Coffee Bar Review: Roots Coffee Roaster, Bangkok

So it is once again Monday. Being back in Sweden during the perhaps worst period of the year when it is grey, chilly, damp and often a mix of rain and snow makes me think back fondly of my visit to Bangkok. Therefore it is fitting to bring up one of the highlights of the visit there. I had heard a lot of good things about Roots before heading there so I was a little bit fearing disappointment, you know that feeling when you think can it really be that good.

Roots is one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Bangkok and it was started by Varatt “Tae” Vichit-Vadakan, also Thai Barista Champion and he together with the others involved in Roots, run the restaurant Roast. Roots is located at Ekkamai Terrace #2-4 (at Sukhumvit Soi 63 between Ekkamai Soi 15 and 17). It is not a super convenient location with Skytrain but still, sort of, walkable from Ekkamai station (around 15-20 minutes) but a taxi is recommended. More of an issue than the location is however the opening hours, only weekends from 12 to 6pm. The rest of the time the space is used for trainings and work shops so it can tend to get packed with people.

People do however come here for a good reason. The coffee served here is by any measure fantastic. It is number one in Bangkok and to me they also beats the competition in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Tokyo and they are definitely at par with the better places in Europe and the US. The scene for coffee in Bangkok is really booming and while Roots lead the pack there are numerous others that do great things as well. The consistent quality and the great roasting is however what in my mind gives Roots the edge.

There is a rotating selection of coffee available and usually there are three to four different beans to choose from for the filter coffees and then two for espresso based coffees. The selection rotates roughly every 6 weeks so come back to find new things. For the filter coffees it is also possible to select the method (V60, aeropress etc) but they also make a recommendation for each different coffee and based on my experience it is fine to just trust them. Every single cup I have had here has been great or excellent. The execution as well as the roasting really impresses and it does not seem to matter that much who is making the coffee. The cold brews, in bottles, are also great. Especially in the hot Bangkok weather.

The training of the staff seem to be an area of focus at Roots (and Roast). From what I understood from one of the girls working there, all the baristas go through a 3-month training before, if passing, becoming a full-time employee. It is however not as if it stops there as they then provide continuous training to let people develop more. Tae believes that the people are crucial to making good coffee so in his work to provide the best coffee he has realized that it does not matter if he sources excellent coffee, roasts it to perfection if the people serving it are not as good. So trying to retain people by allowing them to develop, learn and have a career path is a way to serve good coffee.

The strategy seems to work as the coffee is just awesome. What is then even more surprising is the pricing model. There is no price list but rather one pays what one feels it is worth. They have an honesty box and it is up to people to put as much (or little) as they want there when they leave. It does seem to work well though as most people are amazed by the quality.

There is not a full kitchen at Roots but there are delicious pastries available. These are baked on site so just sitting there they bring out new and freshly baked pastries and I do at least find it difficult not to overindulge. The pastries are also great, some of the better I had in Bangkok and these also follow the same honesty pricing system.

Since the place tends to get a bit crowded I do not really feel comfortable sitting around for too long but the place looks nice and it is pleasant to sit and sip the coffee. There is no free wifi or such but this is not the place to come and work or study – the focus here is on great coffee (and pastries) so I am not really bothered by it. I also like the fact that it is clear that the space is not only a café but that they also roast, bake and hold courses here. It does give the space a different feel to many other over-designed cafés. Service is extremely knowledgeable, very friendly and it is clear that people like talking about coffee and they are happy to answer any questions you may have. My only regret is that I do not have such a place anywhere near where I live.

So how does it rate:
Coffee quality: 5
Ambiance and Service: 4.5
Food: 3 (pastries are five star but there is not really any ‘real’ food)
Vs Local Average Competition: 5

Wineweek 12: A Letter from Kuala Lumpur

It’s Sunday again and time for Wineweek, the recap of events accompanied by a lot of pictures. Taking pics is probably one of my favorite activities when it comes to the blog. It of course means that I am all the time snapping food/wine photos and some times people find that a bit weird. No worries, I am comfortable with that.

Last week Saturday we flew from Koh Samui to Kuala Lumpur, my former “home” city (I spent a school semester there). It was a short stop because we thought there would not be much there for us. However, we were partly mistaken. It’s always easier to be wise in arrears, but we should have reserved a few more days for going around. Kuala Lumpur has developed immensly in 10 years and there is a growing coffee culture and great food courts.

The two full days we had were spent on walking around and drinking coffee. If we would not be so tight on luggage space KL is a great place for shopping as well. We also bought a bottle of bubbly from Samui airport to have wine one night (KL is not the best place in the world to start looking for wine bars). To our disappointment the Dominique Portet Brut Rose that  we bought had cork damage. Oh the agony! You are just waiting to have that first cold sip of wine, and you realise already when opening the bottle that it has gone bad. That is what we wine-geeks have to live with. After tweeting about the incident though, the producer actually sent us a message suggesting they could replace the bottle if we live in Australia. Unfortunately we don’t, but I really appreciate the gesture. I love when producers respond to posts or tweets and want to be engaged with their customer base. I am very much looking forward to the next opportunit to try out their wines some day.

So what were the highlights of KL:

1# VCR is a cafe on a small side street close to Jalan Bukit Bintang. They had excellent speciality coffees and some delicious looking cakes. When eying what people were having in tables next to us it seemed that they also did some pretty yummy brunch.

2# Three Little Birds Cafe is located in an office complex on Jalan Sentul. It was not easy to find and we were thrown off by everything else being closed due to a holiday (I have no idea which one, it caught us off guard). They do excellent espresso based coffees as well as filer coffees and it is a calm, almost tranquil environment to sit and do some blogging.

3# Acme Bar & Coffee is a restaurant on Jalan Binjai, close to the KL city centre park. What I really like is that Acme is a restaurant with good coffee, not a cafe with good food (you have plenty of those around). We dine out a lot and however nice the restaurant, the coffee often disappoints. Even at three michelin star restaurants the coffee, the last thing you put in your mouth, is just not good enough. I hope Acme will inspire other restaurants to pay more attention to coffee.

4# Food Court at Paragon. This is a massive food court in the upscale Paragon Mall on Jalan Bukit Bintang. I actually used to live next to here, but 10 years ago, Paragon was not there. I was shocked how my former home street looked like. It was like from a different world. If Paragon and its wonderfull selection of food stalls would have been there 10 years ago, I would have been in heaven.

5# Lokl is a cafe located on Jalan Tun. The coffee was a disappointment, mainly because it had sugar in it. It was our own fault though as we ordered local coffees without asking for them not to add anything. I have noticed thay they like things sweet here in South-East Asia. Lokl had some great food though, like a Chicken with rice and herbs and Pulled beef burger. We also had a Profiterole for dessert.

Kuala Lumpur was probably the dryest wine destination of our journey through Asia. Luckily we are now in Singapore which seems to be the best. As with other South-East Asian countries, wine is expensive here (perhaps I should stop complaining about the Monopoly in Sweden). However, we have been able to find some shops, bars and decent bottles at restaurants. My wine-deprivation is starting to withdraw, and I forsee future posts having much more action around the main topic of our blog. So happy coming (wine) week to everyone! Next week we will be starting our posts on Singapore with some London memories and KL reviews to add to the mix. Soon we will also start looking more to the future. Our return flight to Sweden is in a few weeks and we have a bunch of company stuff on the table. It will be a nice change to start writing more about that.