Need a caffeine boost? You can’t go wrong in Phnom Penh. Coffee culture is thriving in Phnom Penh, from the bright pink coffee tuk tuks to international chains, not to mention countless cool independent coffee shops that rival those found in any international capital.
All preferences and pockets are catered for in this caffeine-soaked city. Step outside your apartment and there’s likely to be a cute little coffee kiosk within 100 meters, and it’s just as likely to have appeared overnight. In the last few years these small, local coffee stalls have been popping up all over town. A growing industry exists to equip and supply them — Cambodia is, after all, a coffee-producing nation — and operators can buy or rent the often quite sophisticated coffee machines. Iced or hot, the coffee they serve is generally pretty decent, particularly for the price (around 6,000 riels, or $1.50) and the pavement seats are a great place to watch the neighborhood go by.
Looking for plusher surroundings? You’re equally spoilt for choice, as the number of chains, franchises, and independent outlets has grown almost beyond belief in the past half decade. It’s something of a surprise that the capital can support such a cornucopia, but most seem reasonably busy no matter what the time of day. The typical price of a cup of coffee, $2.50 to $3, doesn’t seem to put off an increasingly affluent Khmer customer base who congregate with friends and family, for business meetings, or to study on their laptops.
Some of the international brands are here: Starbucks was a relatively late arrival and continues to expand. Costa, despite an early presence in the country over a decade ago, never really took off. Thailand’s Cafe Amazon, meanwhile, arrived on the scene quite prodigiously a few years ago and with its colorful branding and reasonably priced drinks quickly became a local favorite.
Home-grown coffee chains have proliferated, the earliest and most successful of which, Brown (see Six of the Best below), has since been joined by Mobile Coffee, Tube Coffee, Noir Coffee, and others, each serving an agreeable brew in pleasant surroundings. Temple Coffee n Bakery, arrived in the capital from Siem Reap and quickly opened multiple branches here. The distinctive ‘rustic gentleman’s club meets Angkor temple’ styling is a bit of a mish-mash but it’s a comfortable choice with good coffee and air-conditioning.
If you prefer your coffee concoctions with a more Western vibe, be it European or Australian, there are plenty of appealing venues to grab a stimulating brew, among them Backyard Cafe, Vibe, The Barista, Lot 369, Bloom, and Java Creative Cafe. These largely Western-owned operations tend unsurprisingly to congregate in expat-favored locations like BKK1, Toul Tum Poung, and the Royal Palace area; some have multiple branches and all are well worth checking out.
Note that many coffee shops and cafes have their own loyalty schemes for free coffees and merchandise.
Six of the best (in my opinion):
Local hero: Brown Coffee
Brown Coffee was Cambodia’s first homegrown coffee chain, an entrepreneurial success story that started on Street 214 in 2009 and now boasts nearly 30 branches in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, and Kandal province, each one individually designed with a striking, contemporary fit-out. If you want your coffee without the buzz, unlike many operators here Brown also serves decaf.
New on the scene: Fox Tale
A very welcome newcomer to the capital, Fox Tale opened on Street 246 off Sisowath Quay, close to Backyard Cafe, a few months ago. This bijou Australian-owned hangout is sister cafe to Siem Reap’s excellent Little Red Fox, though with a much smaller food selection — and may just serve even better coffee! Go for the caffeine boost and the well-chosen music.
Coffee with a conscience: Feel Good Coffee
Feel Good Coffee was established by partners from New Zealand a decade ago and has developed to become a popular supplier of fair trade, organic coffee, roasted and blended in-house, to independent cafes and coffee shops.
My favorite destinations to sip rich, smooth coffees are Fox Tale and the leafy garden at Botanico on Street 29 but you can enjoy them just as much at the Feel Good-operated Fulcrum cafe at Factory, Phnom Penh’s IT and creative hub; branches of Lot 369; and elsewhere. Good coffee is as much about the baristas as the beans and Feel Good has a reputation for its training and high standards. Drink Feel Good coffees and you’re also supporting an employee-owned social enterprise. Make that a double shot then!
Customer Service: Doi Chaang
Made with single origin coffee grown by Thailand’s hill tribes, Thai-owned Doi Chaang’s lattes are mellow, milky and piping hot. Years ago, on an early visit to the then newly-opened BKK1 branch, I somehow gave the impression I liked my coffee ‘fluffy’. To this day, regardless of a complete turnover of staff, my cup is still served half full of froth!
Expat favorite: Enso
Comfortable, friendly and with a great food menu too, Enso on Street 240 — a popular spot for quality cafes — gets bonus points for serving its flavorsome brews in insulated glasses that keep your drink at the temperature it deserves to be enjoyed. Still more bonus points for serving it with a house-baked cookie on the side.
Strong and sweet: Hanoi Corner
If you like a good Vietnamese iced coffee (the Khmer equivalent tends to be less strong and much sweeter), drop by Hanoi Corner on Street 294 near Street 21 and indulge in a strong, phin-dripped brew with just the right amount of condensed milk.