Coffee shops, just without the coffee.

milky coffee in Thailand

Over ฿100 for a tall plain brewed coffee at Starbucks. That’s about the same price as a cup of coffee in New York City! Coffee bean prices are at an all time low, so why is my coffee drink so expensive? At least it’s not as bad as Copenhagen where they shell out 199฿ for a cup of coffee!

One thing that I think plays into a more expensive cup of plain drip coffee is that it is not a drink most Thais consume. Tom N Tom’s doesn’t even have drip coffee on the menu. There is not huge demand which makes plain black coffee a niche product, so the price goes up. But even though there is not as much demand in the Kingdom for black coffee you would still think that since coffee beans are selling at record lows your coffee drink would also be cheaper. That may be true if your drink was just coffee, but if you “coffee” is the color of fresh snow, then is it really coffee?.

Tom n Tom’s doesn’t even serve plain coffee – so you better go with an Americano.

Milk shops with just the smell of coffee

According to some recent research coffee shops like Starbucks actually sell way more milk than coffee (Starbucks sells over 352 million liters of milk per year!) . Just look at their menus dominated by milky sweet drinks with dashes of coffee thrown in so that Gen Z can feel like they got their caffeine fix.

In fact, Starbucks is bringing in more and more “milks” and increasing their food offerings. Starbucks has a target of earning 25% of their profit from food rather than drinks. Global diet trends and desire for milk alternatives means some drinks are now made vegan using almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk…and the list goes on. That is not to say these “milks” are healthier than cow milk, but it shows how important milk is to the coffee shop business.

Shaping consumer tastes

Coffee shop menus changing from coffee centric drinks to milk centric drinks and food is a complicated dynamic between economics, advertising, and demographics, so I will not pretend to have any of that figured out. But it does seem to be a symbiotic relationship between consumers and what coffee shops offer. For example, one day we get the vanilla latte and a few people like it then that becomes the norm and people want to try some new flavors and the drinks with more sugar sell better and younger people don’t want to drink plain coffee so they order more sugary drinks and the coffee shops see their customer base ordering more blended milk drinks and soon coffee is in the title but not found in the products. And we don’t know if customers would have demanded a milky sugar filled drink if that first vanilla latte was not on the menu.

In my opinion, it’s too bad that consumer tastes are not moving back more toward the flavor of coffee. Rather than covering coffee flavor with milk and sugary flavorings, the coffee flavor should be savored like a fine wine, dark chocolate, cheese, or craft beer. Imagine taking a great bottle of wine, mixing in caramel, and whipping it with ice and organic oat milk! Did you just throw up a little?

And if consumers are truly health conscious, I can settle any debate about what is the healthiest drink at a coffee shop right now – its drip brewed black coffee, espresso shots, black americanos, or plain cold brew. Any drink with the ingredients coffee and water will be the healthiest because they will contain no sugar and virtually no calories.

There are zounds of coffee shops throughout Bangkok and Thailand offering great high quality plain coffee, but you are going to pay a high price for it because coffee is no longer the backbone of the coffee shop business.