Thursday, October 06, 2005

Cafe Lao

Around 100 or so years ago the French colonialists planted coffee in the southern highlands of Laos on the Bolaven Plateau, and since independence, the (mostly small) plantations have continued. Coffee from Laos is not widely known because most of the country's small export quantities have previously gone to France - the old colonial connection. However nowadays Laotian coffee is now exported all over the world.

In Laos, you need to learn to order "Cafe Lao Dam" (Black Laos Coffee), and if you don't take sugar, add "Baw Sai Nam Tan." The Lao people tend to drink their coffee very strong - beans are roasted to a coal black, and they mostly add condensed milk. They use lots of ground bean in a muslin bag to soak in hot water for their brew. Here we're talking serious black caffeine syrup, and if you don't want an involuntary hyperactivity attack, you also need to say "Nam Hawn" (sounds like "numb horn") to get a glass of hot water for diluting purposes.

“Kafae thung”, literally means 'bag coffee' and it is, quite simply, thick, strong and sweet. Why 'bag coffee'? Well, that refers to the traditional method of making Thai coffee, that is by filtering hot water through a bag-shaped cloth filter - there have even reportedly been times that the ubiquitous sock has been used as a subsitute....

It is customarily seen in Thai outdoor morning markets, though one can find it in Bangkok at almost any hour of the day, being one of the favourites of street vendors. Kafae thung, is typically mixed with sweetened condensed milk and, sometimes sugar...however, if you would like it less sweet, do be sure to tell the vendor beforehand - say mai sai naam-taan (condensed milk but no sugar). You like your coffee black? Well then say "kafae dam".

To have a really good cup of this brew, it is recommend going south, the best versions are made and enjoyed in the Hokkien-style caf├ęs in the southern provinces. It is without a doubt a-roy (delicious).

Adapted from an article by John McBeath

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