brands and has grown to 14 outlets, a baking facility and a training center.

On an average weekday morning most coffee places are packed with patrons as they study in the comfort of lounge chairs with free WiFi while drinking long tall orders of Caramel Macchiato, Americano, Flat White or Cappuccino. Ranging between $2.40 to $3.85 per serving, customers can choose from a range of i c e d teas and coffees, frappes and smoothies, as well as a glorious array of sandwiches and fine pastries. Most of its clientel are young Cambodians and businessmen on a mission. The aim is not to communicate with each other, but look at your screen on your smartphone or Macbook Pro.

With most in A-grade locations, the demand for coffee houses is apparently huge. So is the competition as they battle for the young middle class students and business people that make their coffee houses into on-location work places. No need for office rental anymore. At the Orussey market you will find old local coffee places right in alleys or on the busy market streets in the shade, where it’s cool and the coffee hot and strong. Here, the coffee is beautifully and dynamically prepared on a wood stove, as it has been for generations, and filtered through cotton filters. The coffee beans used are from Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam. The clientele are local office and market workers, having a cup of coffee and washing it down with complimentary Chinese tea. A good freshly brewed cup of coffee sets you back $1, at most. Most of the new coffeehouse chains use imported coffee and blend the various coffee beans into a trademark consistent quality that is identical from location to location and are mainly catered to the western international taste.

Cambodian Coffee

Cambodian coffee beans are mostly cultivated in the northeastern highlands of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, and in some parts of Pailin province. With its rich red soil, these highlands have historically been suitable for Arabica coffee growth that requires higher altitudes and a more hospitable climate. You can enjoy great Cambodian grounded coffee on a small scale, in select places or buy it to make at home. Be attentive where you buy your coffee locally that you get what you pay for, Mondulkiri coffee is some of the best available locally and has a reputation to match. Not only for locals, some foreign visitors to Cambodia will offer bribes and barters to get their hands on some of this black gold… to cast their memory back to times spent in alleyways sipping rich dark coffee laced with sweet condensed milk.

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