Their straightforward menu features filter coffee, simple espresso drinks, cold brew, and the like. A latte with heart art on top is the closest concession you’ll get to cutesy coffee culture at Phil — and that’s just the way roaster and co-founder Han Wang likes it.
Phil Coffee isn’t all about their Ekkamai cafe — charmingly housed in a ’70s-era Thai home — anyway. About three quarters of their business is moving wholesale beans out of their Bang Na small batch, artisanal roasting facility.
So which Bangkok restaurants and cafes are using Phil’s coffee? Wang won’t say a word, since many of his clients private label the beans as their own.
When asked if he’s a coffee purist, Wang says no, but we might disagree. He shared his process for appreciating beans with us: “When I started, it was all about which country the coffee came from. Then I moved on to which farm. Then it became how it was processed. Now, it’s really small stuff like how it’s washed and dried” — differences which he claims he can taste.
In the seven years the Malaysian-born roaster has been in the coffee business, he said he has, over time, begun eating blander and blander foods as his palate has developed. He says he can taste too much in foods now.
They don’t serve much beyond coffee at Phil: a few cakes, croissants, tea, and hot chocolate. Online reviewers say that’s to their detriment, and they could be busier and make more money if they served food.
Wang and his sister, Iwuen Wang — one of two sisters he runs Phil Coffee Company with — say the business would change completely if they decided to serve food, and that it would become more complicated in a way they don’t want.
Adding to our growing belief that Wang might be a perfectionist, he told Coconuts, “I would only serve food if I could have one of the best chefs working under me.”
The Ekkamai cafe has been open for four years, but flies somewhat under the radar being hidden down a side soi. The relaxing little place has cement walls, vintage tiled floors, and a soundtrack of ‘90s faves like Blink 182, Dave Matthews Band, and Mazzy Star. It’s a cozy place surrounded by trees and is more masculine than twee — a rarity in Bangkok. It’s mostly only known to those in the neighborhood who use it as a de facto office, or coffee diehards that traverse the city looking for perfect cups and gorgeous crema.
Wang lamented the state of the city’s coffee culture. “For many of Bangkok’s trendy cafes, it’s not the owner’s main job. It’s for fun, a hobby, or a wife’s side business. And the giant coffee chains’ main goal is revenue, not coffee. They’ll do anything they can to keep costs down, that lowers the quality of the coffee. For us, it’s not so much about the cost of the coffee — it’s about the quality.”
The mainly self-taught roaster got into coffee while doing his degree in Australia. When he came to Bangkok after graduation — his entire family had relocated from Malaysia while he was in school — he couldn’t find a good cup, so he decided to start a roastery.
Wang creates different blends seasonally and is a big fan of mixing Chiang Rai coffee with African or Brazilian beans to create super-smooth tastes. “I like blending things that taste much different. I don’t see the point of blending ones that are similar.”
He describes his house blend, called Urso, as “flexible, good with milk, balanced, chocolatey, and nutty.” Personally, he prefers his lemony, floral, maple-tinged Hummingbird Blend, which they use as their house blend for filter coffees (THB100).
The barista made us a filter coffee with Ethiopia Idido (THB140), a single origin with notes of apricot, bergamot, sugarcane, and lemon zest. The large quantity was enough for two teacup sized servings. We found it so pleasant, naturally sweet, and easy drinking that adding milk or sugar would have ruined it — and we’re not usually black coffee fans.
The latte was made with the house Urso blend (THB100, served as any of your standard espresso drinks from a shot to a latte) and again, one of the smoother cups we’ve had. Wang seems to have a light hand with his roasting.
When asked about that, he admitted that he used to think coffee was all about the roasting, but now he knows it’s more about finding the perfect raw material and letting it shine through. In his opinion, the roaster’s only job is to preserve a perfect flavor profile.
On the subject of the sweet and seasonal drinks that are the draw to many of the city’s well-known cafes, he said, “It’s disgusting. I can not mix anything with coffee. The whole thing has gone too far. At the beginning, it was just caramel. OK, that kinda matches the flavor of coffee. But now I see drinks that mix green tea with coffee and boba. It’s gross.”
His sister jumped in to say: “It destroys the taste of the coffee and covers it up.”
Though some might see Wang’s approach as old-fashioned, he doesn’t agree. He views specialty drinks as gimmicks. For him, the ultimate sip is a single shot of espresso. But a perfect shot of espresso, of course.
“Ten years ago, it was about the drink. These days, it’s about perfecting your espresso,” he said of serious coffee shops and roasters. “It’s shifted in that direction.”
Phil Coffee Company
21 Sukhumvit Soi 61
Open daily, Weekdays 9am-6pm, Weekends 10am-5:30pm