Thai Café Hopping through Time: A Sweet Tooth’s Journey into Culture

Natcha Jantararotai

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There are endless reasons why people visit a café. Some are just looking for the perfect work or study spot, while others are simply café hopping—roaming from shop to shop for the chicest, trendiest, most Instagrammable snaps.

Thailand has a vibrant café scene, especially in Bangkok. As of this article, #cafehoppingbkk has over 900,000 posts on Instagram, fueling the passions of many Thai baristas, some of whom have found ways to connect with caffeine fiends through Thai culture.

In this article, we explore a few cafés both in Bangkok and other provinces that have built a following by creatively integrating traditional Thai desserts and putting Thainess front and center. These cafés are just unmissable, whether you’re looking for a favorite go-to or satisfying the café hopper inside you.

For art lovers: JEDI Cafe (Bangkok)

Source: JEDI Cafe & Bar Facebook Page

Situated right next to a popular tourist attraction, the Golden Mount (Wat Saket), JEDI Cafe, named after the Thai word for “pagoda,” serves both regular and “fusion coffee.”

Their young up-and-coming barista has created these specialty drinks by combining high-quality coffee with aromatic Thai desserts such as khanom sai sai (ขนมใส่ไส้)—soft and chewy dough made with coconut and sweet fillings—and khanom phing (ขนมผิง)—mini coconut cookies. Non-coffee drinkers may enjoy other classic Thai refreshments like butterfly pea lime soda.

Occasionally, JEDI Cafe offers up their space for Thai artists to exhibit their works for free as a way to promote local talent. From oil paintings to miniature models, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy unique Thai-inspired concoctions while indulging your inner art aficionado.

Once every few months, JEDI Cafe will hold “Sunset Therapy”—a mini concert for indie bands. We recommend you follow their social media channels for their latest information on exhibitions and concerts.

For fusion food lovers: Thongyoy Cafe (Bangkok)

Source: Thongyoy Cafe Facebook Page

Thongyoy Cafe is one of many franchine dessert cafés that can be found as a standalone shop and in department stores. The café is known for its elegant floral decor and Madagascar-inspired interior. Here, a wide variety of traditional Thai desserts are served in sparkly, highly Instagrammable, gilded tableware—the perfect accessory for their colorful treats.

Take their giant ta ko (ตะโก้), for example. These mini Thai puddings topped with coconut cream is mouth-watering enough, but Thongyoy Cafe doubles the size and tops the cream with ruby-red tub tim krob (ทับทิมกรอบ)—water chestnut pieces wrapped in supple tapioca dough. At a quick glance, people might mistake it for a piece of jewelry.

Aside from luxurious decorations, the vibrant Thongyoy Cafe is also known for their fusion desserts. One of their signature favorites is “Bua Loy Cake.” Bua loy (บัวลอย) is typically tiny rice balls enjoyed with sweet coconut milk. Again, Thongyoy Cafe turned the dessert on its head and made bua loy into a cake.

For theater enthusiasts: Sumrubyai Thai Experience Cafe (Bangkok)

Source: Sumrubyai Thai Experience Cafe Facebook Page

In “Tawipob”—a Thai period drama known as “The Siam Renaissance”—the protagonist Maneejan discovers that she can travel to the past through an antique wooden framed mirror. At Sumrubyai Thai Experience Cafe, visitors are greeted by a mirror, as though stepping into the café is like traveling back in time.

Established by a former stage manager, the mysterious Sumrubyai Thai Experience Cafe was designed to deliver an immersive Thai experience. Sumrubyai revives ancient and rare recipes such as kaeng tae pho (แกงเทโพ) or pork curry with morning glory and kaeng run juan (แกงรัญจวน), a spicy pork rib soup with Thai herbs. Every dish has a story, and Sumrubyai is eager to share those stories with their customers.

They also have seasonal menu, including a Thai egg custard pumpkin tart inspired by fak thong sankhaya (ฟักทองสังขยา) or Thai egg custard-filled pumpkin for Halloween. The café occasionally organizes various cultural workshops, from how to make traditional Thai dessert to traditional Thai dance class.

For desserts with a view: Hormglin Thai Dessert (Ayutthaya)

Source: Hormglin Thai Dessert Facebook Page

Although Hormglin is billed as a modern Thai dessert café, the combination of aromatic Thai sweets and a stunning view of Wat Ratchaburana can’t help but evoke a historical ambience.

Located right across from Wat Ratchaburana in Ayutthaya province, the owners, two architects, made sure visitors would be able to admire the ancient temple while enjoying lovingly crafted Thai desserts. Their signature dish, khiew mekha (เขียวเมฆา) or “green clouds,” is a luscious combination of aromatic pandan, condensed coconut cream, palm sugar, and almond—an unusual ingredient for traditional Thai desserts. Yet, with the added texture, this reinvention of a classic Thai dessert has easily won the hearts of tourists and locals alike.

On hot days (i.e., all year long), visitors are encouraged to try Thai tea ice-cream paired with foi thong (ฝอยทอง) or golden egg thread and thong muan (ทองม้วน) or Thai crispy rolls.

For history buffs: Prem Dessert Bar (Phuket)

Source: Prem Dessert Bar Facebook Page

On the busy Krabi Road of Phuket province stands No. 44, a vintage-looking house with a century’s worth of memories and history. From the front door to the kitchen, Prem Dessert Bar has hidden stories to be discovered.

About 109 years ago, a Chinese couple migrated to this town, started a business, and called this house their home. The wife and her daughter-in-law loved to spend time cooking and making Thai desserts, which were said to be the pride and joy of the whole town. The two ladies wrote down their secret recipes in a red notebook in the hopes that it would be passed down to future generations.

Today, a descendant and her friend have fulfilled their dream, as the No. 44 house has been renovated, renamed “Prem,” and serves over 60 different desserts, all inspired by recipes in the red notebook. The new owners have used modern plating for ancient desserts in order to promote their treasured heritage to new generations.

But Prem Dessert Bar has more than history. Here, chor muang (ช่อม่วง) or Thai steamed dumplings, colorful look choop (ลูกชุบ) or bean paste mixed with coconut milk, and other delicious sweets are served on ancient tableware. Over 90% of the café’s furniture are original pieces, making visitors feel as if they were in a living (and delicious) museum.

“Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving, and identity.”

– Jonathan Safran Foer, American novelist

These next-generation pioneers have reinterpreted traditional Thai culture and gastronomy to create some truly singular experiences. By drawing inspiration from their identities, these cafés serve more than just beverages and desserts, but tell a story of who we are and where we come from.

We encourage our readers to find their own way into Thai culture, whether it’s museums, historical parks, nature trails, or even Thai cafés.

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Natcha Jantararotai

A writer, translator, and avid reader, Natcha, or Lha, works in the field of digital diplomacy at a foreign government organisation. Aside from her interest in cross-culture communication, she is passionate about storytelling and how creativity can be used as a tool to inspire groundbreaking solutions. Her love for nature and the urge to support local communities play a crucial role in her writing pieces.

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