Enjoying a cappuccino in a coffee shop in Muang Phon, or actually not in, but outside in the shade of an enormous tree beside a man-made waterfall. It's a warm day. Fortunately there is a breeze blowing though, keeping things comfortable.

The quality of coffee varies greatly in Thailand and I don't mean just the difference between the "coffee" you get in a plastic bag (yes, a bag) and the Starbucks version of coffee. The taste even varies significantly within the various franchises depending on who is on shift. "Oh, our barista is off today", meaning: we still managed to get some brown, like coffee smelling, stuff in your cup. Though mostly it is not that bad, but still noticeable. The only thing that doesn't change is the taste of the 3-in-1’s from various manufacturers, but then, is that really coffee? As for the 10 baht iced “coffee” in a plastic bag, it’s apparently based on really cheap instant coffee, but maybe enough to give people the morning kick.

Generally speaking, most coffee shops don't sell "normal" (drip) coffee, only espresso based coffees like cappuccino, latte, americano, and of course, espresso. Depending on the shop, they are served with a glass of ice water, warm water or even a cup of tea. Then the customer can choose between "hot", "iced" and frappe. Most Thais don't go for the hot version, even though the other two are more expensive, the frappe being the most expensive one, costing at coffee shops between 50 and 60 Baht.

Coffee shops are being opened not only in bigger cities, but also in towns and villages. However, it is mostly the owner purchasing a fully automatic machine and staffing the shop with low wage earners. So it really comes down to the coffee being bought and the quality of the machine. Then of course there are the chains like Black Canyon, Amazon, Doi Chaang, True, Starbucks, Coffee World, Southern Coffee, etc.

The cost of for example a cappuccino in a coffee shop averages around 45 Baht for a hot one, so between CAD 1,20 and 1.40, depending on the exchange rate. Now, if I put that in relation to the minimum wage of 320 Baht per day it comes to roughly 7 cups of cappuccino someone could buy. Yes, coffee is cheap for tourists or expats, but not necessarily for the local minimum wage earner. Assuming a minimum wage in Canada of CAD 80 per day means someone could buy significantly more than just 7 cups.

Coffee in Thailand really started when King Bhumibol Adulyadej launched an initiative of several coffee projects in the north of Thailand close to the Golden Triangle as an alternative to growing opium poppies. From there it went all uphill, making Thailand one of the top exporters of coffee. Generally, arabica beans are growing in the north, while robusta is growing in the south. Doi Tung and Doi Chang coffee have received special designation status from the European Union. Yes, there is some quality stuff growing here.

In comparison to the high production countries the production cost of coffee in Thailand is higher. The reason are domestic forestry conservation laws that didn’t allow for the creation of huge estates and allow the use of machinery. Most coffee is hand-picked by small scale farmers.

Back to the shop where I am sitting right now, called "Cup D" (not that someone might think of something entirely different), the coffee is good today, even though the barista is off. Maybe the environment is making up for it. The branches of the tree cover an area of 20 m in diameter. It isn't high, but looks gigantic. The sound of the falling water covers any traffic noise. It's an odd, but attractive mix of old looking furniture, with one table located in a tree house to which a set of stairs lead.

It is turning out to be a nice relaxing, though warm, day. Kids are swimming in a nearby pond, jumping off the rocks, thoroughly enjoying themselves.