With the rise of so many innovative coffee shops serving the new and exciting paired with the enticing call of wi-fi, it’s easy to forget that coffee started off as a simple affair. A person would go to their local coffee shop early in the day, have either a cappuccino or a latte and perhaps a pastry, and talk about the goings-on of life and local neighborhood gossip with the barista. They might come back after lunch for a quick pick-me-up in the form of an espresso shot before they went on their merry way.
Essentially, coffee was about two things: great coffee, and little interactions with your local barista.
That’s what I found underneath the shade of two large trees at Impresso Espresso Bar. By the shop, a sign read “The Winner of World Espresso Competition by the International Institute of Coffee Tasters”. If that wasn’t enough to convince the passerby of how serious the shop was about its coffee, the handle of the door had been replaced with a portafilter, a quirky and creative touch to the shop’s humble exterior.
The first thing you’d see when walking into the shop was a mural of the world map. If you paid close attention to it, you’d see that it wasn’t painted with normal paint, but rather with espresso shots. The back of the shop was lined with espresso machines, tools and knick-knacks for anyone who wanted to become an at-home coffee aficionado,and multiple copper lights added to the shop’s laid-back ambiance . Gone were the normal two or four-seater tables, and in its place a long slab of wood that acted as a table for both the coffee-drinkers, and the coffee-brewers.
Soon after we sat down, a young man walked in and immediately began conversing with the baristas. Not long after that, two more people sat down and began a dialog as well. They were regulars I realized, and their stop at this local watering-hole was a staple of their day.
The two baristas working the counter were passionate about their craft and told me of how Chiang Mai’s coffee scene started evolving five years ago after coffee became big in Bangkok. They mentioned that their house blend was a mixture of Thai, Indonesian, Indian, and Ethiopian coffee, all of which were marked on the espresso world mural. Thai coffee, they remarked, tasted akin to African coffee in that they were fruity, floral, and salty.
When I asked them about what people usually ordered here, they listed Americanos and espresso as favorites among their customers; classic coffee shop fare. Speaking of customers, we ended up having a lovely conversation with the people sitting beside us. In that moment, we weren’t strangers, but friends talking over coffee.
At its core, coffee is about bringing people together. While there certainly is a time and place for the odd and awe-inspiring, there’s something to be said about going back to basics. Luckily for people of Chiang Mai, there’s a cozy little nook to do just that.
Special thanks to the friendly baristas of Impresso and the lovely people who shared their time with us.