“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”
― Pascal Mercier,
No matter what your temptation or current mood, there’s a café for everyone in Chiang Mai. It is, after all, the coffee capital of Northern Thailand. A recent trip to the comforting city of Chiang Mai made me aware of its growing coffee and baking scene. You can end up doing the most touristy things in Chiang Mai when you’re visiting for all of 5 days by visiting temples on every street OR if you’re like me and are truly inclined to soak in the beauty of this place by gorging on some of the most delectable coffee in settings that are nothing short of magnificent, besides being on the search for good light, divine ambiance and pretty props for your culinary travel photography, this list should certainly be of help.
1. THE BARISOTEL BY THE BARISTRO
This café is undeniably Chiang Mai at its finest. The owner, Thanit Suvanish, a charming and friendly chap, who is also a sort of an Instagram legend, has stuck to minimalism by having a pure white café with plush white couches, elegant but simple interiors against a gorgeous coffee counter. There’s an excellent array of coffees and other beverages besides a display of fine bakes. It is, indeed, a café photographer/food blogger’s paradise as there are large glass panes, diffusing bright sunlight, lighting up the space and enriching the white interiors thereby achieving inner brightness by natural light. Indulge in the Orange Nitro or their Coconut Coffee and Matcha Crepe Layered Cake and grab one of their artsy magazines and your breakfast is sorted.
Location: 7/2 Soi 9 Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai
2. WOO CAFE
This café cum art gallery is a heaven for a food stylist like me. Besides realising that the owner is aesthetically inclined, you’re drawn to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the floral arrangement adorning the walls. The array of cakes underneath glass cloches entices you and once you’ve started indulging in the same, you shall end up in a food coma. The café has a mix of Thai and Western dishes. Be sure to order their Thai-style spaghetti with Isaan sausage and chilli, the traditional Khao Soi soup of the Lanna cuisine (northern Thailand cuisine) and one of their specials, the Khao Yum salad which is a southern Thailand dish, with each ingredient presented in a separate bowl, comprising Butterfly Pea Rice, Kaffir Lime, Raw Mango, Dried Shrimps and Puffed Rice.
This place is a little pricey compared to most other cafés that I visited but worth every bit of the experience. Also, I strongly recommend buying some of their crockery from the art gallery, if you’re a food photographer. I found myself leaving the café with a gorgeous wooden cake stand and some ceramic plates, which did not cost me much.
Location: 80 Charoenraj Rd, T. Wat Ket, A. Muang, Chiang Mai
3. GRAPH CAFÉ
A quaint little café, but one with shades of white and vintage interiors, Graph is a favourite amongst the locals. If you’re looking for an intimate space with the right music to calm you down and give you the pleasure of being a solo traveller, you’re headed in the right direction if Graph is on your list. Their gorgeous latte art is a sensation amongst Chiang Mai Instagrammers, but what enticed me was the assorted selection of coffee beans used to make their latte. Their cold brew is equally pleasing.
Location: Ratvithi Lane 1 Alley, Chiang Mai
4. SS1254372 CAFÉ
The greatest thing about the café scene in Chiang Mai is the uniqueness. Each property being so different from the other, so visually pleasing, so rich in taste, art and simplicity. You walk inside the café and you’re entering the art gallery sporting all sorts of stuff, rustic, easily affordable and things you can imagine decorating your future exposed brick industrial apartment with. While you feel like you’ve walked into a keenly designed spacecraft with large round windows, there’s a gorgeous al fresco section, where you can get some Instagram-worthy pictures with natural light, mosaic tiled tables and potted plants everywhere. Ideal for a breakfast date, be sure to indulge in some of their coffee and cookies besides a sumptuous breakfast menu.
Location: 22/1 Nimmanhemin Road, Soi 17, Suthep, Chiang Mai
5. A DAY IN CHIANG MAI COFFEE BREW
This cabin-like space is small but comfortable. Their cold day (an espresso shot poured over cold milk) is a signature besides their Piccolo and croissants, all easily affordable, thereby making this place busy at all hours.
Location: 107/, Ragang Rd, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai
Being renowned for winning the National Latte Art Championships and the head barista winning the World Latte Art Championship in Budapest, this place has finesse and professionalism written all over it. The menu is extensive, having something for every coffee lover, detailing every blend, in case you’re unaware of the name. I would strongly recommend their Ethiopian espresso and Colombian cappuccino.
LOCATION: 5/3 Nimmanhemin Road, Chiang Mai
7. CLAY STUDIO COFFEE IN THE GARDEN
Amidst a plethora of Chiang Mai cafés redefining beauty, Clay Studio stands out from the rest in making you lose yourself to the atmosphere that this place houses. It’s quite an iconic place, to be very honest. Housing a waterfall by which you shall spot large tables where you can peacefully enjoy your coffee soaking in the magical notes of water droplets crashing the small rocks, a large café section with glass windows letting all the natural sunlight diffuse in making the place an ideal spot for café photography and lit incense sticks creating an aroma that is just apt for the space, this place mesmerised me. They have a fine collection of their coffees and teas and I ended up buying a large jar of their Butterfly Pea Tea.
Recommendations to enjoy in this greenhouse would be their special Thai Iced Coffee, Matcha Latte, fruit bowls and Mango with sticky rice and muesli.
Location: 36 Prapokkloa Rd, Tambon Phra Sing, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai
8. BIRDS NEST CAFÉ
Predominantly vegetarian, this place offers some fine preparations in Mediterranean and Thai cuisine besides having an excellent breakfast menu. Hammocks, good music, work stations, books, games and a very comforting atmosphere – these are the highlights of this café. The communal feel intermingled with hearty vegetarian meals have made this spot a favourite amongst local yogis and monks alike. Tom Kha, Pumpkin Salad and Green Thai Curry are some of their highly recommended dishes.
Location: Sinharat Lane Soi 3, Chiang Mai
9. GOOD VIBES CAFÉ
A hidden gem in the Southern party of the city, this is a family run café adorned with statuettes, lush green trees, comfortable seating, photographs and memorabilia, enriching your dining experience. They are known for their small meals. Try their roasted tomato on homemade sourdough, avocado and salmon sandwich and some of their neatly plated desserts.
Location: 19/3 Soi Ratchamanka 2, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai
10. FOREST BAKE
Saved the best for the last. Forest Bake is nothing short of an iconic inspiration for cafés all round the world. Owned by the Instagram legend and food stylist, Nalinnali, this forest inspired space boasts of attention to detail when it comes to the interiors, bakes and the al fresco section taking you to an entirely different world. Humble little wooden cabin full of artisanal bakes with the menu changing every season and housing some all round the year signature bakes, it lies in the woody grounds of Hinlay Curry.
Hanging plants, cosy logs of wood, baskets of aromatic breads, fresh flowers, chalk-board menus, this entire place is obviously a labour of love. Everything is organic and freshly baked. Try their Japanese Cheesecake, Cinnamon Sticky Buns, Double Chocolate Brownie and layered Caneles and you’re sure to be checking in every single day of your visit.
Location: 8/ NHA Wat Kaet 1 Alley, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai
Do you have a list of your own? Do you think there are any more cafés that I missed and should check out on my next visit? Reply in the comments below and I’d be glad to add those to my list.