#Phichit #Thailand: Caffeination of a Nation
Can it be true? That sleepy somnabulant boozy bamboozulant Thailand has gotten hip to high-test, coffee, that is? It’s hard to believe, I know. This is the country that has almost single-handedly kept Nescafe solvent over the years, first with the ‘classic’ blend, then the more recent 3-in-1 (blecch) offerings. I mean, the good stuff was always there, but you’d have to look hard or know certain people. Back in the old days, mid-90’s Chiang Mai, there was JJ’s at the Montri Hotel, and that was about it. And it wasn’t cheap at a buck or so (more than a street meal), but they’d top you up for no extra.
Nescafe at the time wasn’t much more than a quarter US. When JJ’s folded, you could find some Shell gas stations with some half-way decent push-button espresso for twenty-five baht, less then a dollar. Anything hand-pulled would be at least twice that. When Starbucks finally entered the market, rack rates were something like $3-4-5 for the 12-16-20 ounce standard brews, half again American prices, and about the same as Europe. A modern standard espresso was three bucks anywhere, if you could find it.
Fast forward to the present and prices have sky-rocketed in the Land of Subsidies. It’s hard to find a meal for a dollar now, more like twice that, and that Nescafe price has doubled, to twenty baht. Interestingly enough, prices for the fresh stuff have actually come down, as they indeed should. Coffee by the cup is nothing but retail, dahling. Forty baht became standard, and now it’s thirty, with twenty-five popping up more and more.
Lately, though, I’ve found a couple with twenty baht prices, same as the Nescafe. Well, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Not necessarily. My father-in-law refused to drink my coffee last time I offered it. But that’s changing. Think this is for tourists only? Mais non. The last place I got fixed up, at a stall on the street, had no signs in English whatsoever. But my favorite was the place in the picture, in the remote provincial capital of Phichit, room to sit right there on the sidewalk, right in front of the bank, just like downtown Flagstaff or some other hip place in the US. Cheers.
There’s only one other issue: Red Bull, and its many precursors and imitators. For those who don’t know, that and many other ‘energy drinks’ originated in Thailand, before spreading worldwide, much to my infinite surprise. They have caffeine, too, and a vitamin or two, and only cost ten baht per small bottle in Thailand. Once you get used to the taste, that’s a real option. The civil wars continue…
(Those Starbucks prices still exist BTW, for some reason, and even higher at the airport. Mahketing, dahling, it’s all mahketing. It’s about where you’re seen and who you’re seen with, conspicuous consumption… Now if only I could find a good Turkish coffee in Turkey…)