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Café Amazon vs. Starbucks — Thailand Coffee Shop Wars

Café Amazon is sometimes referred to as Thailand’s version of Starbucks, because both coffee shop chains are nearly ubiquitous in their respective countries. While Starbucks has made inroads into Thailand’s thriving coffee drinking market, they are limited primarily to large cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. While you will occasionally see a Starbucks in a small upcountry city like Sakon Nakhon, this only occurs if the city has a large upscale shopping center such as a Robinson Lifestyle Mall.

Starbucks Thailand therefore doesn’t have the market penetration of Café Amazon, whose coffee shops are found throughout Thailand. Cafe Amazon was founded in 2002 and is owned by PPT, an oil and gas conglomerate owned by the Thai government. Due to its connection with PPT, Cafe Amazon became a fixture at many gas stations in Thailand, especially those operated by the 7-11 chain. On major highways, theses Café Amazon shops often include beautiful landscaped areas with trees, benches, waterfalls (and a Zen feel), providing drivers with a pleasant oasis to relax while recharging their batteries with a good coffee.

However, today Amazon coffee shops can also be found at shopping malls and as a stand alone business, just like Starbucks in the United States. It also has expanded into neighboring countries like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Café Amazon now has over 3,300 retail outlets worldwide, with over 2,500 locations in Thailand. Starbucks has over 400 locations in Thailand, more than 220 of them in Bangkok.

 

Thailand Coffee Shop Prices
Café Amazon is popular for its good quality but reasonably priced hot and iced coffee drinks and teas.

 

Even if a Starbucks coffeehouse is located nearby, Café Amazon will attract far more customers in Thailand — the only exception being Starbucks that are situated in heavily trafficked tourist locations. A big reason for this is the price of the coffee drinks. Both Café Amazon and Starbucks offer high quality coffee, espresso, cappuccinos, and lattes. However, Amazon’s coffee drinks are over 50% cheaper. For example, a black coffee at Cafe Amazon is 50 baht, while a Starbucks coffee is 125 baht. A Café Amazon iced White Chocolate Macchiato is 70 baht, while a Starbucks is 170 baht.

Starbucks does outshine Café Amazon in the huge variety of ways that you can order your coffee drink. In other words, the ridiculous custom orders that drive American baristas mad. However, most Thai coffee drinkers couldn’t care less that they can’t order a double blended Caramel Crunch Frappuccino with a pump of honey blend, extra whip cream, topped with cinnamon, and a drizzle of vanilla. Café Amazon does an excellent job of covering the basic cravings of coffee drinkers, whether it is something black or something sweet. The only thing on the coffee menu which needs any explanation is the Amazon Extra (which is served only on ice). This is a strong, sweet, and creamy, iced coffee with two shots of espresso.

 

Cafe Amazon Desserts
Cookies & Cream Chocolate Lava Cake by Café Amazon in Thailand

 

One area which Café Amazon traditionally was less than great at was in their desserts, which were few in variety and nothing to write home about. However, in the past couple years, they have made a concerted effort to improve their dessert offerings. They have developed a small line of desserts, our favorite being the Cookies and Cream Lava Cake for 65 baht. They also have brownies, layer cakes, and other sweets to accompany your coffee or tea. When ordering a dessert item be sure to tell the barista that you plan to eat the item there: Ghin Tee Nee! (กินที่นี่). That will ensure they take the item out from its packaging and place it on a plate for you, along with a metal fork, rather than giving the item to you in its packaging with a plastic fork.

What Café Amazon coffee shops do not have are sandwiches or other lunch items, which Starbucks in Thailand does have (to a limited degree). Because of this you’ll often find Thais bringing in a sandwich that they bought next door at the 7-11, or some other hand held lunch item. This seems like a huge oversight which Café Amazon is likely to rectify in the near future. Until that time, Starbucks in Thailand does offer a few sandwiches and lunch/breakfast items, such as Ham & Cheese Toast, Ham & Cheddar Croissant, Egg Salad and Tuna Salad Sandwiches, Sausage & Omelet, Mozzarella, Tomato & Pesto, and a few other items. These food offerings however differ widely depending on the Starbucks location in Thailand, with some shops having perhaps only one or tow sandwich items, which are often sold out because of low demand and high pricing.

 

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Coffee
Amazon Cafe coffee brands, made with coffee beans grown and roasted in Thailand

 

Café Amazon also deserves props for its work promoting the growing of coffee beans in Thailand. The company has teamed up with coffee growers in Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai to create its own branded Thai coffee, grown and roasted entirely in Thailand. These are “drip coffee” offerings, sold in boxes of five sachets at a price ranging from 135 – 155 baht. We recently reviewed their Pha Lung coffee in our search for the best coffee in Thailand. At the time of this writing, Starbucks is not selling any coffee exclusively made from Thai coffee beans. They instead focus primarily on coffee beans grown in Latin America. While Starbucks Thailand does sell a Thai coffee blend called Muanjai, this blend is made from a mix of Thai coffee beans and Pacific island coffee beans.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that when it comes to Thailand’s coffee shop wars, there are thousands of independent Thai coffee shops and coffee roasters who are producing excellent coffee. You can’t go to any decently sized city in Thailand without finding a huge number of coffee shops to chose from. These Thai coffeehouses have become increasingly sophisticated because there is so much competition. Skilled attention is often placed on everything from the atmosphere of the shop, to the quality of the coffee beans, to supplementary drinks beyond coffee and tea, to delicious desserts ranging from traditional Thai sweets to Western style cheesecakes, carrot cakes, cream cheese brownies, and more. Independent Sakon Nakhon coffee shops are indeed among the best in Thailand.

So, we encourage all coffee drinkers to make exploring Thailand’s rich diversity of coffee shops part of their holiday in Thailand.