Look up the definition of “overwhelming” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a side note saying “see ‘Chiang Mai coffee culture’” next to some scribbles about where to find the best coffee in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Okay, that may not be totally true, but it should be! Coffee culture has invaded and completely overtaken the budding metropolis of Chiang Mai. With quite literally too many coffee shops to count, Chiang Mai can be overwhelming to even the most well-traveled coffee enthusiast (can I give myself that title?).
So, to help you prepare for your upcoming adventure (or to convince you to take one), let’s take a look at these must-visit places to have coffee and tea in Chiang Mai.
Best coffee in Chiang Mai
The popularity of coffee in Chiang Mai is a relatively recent development, exploding onto the scene less than a decade ago. Since its arrival, hundreds of cafes have swung open their doors, only to shut them again less than a year later. The coffee culture is a fast one in Chiang Mai, as new shops seem to pop up every day as old ones just disappear, but there is some consistency among the truly great cafes.
With so many neighbors to compete with, the best coffee shops in Chiang Mai that make it are unlike anything else in the world, and serve up some of the tastiest brews I’ve ever tried. Which is understandable because to survive the invasion you have to be more than just good, you have to be great!
These coffee shops are nothing like Starbucks (a sad comparison to greats of Chiang Mai) and you shouldn’t expect many of them to have many, if any, tea options. However, though the tea scene is smaller here, it embodies the same devotion that characterizes the best cafes.
1. Nitro Cold Brew at Graph Cafe
When visiting a country that barely knows winter, it should be taken as a given that most days will be hot (to put it mildly). With the eastern sun beating down your back and so many narrow streets left to explore, you may need a little refreshment to keep you going.
If you’ve got a hankering for coffee (me 24/7) but you’re apprehensive of sipping down a hot beverage, then Graph Cafe’s nitro cold brew is what you need. The velvety smooth and invigoratingly bright cold coffee is perfect for shrugging off the heat and reigniting your engines.
2. Roasting and Brewing at Omnia Cafe Chiang Mai
With so many coffee shops to choose from, it is difficult to know which actually serve good coffee and not just catchy design. An easy way to tell is to look for the cafes that both roast and brew their own beans.
A shop that roasts and brews is a shop that (1) has complete control over the entire process, start to finish, and (2) really — I mean really — cares about their coffee. On my trip to Chiang Mai, I found a few cafes that roast and brew, but one, Omnia Cafe, stood out from the rest.
If you’re looking for a great place to relax for a little while with a delicious cup of coffee, then you should put this cafe on your map.
3. Impressive Espresso at Impresso Bar
If you prefer espresso and are looking for something other than American style coffee, then hustle over to Chiang Mai coffee shop Impresso Bar along one of the city's more European-looking boulevards. The espresso they serve up here is good enough to impress even the snobbiest espresso enthusiast.
Additionally, the lack of a standard bar means the baristas roam around the cafe taking orders, which also gives the place a very relaxed and welcoming vibe. If you have some work to do or are just in need of a place to relax your feet, Impresso Bar, with its open arrangement, is the perfect place.
4. Locally Sourced Coffee at Akha Ama Coffee Shop
Among all the Chiang Mai coffee shops struggling to make their stamp on the city, there is one that strives to support its local community. Akha Ama coffee shop sources all of its coffee beans from a local village inhabited by the Akha people.
By continuing to purchase their beans, Akha Ama has helped this village grow and remain financially stable. Perhaps because of the little hint of good karma that comes with each cup, or because of the owner’s obvious coffee obsession — seriously, this guy could talk all day about coffee. He even organizes his own Chiang Mai Coffee Tour!
For a full-day coffee tour, check out this one.
What About the Tea?
Though the tea scene isn’t as expansive as the coffee scene in Chiang Mai, it is still very much present. If anything, the tea culture has benefited from the overwhelming invasion of never ending coffee shops, because any tea shop wanting to survive has to be better than average. It is also great to see traditional grass jelly tea still in circulation.
It’s easy to see that the strong roots of the northern Thai Lanna culture is still evident in northern Thailand, and you’ll likely drink tea as the traditional Thai people did at least once during your visit.
With an intense passion for their trade, a number of tea shops have thrived in this coffee saturated city. Chiang Mai tea shops like TianZi, Sati and Homm have dedicated themselves to not just serving tea, but also the art of tea, and their devotion shines through in each flavorful cup.
If you want to bring some of the varieties of tea on offer home with you, don’t forget to stop into one of the many night markets where you’ll find every tea blend you’ve ever heard about and a few extras!
Among all the other things you have planned in this city, I hope you find time for these must-visit cafes in Chiang Mai, Thailand. “Overwhelming” isn’t always a bad thing, and can be very exciting if you run with it. Besides, there are plenty of things to do in Chiang Mai in between coffee stops!
Share your thoughts in the comments below, and don’t forget to share with your friends if you liked the article!
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
If you're looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I recommend checking Airbnb.
How to get to Chiang Mai
You can get a direct flight from Bangkok, take an 11-hour bus, or a 12-hour overnight train.
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This post is a contribution by Alex, who has combined his love of travel and coffee to create HomeGrounds – where lovers of great coffee and travel unite. Check out his blog to learn more, or connect with him via Facebook.