Fed up with Costa, Brown, Gloria Jean, Spinelli and other soulless, corporate Starbucks wannabees? Nathan Thompson reviews the homely Khmer coffee shops in his village many miles away from the glitz of Phnom Penh’s BKK1.
We douse ourselves in coffee. Every morning a million infinities are spent waiting for water to boil or waitresses to bring us our our strong fix.
In Phnom Penh, our habit has funded an outbreak of pricey coffee shops. But what happens when you take your behemothic caffeine habit to a Khmer village? Here’s my review of the three coffee shops in my village.
Molika Coffee Shop
The only one of the three coffee shops that has a name. It even has a sign sponsored by Cambodia Beer. Molika Coffee Shop is named after proprieter, Molika, and her daughter, also called Molika. The coffee is standard Cambodian fare – oily and strong. But there are a few things that are slightly off-putting. The first is Molika Junior’s wonky fringe. It’s just curious enough to put you off your reverie but not interesting enough to justify doing so. It’s just there. Also, the shop is prime breeding ground for flies. Some days it’s hard to make out the tables below a sea of insects. Molika doesn’t seem to notice; I suppose, you get used to the prevelance of flies and the constant tickling sensation they make when they crawl on your legs.
She also has a distressing habit of running out of ice which I put down to poor management. On the plus side, it does have a fine view of the palm-fringed resovoir and surrounding rice fields that are bright green during this rainy season. They have a TV but it is inside and sectioned by juviniles watching cartoons. Molika Senior is fairly attractive and can speak a little English but only enough for you to wave your hands around about in cryptic signals and repeat yourself before giving up, shrugging and giving her an awkward smile. 5/10
The Coffee Shop in the Middle of the Village
The most popular coffee shop in the village. The service is prompt and smiley. I really like how the middle-aged proprioter sweetly intones “jaah” in response to your “thank you”.
Her oldest daughter is quite the looker, even covered, as she is, in voluminous pajamas. Her youngest daughter is just one year old and waddles around the place with eyes shining as brightly as her gold earings – it’s heart-warming stuff.
Perhaps it is the comely environment, but I think you get more coffee with your ice here. The television is placed high and even shows WWE American pro-wrestling which is bodyslamming plus in my book. The coffee tastes, well, exactly the same as every other glass of Khmer iced coffee you have ever drunk. Why is that? How is it possible that, no matter where you are in Cambodia, Khmer coffee always tastes the same?
At least in this coffee shop your mind is free to wander through such imponderables without the distration of leg-tickling flies or wonky-fringed daughters. Indeed, the fly-count is the lowest of the three.
The view is only of the dusty road and the building work going on in the backyard. The main downside to this coffee shop is that it fills up with farmers playing cards which can lead you to feel rather conspicuous perching like a white giant on the little plastic chairs. But I’m nit-picking. It’s a solid 8/10
The Coffee Shop on the Way Out of the Village
This small affair would be considered boutique if corregated iron shacks were en vogue instead of “humourous” signs and overpriced granola-yoghurt mixes. The propriotor is just as middle aged and smiley as the next middle-aged smiley village lady.
There are two tables. One contains the gambling elderly and the other contains you, sitting, observing the game, wondering why Cambodians insist on slapping down playing cards with so much gusto. There are no attractive daughters (or sons for that matter) but there are some cute children riding adult-sized bikes like stick-animations.
The view is only of the road and the old, quiet wooden house opposite. Not much to get excited about here. The coffee is same same but not different; and you get the same amount as Molika ladels out.
I once sheltered here during an epic storm where the thunder sounded like gunfire and the rain tore at the shack and we all thought it was going to collapse. But it didn’t. So at least we can say it is structurally sound, which is more that I can say for The Coffee Shop in the Middle of the Village which required patrons to hold the roof in place during the same storm. The fly count is low and for that reason they get a respectable 6/10.