AFTER cycling for three hours around the northern Thai town of Chiang Rai in 30 degree temperatures while admiring charming temples and gardens, respite was required. Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House was a welcome oasis in a country where finding a decent coffee is as challenging as finding the lost city of Atlantis.
Chivit thamma is Thai for “simple life” and the cafe is located in a non-descript Soi just over the river Kok and about 1.5km north from the centre of the town. It was an easy ride there as Chiang Rai is a relatively flat town and very easy to ride and navigate around.
Standing on the banks of the Kok River, the cafe is within a beautiful and immaculate white weatherboard house and is more like something you would find proudly standing in The Hamptons or in Savannah than in northern Thailand. It is possibly one of the most beautiful cafes I have been to in south-east Asia and serves the best brew in Thailand.
The main room is filled with comfy lounges and intimate tables with white-washed or brown wicker chairs. Bookcases are full of books devoted to music and the room is filled with the sounds of traditional jazz. An old gramophone sits proudly against one wall – reiterating the “music theme”. The whole space is tastefully decorated and despite the amount of furniture in the room there is no clutter. There is also a separate, glassed atrium wing as well as a wonderful outdoor garden area with fountain and views of the Kok River. The clientele it attracts is a mix of hi-so Thai, expats and travellers.
The menu has a variety of coffee and tea and cold drinks as well as an al- la-carte bistro-style menu. One shot of espresso is 50 baht and there are the usual variations: caffe late; cappuccino; cafe au lait and the dreaded “Americano” (all ranging from 70 to 100 Baht). Iced coffee and tea drinks are available from 90 Baht and there are some pretty funky juice combos like passion fruit with wild honey and coconut (95 Baht).
The menu is slightly eclectic. It is mostly dominated by European influences (with some Asian twists) and well as a couple of regional styles. For instance there is pan-fried John Dory (300 baht); Swedish meatballs (220 Baht); spaghetti (cabornara, bolognese, northern Thai sausage or vegetarian for 150 baht); squid ink and Italian sausage pasta (220 Baht); a Korean bibibap (180 Baht); and a duck breast in orange sauce (300 Baht). Apparently backboard items change daily.
I prefer eating light in the tropics and considering I had a return bike ride ahead of me I decided to go for a cold mocha frappe (95 baht) and the spicy salmon salad (220 Baht) yes, an odd combination of coffee and savoury!
Sitting in such tranquil elegance and surrounds one would hope that the standard of service and meals on offer reflected the opulence. I wasn’t disappointed.
The frappe was served in a huge glass vessel topped with whipped cream. It was a strong, slushy mixture of espresso coffee, real milk (as opposed to creamer or sweetened milk that seems to be the norm in Asia), all churned with crushed ice. Refreshing, cooling and thankfully giving me a long-awaited caffeine hit.
The salad was superb. It featured a mixture of tossed cos lettuce, halved baby tomatoes, onion and chunks of ripped smoked salmon with decent, yet not over-dominating squeeze of a chilli-influenced, mayo-based dressing. The ingredients were fresh (very fresh), and crisp. The mayo was creamy and hand-made with flavours of mild chili and lemongrass coming through. While sitting back in the wicker chair I thought that this was a dish that would work in Australia’s summer months and it is something I will definitely be attempting to knock up for a casual lunch back home.
I made the mistake of not visiting Chivit Thamma until my last day in Chiang Rai. A pity as it would have been somewhere I would have liked to have gone to for an early dinner to savour some of its other menu items and have one of their cheeky cocktails out in the garden. Despite this remorse I got back in the saddle and ventured through the sois and across the river refreshed and delighted that finally I had found a place in Thailand that could serve decent coffee and simple, yet inspiring food.
The verdict: If it serves possibly the best coffee in Thailand then I can’t really say any more. Beautiful surrounds, quality food and good service. A little bit out of the main commercial area of Chiang Rai but well worth the short journey. The only downside was not being with my someone special to share the experience.
What: Chivit Thamma Da Coffee House, 170 Moo 2, Rim Rok, (Soi Baan Rong Suae Ten 3), Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Ate there: 30 October 2012.
Note: 10 baht = A$0.30 at time of writing. Chivit Thamma also runs a day spa which is next to the cafe.