For the 3rd consecutive year, I traveled to the city of Nan in Northern Thailand. Perhaps the biggest change in this very pleasant city has been the proliferation of coffee shops.
When I first visited Nan in November 2008 and there were only 3-4 coffee shops in the city center - now there are at least 15. This is an indicator of the increasing number of tourists visiting Nan - mostly Thais from Bangkok.
One of the newer (and best) coffee shops to open up in the last two years is Khao Tha Lu Chumporn Coffee with two outlets - one in the heart of the city and another one on the road leading out of town. I had the opportunity to get to know Paula (Walaiporn Suriyos) the owner of the downtown shop.
Originally Paula is from Surat Thani Province in Southern Thailand. Her family moved to Bangkok in 1972, where Paula received a degree in liberal arts and masters in Education Administration from a major University. Shortly after graduation, she worked as a volunteer in Nan in 1983, where she taught Mien hilltribe students and developed some fluency with their language as well.
After meeting her husband in Nan, Paula started a family and began her teaching full time at the nearby Baan Numkrokmai Middle School - her students are 12-15 years old. A very congenial lady who enjoys dealing with the public and a self-professed coffee lover, she opened up the coffee shop only two years ago after her friend from Chumpon indoctrinated her into the coffee business.
Her friend has connections with a big lowland coffee plantation in Chumpon Province and orders the premium Robusta coffee beans for her - the process of making the ground coffee is in Bangkok. Robusta coffee is different than the highland Arabica coffee from Northern Thailand - both brews are featured at her shop. A family business, her daughter-in-law works at the shop almost every day while Paula is teaching at school.
In my opinion, the coffee from Thailand - both the Robusta and Arabica grades - are far better than the coffee offered at Starbucks and Black Canyon, the two largest coffee retailers in Thailand. A cup of coffee at any of the coffee shops in NAN is about ½ the price of cup at a Starbucks store.