Samui Wining & Dining
More Than Just Coffee

Check out why Black Canyon is always so popular – and so busy!


Page-21Did you realise that for a couple of hundred years nobody really drank coffee? Well, apart from nomadic Bedouin tribesmen or cowboys, maybe. But, back in the mists of time, the Arabs and the Turks had already been hooked for ages. However, when Europeans began to voyage around the world in the 16th century, we too ‘discovered’ coffee. And thirty years later the coffee craze had spread like wildfire: there were more coffee shops than there were gin houses and taverns.

      But, unlike tea, as prices dropped, coffee spread out away from the drawing rooms and into the back streets, attracting a far less-savoury class of customer. So much so in fact, that in England, King Charles II outlawed them, in 1675. Then things quietened down. And it stayed that way right through to the 1990s, when some clever marketing in California turned coffee into a ‘lifestyle event’! It took off like a rocket and, to go with its new image, went into the international skies with a new set of higher prices to match.

      Which brings us right away to the subject of this story; Black Canyon Coffee. It’s Thailand’s longest-established chain, going back to 1993, when the first outlet opened in Bangkok with a Wild West cowboy theme. From the start it used a template taken from the style, quality and range of the new American coffees – it brought American-style coffee to the Thai nation, rather than trying to change it to fit local tastes. But, more to the point, everything was priced at a level the locals could afford.

      Khun Anchalee Keeratiwithayanon was already running a successful catering and equipment business in Phuket when she had the first thoughts of opening a branch of Black Canyon – but there was a problem. Franchises are carefully controlled and not easy to come by, and Phuket already had its allocated share. But there were no branches on Samui. Thus, our island’s first Black Canyon shop coincided with the opening, in 2005, of the island’s first superstore, Tesco Lotus in Chaweng. It’s a perfect location next to a busy food court, and open until the store closes at around 9:00 pm. Such was its success that, in 2009, when the island’s second Tesco Lotus opened its doors in Lamai, it came complete with another Black Canyon coffee shop.

     The décor of is cheery and bright, with no flashy gimmicks or attempts at pretension. There are comfortable bench seats running along one wall, with the rest of the space interspersed with matching seats and tables for four, accommodating up to 50 people at a time. The staff are well trained, attentive, and notably cheery, and it’s rare not to see service with a smile, if not the occasional happy giggle! But one of the features here are the menus. These are large, and every item comes with a written description and a big, clear photo. Today this is common, but back when Khun Anchalee first opened, this was unique and Black Canyon might probably have been the first place on the island to adopt such a thoughtful presentation.

       The image I have painted so far shows a popular bright and cheery coffee shop. But this is just part of the picture. Yes, of course, there are the coffees. They come in an unpretentious range that includes espresso, mocha and latte – but these are served in chunky cups and not the usual thimble-sized offerings. Plus, as befits a tropical climate, there’s a whole range of iced coffees too, one of the more appealing being the ice-cream ‘gelato espresso’, and then the impressive ‘Iced Mexican Coffee’ that’s presented in a glass cowboy boot! And check out the warming alco-vibes of the ‘specialities’ – Irish coffee, Rum, and ‘Elle Black Canyon’. But there are also the spin-offs, the frappes, of which the ‘Black Crunch with Cream’ is superb. And if you want to wave prices about then there are no complaints that most of these come in at just 70 baht for a 10-oz size and not much more for the bigger ones.

         Not to be left behind on the trend trail, you’ll also discover a wide selection of other beverages, including tea (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, white tea and jasmine green), plus a range of juices and smoothies – just try the blueberry smoothie; it’ll make your tastebuds dance. And there’s hot and iced chocolate, too, in several variations including a wonderful cranberry chocolate frappe. And, naturally, you’ll find soft drinks of several kinds to round things off.

         But the last (and definitely not the least) part of the picture is the reason why many customers come back again and again: the menu. There’s a huge range of offerings here, ranging from appetisers to full main dishes and with an excellent selection of desserts including sundaes and mocha cookie chips. But the impressive thing is that this isn’t a traditional Thai menu. It’s far more adventurous, but without being silly. If the word ‘fusion’ springs to mind, then it’s used in a gentle and conservative manner that enlivens the dishes without over-stating them.

         Such as the beef steak with spaghetti and Issan-style sauce. Or the pasta fusilli with chicken and green curry. How about fried sesame-crusted fish served with spicy seafood sauce? The menu is laid out in well-organised sections: there’s a wide range of appetisers, soups, salads, pastas, steaks, curries and noodle dishes, amongst which, it has to be said, there are also quite a few simple Thai offerings. But, throughout all, there runs a common theme of quite a different sort - the price. Most of these dishes average out at not a lot more than 100 baht or so, with the most expensive (the rib-eye steak) coming in at just 218 baht. There are four affordable ‘set menus’ offering combinations of fare, and even the breakfasts are only pitched at around 120-170 baht.

         Black Canyon Coffee now has over 250 branches across Thailand, and has expanded into Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, United Arab Emirates, Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines. But the best thing of all? Here, on our little island, we’re due to see another shop open at the end of March, in Chaweng’s new Central Festival Department Store. And then that’ll make three places where you can get ‘more than just coffee’!


Rob De Wet


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