Samui Wining & Dining
C’est Bon

A look at why, in Thailand, coffee means Boncafe.


4-5Did you enjoy your last cup of Boncafé? I’m sure that you did! And there’s no use protesting that you’ve never ever had any. Because the vast majority of resorts and restaurants here use not only use Boncafe coffee, but Boncafe equipment, too. The odds are that maybe seven out of every ten of you have been drinking Boncafe while you’ve been staying on Samui. It’s not only very good coffee, but there’s the big advantage that there’s an on-site maintenance service to go with it, too. And this is the clincher that makes all but the trendiest of gourmet restaurants go for Boncafe.

      There’s one 5-star resort restaurant I know of, which has an expensive antique Victorian brass and glass gravity coffee-making machine, that’s straight out of an alchemist’s laboratory. They’ll bring this to your table at the end of your meal, and then hand-grind the world’s most expensive coffee (a by-product of the civet cat) for you. And it’ll cost 1,700 baht for four cups. But, every morning at breakfast, the steaming glass Cona coffee flasks are being endlessly refilled backstage from a bank of Boncafe machines. Because they know that when it comes to consistent quality combined with reliability, this is the way to go.

      Unless you’ve been living here for a while, the chances are that you’ve never heard of this brand name. But it’s like many other aspects of living in Thailand; an enterprising Westerner spots a gap in the market and successfully plugs it. Only in this case the story begins in Singapore, way back at the start of the ’60s. Yes, just about the time that rock ’n’ roll was getting going, a couple of friends had been to a show and decided to stop for a coffee on the way home. But they couldn’t find a coffee shop open anywhere. This got the Swiss Werner Huber thinking. He made some enquiries and did some research, and then started to import Arabica and Robusta beans into Singapore.

      In 1962, he formed a company named ‘Boncafe’. It was nothing much to look at – a tin-roofed building with a blending and roasting plant, and just four staff. But it was a success and the company grew. Eventually it was big enough to go public, and issue shares in 1978. Then it opened another plant in Malaysia. Boncafe subsequently went on to expand into Hong Kong and Australia, before eventually establishing a factory in Thailand, in 1993 (trading as Boncafe (Thailand) Ltd.), southeast of Bangkok in the province of Chonburi. And in the decade since then, Boncafe has become Thailand’s biggest coffee company, with the proud slogan, ‘Swiss quality, Thai elegance’.

     It might surprise you to know that Thailand is a serious coffee producer. The northern region, near Chiang Mai, is temperate and has just the right sort of altitude and climate for growing coffee beans. The finer-quality (yet slightly more sour) strain of Arabica bean is grown here, whereas the hardier Robusta beans are better suited to the warmer conditions found a little more south. Between the two of these, the Chonburi processing plant creates a blend of excellent coffee, which is marketed not only in their dedicated outlets but in the majority of big supermarkets, too. Taking of which, you can pick up a bag of Boncafe beans or ready-ground coffee at every branch of Tesco Lotus, Makro, or Big C. Plus at clued-in local independent supermarkets. Although you won’t find them in any 7-11s, as most Thai people drink their coffee in the form of instant granules, along with heavy condensed milk – ground coffee is still very much a Western thing, although this is changing fast.

      But Boncafe doesn’t just sell coffee. At each of its outlets, there’s a whole range of real teas (green tea Matcha, Earl Grey, Darjeeling and jasmine) plus instant ice-tea powders. Then there’s a selection of frappe products. There’s a range of smoothie essentials. And there’s even a set of syrups that are designed to go with the other Thai favourite, crushed ice. Just smash up some ice and squirt it with all the colours of the rainbow – everybody loves it. It’s the next best thing to ice-cream.

       But where Boncafe scores the most brownie points is with their service centres. Anyone can take any make of coffee machine there for maintenance or repair. But if you buy a Boncafe machine to begin with, then the service contract makes it all so much cheaper – and their machines are built to withstand earthquakes in the first place! The first year of the service contract includes free on-site maintenance anyway, making everything in the future look rosy. Samui’s centre can be found in Bophut, just past the traffic lights and close to the go cart track.

         One other benefit of popping in there is that they frequently run special offers or promotions. At the moment they’re offering a Vitamix commercial blender that’s ideal for restaurants that are making shakes, smoothies or frappes – it’ll even grind up ice – at a reduction of 5,000 baht off their usual price. But if you’re more domestically inclined, take a look at their ‘Cremesso’ coffee machine. It’s a slick buy as it’s now down to just 5,900 baht.

         The whole Boncafe ethos has now gone way beyond merely coffee supplies. Over the last few years or so it’s continued to diversify and now presents travelling workshops, psychedelically-painted Boncafe buses, mobile coffee vans, an internet ‘e-zine’, and also has a formidable presence on Facebook. And a few years back Boncafe even financed the production of a full-scale movie entitled ‘BitterSweet’, with most of it being shot in the company’s plantations in Krabi and their outlets in Bangkok, and featuring the Thai pop idol, Tata Young.

         It’s Boncafe. It’s international and yet, here, it remains quintessentially Thai, right down to the shaved ice slurpees. It’s your guarantee of great coffee and it’ll give you peace of mind as well as cup after cup of flavour. What else can I say? Maybe only ‘Boncafe – c’est bon’?


Rob De Wet


Copyright 2017 Samui Wining & Dining. All rights reserved Siam Map Company Ltd.