Let’s talk signature drinks, guys! Never heard of that term? No worries! I’ll explain in just a bit.
During my coffee travels through East and South East Asia I came across many amazing coffee places and innovative coffee beverages, most of them non-alcoholic.
One city, though, topped everything: Chiang Mai.
This rather small city of about 130.000 people in Northern Thailand has managed to attract coffee lovers by their amazing, delicious and in many cases very photogenic signature drinks.
This article will not only introduce you to the term signature drinks, but will also tell you about my 5 ‘to go’ coffee places for those drinks, while being in Chiang Mai.
What is a signature drink?
Alright, I promised, here’s the definition taken from the official World Barista Championships rules for what a signature drink – or beverage how it’s called here – is:
“A signature beverage demonstrates a competitor’s creativity and skill to create an appealing and individual espresso focused beverage.”
So basically, it’s a coffee beverage based on at least one espresso shot, plus whatever creative other liquids like juices or lemonades, fruits, syrups, herbs and spices you’d like to add and you can come up with.
Those signature drinks don’t have any alcohol, though! For these drinks, what then would be called ‘coffee cocktails’, there’s a separate competition called ‘Coffee in Good Spirits’!
For this article I’m referring only to the non-alcoholic coffee beverages that are served in the cafes in Chiang Mai, too!
Why all the buzz around signature drinks?
In the specialty coffee world a lot is going on right now circling around signature drinks, not only during World Barista Championship time.
For many coffee shops and cafés signature drinks are a great way to express their creativity and to offer new coffee drinks, whenever they want to, be it seasonal occasions, holidays or even each month! In Chiang Mai I was so lucky to try all of the just mentioned.
Why should you be excited about signature drinks?
Because they just taste so good!!! And they’re often so pretty with all the decoration, especially, if you love to take photos of your coffee, like me… ;-)
Plus, if you don’t like espresso, but still want a little bit of caffeine, you can try drinks that are made with either Cold Brew or – like in Chiang Mai – with Nitro Cold Brew.
Nitro is a cold brew infused with nitrogen, which makes it very smooth and foamy, just like a Guinness Beer, if you’ve ever had one.
Signature drinks in Chiang Mai
I spent almost 6 weeks in Chiang Mai and couldn’t manage to try-taste all of those delicious drinks offered at the coffee places I’m about to tell you here…
Seriously, my caffeine intake per day would have been way too high, to sip myself through all those signature drinks. But I tried enough to tell you about my favorites and the ones with the most creative approach, in my opinion!
I should add here, that it helps a lot to have all those skilled and amazing photographers as well as Instagrammers in the city to promote not only the coffee shops and cafés, but also those fancy drinks! Often I found out about new places and drinks because I was following those accounts!
For additional info I linked every coffee place (in the title below) to their Instagram account, so you have a first look at the place before heading there.
Here you go:
Located in Chiang Mai Nimman area, The Baristro at Baristotel is not only a coffee place, but also a hotel.
Side note: Many coffee shops in Thailand are often also hostels/hotels – great way to attract more customers, both to the hotel and the coffee shop!
Another branch of The Baristro just opened in January 2018 near Ping River. Both of these shops are absolute stunners, when it comes to interior design and all the photogenic details hanging, standing or lying around. The perfect photo props for coffee & food bloggers!
AND, you guessed it already, signature drinks! The Baristro showcases all of the drinks in their menu that looks just like a hip fashion magazine.
I tried two of their signature drinks, one with coconut – Japan has #allthingsmatcha, Thailand has #allthingscoconut – and one with lemon and honey. Both had an espresso shot at its base.
The drinks are simple in terms of the ingredients, but The Baristro knows how to promote them, not only in their menu, but also on Instagram. Hence tons of customers come to that place and order those fancy drinks and, of course, are taking photos of the drinks or together with the drinks.
Same as The Baristro, Maled now has two locations in Chiang Mai. Both not too far away from trendy Nimman area, where coffee shops, hip boutiques and Thai as well as Western Restaurants compete for guests and customers.
The one Maled shop that just opened in January 2018 close to Suthep Road hosts their roaster and is slightly different from the interior as well as from their signature drinks menu.
Maled’s first location is just a tiny bit cozier, but only because it’s smaller than their newer shop and has some more wooden details.
Maled is going really crazy, when it comes to their signature menu. Drinks such as the ‘Ice Latte Lava’ served at the café at Tambon Chang Phueak as well as the ‘Bitter & Sweet’ served at Maled Coffee Roasters as their Valentine’s special show the creativity and thoughtfulness behind the team at Maled.
Though I haven’t tried the ‘Ice Latte Lava’ (I only managed to take the photo…), I did try ‘Bitter & Sweet’.
I actually just literally bumped into the creation process of this drink and I can tell that besides cold brew, peach and rose syrup as well as some other rather secret ingredients made their way into the drink that they wouldn’t share with me, unfortunately… Oh, well, the drink was delicious nevertheless.
The final drink looked slightly different, though – see their Insta account for the final version!
This coffee shop and roastery close to Maya Mall in Nimman is named after their owners, whose names mean ‘cotton’ and ‘tree’ in Thai! So cute! :-)
Cotton Tree is a relaxed place just in the backyard of one of the many apartment buildings in Nimman, the condos. The wooden chairs & tables and the Green of the plants do a great contrast to the white walls and black details of the shop.
Other than The Baristro Cotton Tree doesn’t showcase photos of their signature drinks in the menu, but some very cute illustrations.
Since I’m very much of a fan of trying out new stuff and the summery heat in Chiang Mai asked for some refreshing drink rather than some chocolaty or caramelly sweet – which they offer, too -, I decided for what they called ‘Amber Fin’, a twist on a Cold Brew Tonic, just without the Tonic, but with orange juice.
The hidden gem coffee place also offers breakfast, if you want a bite with your coffee or signature drink.
This coffee shop is taking signature drinks to a next level! They not only use espresso and cold brew as their drinks base, but also, Nitro! This super foamy and smooth addition to the regular cold brew gives the signature drink in your glass a nice texture and an additional sweetness.
Both of their locations, which are literally just around the corner in Old City in Chiang Mai offer the same menu, Graph Table just offers a broader menu, meaning with food – and has more tables, hence the name ‘Graph Table’.
Their first and super tiny location in one of the many side alleys in Old City is just too cute with all the wooden details and the vintage stuff lying and standing in the shelves and with one of the staff members always welcoming you at the door – well, there isn’t much space anyways for them staying out of the way of the many customers rushing into that shop and taking photos of all those fancy and hip (signature) drinks…
I again tried two of their drinks. Both of them very creative with either tomato juice or rose syrup, but with Nitro Cold Brew as its base.
Graph is also one of the cafes in Chiang Mai that do a great job with presenting their signature drinks. All of their drinks come on a wooden tray or board and with an individual nametag showing the drink as well as telling about some facts behind the drink. So creative and reminds everyone where signature drinks come from – the Barista Championships, where it’s the job of the competing Barista to present his or her creation to the judges to get points.
This is my favorite among all the coffee places I went to during my time, when it comes to signature drinks in Chiang Mai. Why? Because Seagame or Game, the Barista (at ABCD during the day) as well as bartender (for certain events on some evenings during the week), has such a passion for creating and crafting those drinks, I literally leaped for joy, when talking to him. :-)
That young fellow with the tattoos is doing such a great job behind the coffee bar mixing together all of the ingredients that come into the creations at ABCD.
The three times I went there, I couldn’t get my eyes off of him doing his bartending moves. The second time heading there, I just bumped into him stirring in a pot with some new syrup creation for ABCD’s Valentine’s special.
Though this very syrup didn’t make its way in the final beverage, the Valentine’s special, called ‘Hug’ in English, was created by Game, who’s been a Barista since age 16 and before coming up with the idea for the drink was searching the internet like crazy for ideas.
‘Hug’ has Cold Brew as its base, a home made syrup from figs, which Game told me would be THE fruit of love, and Thai Basil to give it a Thai twist, fresh lemon juice, cranberry juice for the reddish color of the final drink and some lemon and rosemary scents. All of this is shaken on ice and served chilled.
But, this is not it, guys! The reason why this signature drink touched me – and not only treated my taste buds well – is the whole story behind:
This ABCD seasonal drink is not only about love for each other, especially not only during Valentine’s season, but most importantly about the love for yourself. The concept behind the drink is about self-love and self-care – Thai Basil is supposed to be great for your health, hence why it’s added here.
Khrongkhwan, the owner and graphics designer, told me, “…Once you love yourself enough and take good care of yourself, you can experience outer love, too.” (True that!)
ABCD is also serving their signature drinks with a certain nametag; this Valentine’s special is no exception!
Though a bit far off in between Old City and Nimman area, this coffee shop is worth the visit, not only for its creative signature drinks, but also for its location: The interior as well as the green outside seating area.