Finding good coffee in Bangkok’s Chinatown area has always been a challenge. Sure, you have the classic coffee shops serving kaffe boran and roadside carts pouring a cup of overly sweet instant coffee, but a perfect latte seemed hard to come by. That was until the lovely folks at Ba Hao recommended Happy Espresso at the Wong Wian Yee Sip Song roundabout just down the street. Ever since our first visit, we make it a point to drop by for a coffee every time we’re in the area.
In 2006, long before specialty coffee became a thing for snobby hipsters with ‘death before decaf’ tattoos, the youngest son of the Lee family, khun Bung, decided that the family’s sign-making business (you’ll find dozens in this area) was due for a massive overhaul and started studying coffee. After extensive research on the internet, many books, and trips that brought him to coffee plantations from Chiang Rai to Ranong, K. Bung developed himself as one of Thailand’s leading coffee connoisseurs and Happy Espresso opened its doors.
A ballzy move to make when you’re in an area where Thai-Chinese aunties and uncles likely prefer to sip tea instead of coffee – but Happy Espresso succeeded nonetheless. According to khun Bung, it was the younger generation that eventually introduced specialty coffee and cafe culture to their parents and helped Happy Espresso grow into the unpretentious neighborhood joint it is today.
Nowadays, Happy Espresso is a destination on its own. Apart from a cafe serving espresso based drinks made from different types of beans from around the world in various preparations, the place features its own fresh roasted coffee, and a coffee lab to host coffee tastings and workshops.
The main draw, however, is not the cozy interior, nor the ridiculously cheap prices (70 THB for a latte) or the artisanal coffee beans. No, it’s the fact that khun Bung’s 75-year-old grandmother is still manning the espresso machine behind the bar every day. This feisty old lady prepares your coffee with great care and precision, despite -admittedly- not being a huge coffee fan herself. This didn’t go unnoticed, and Mrs. Lee has become somewhat of a celebrity in the Bangkok coffee scene.
Bangkok has an insane amount of fantastic cafes, but it’s the simplicity and wholesomeness of Happy Espresso and its staff that make this place such a gem. No pretentious baristas, no army of Instagram-snapping teenagers and no over-the-top interior design – just fantastic coffee (and a very cute barista).
295-297 Mittraphan Rd
Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok
+66 2 221 6099
Monday – Saturday: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm