Origination of Coffee in Thailand

The word kah-fae is a modern language. Thai people used to originally call it kao fae because they were not accustomed to western languages, and, it sounded like the word rice in Thai, which we then assumed that it was a kind of rice. In the old days, people liked to transform the western words into Thai words so they sounded like Thai language. For example, the name of Mr. Crawforth, who was a British ambassador to Thailand during the reign of King Rama the 2nd, was pronounced as nai-ka-ra-fud, which sounded more familiar to Thai people than the word Crawforth itself.

Regarding the word kah-fae, during the reign of King Rama the 4th, it was also called kao fae because it appeared in the book called Sappa Wajana of Thai Language by Pallegoix, printed in 2397 B.E., which is quite some time (149 years) ago. It means that, during the reign of King Rama the 4th, coffee was still called kao fae and has not been changed to kah-fae as nowadays (the word kah-fae (coffee) allegedly came from a vague word kah-wah (kahwah), which was called by the Arabs that originally means the wine).
In fact, coffee used to be food because it appears that an Arabic physician named Rhazes was discussed in some documents in 900 A.D. (1443 B.E.) that coffee was originally used as food by removing the chaff of dried coffee beans, mixing them with oil, and making them in round shapes. The fermented liquors were made from raw beans and dried chaff. Thai people has long known coffee since the Ayutthaya era, not just in this Rattanakosin era, but there is no clear evidence in which reign it came. Because Thai people did not like it much, it was not recorded in the annals. Or, people did not see it as something odd at that time. However, it appears in the memoirs of some westerners, coming in during the reign of King Narai the Great, that the Moors .. very much liked to drink coffee.

It also appears that coffee was already planted in Thailand then. Coffee in those days was planted in the area of Songkhla province. It was known that the coffee tasted very decent and was widely planted.

The statement that Thai people have known coffee since Ayutthaya era, is not exaggerated. However, drinking is not so popular because it tastes bitter. It is even considered as medicine to some. That can be the reason why Thai people are not familiar with the taste of coffee. It is understood that the Thai people later acknowledged it in the Rattanakosin era, though not certain of which reign. However, there were some references that, during the reign of King Rama the 3rd, his majesty intended to plant coffee for some time. ... That coffee garden was in the area of Rachapradit Temple. Coffee planting in those days implied that the reign of King Rama the 3rd was the most popular period of coffee so that his majesty planned to have a coffee garden.

In the reign of King Rama the 4th, coffee gardens were still in practice in Thailand. However, the name mentioned in memoirs by the westerners was Somdej-Chaopraya-Maha-Prayoonrawongs coffee garden. Sir John Bowring, the British ambassador as an envoy to do the contract with Siam in 2398 B.E. during the reign of King Rama the 4th, wrote that he once visited the Somdej-Chaopraya-Maha-Prayoonrawongs coffee garden, which had a lot of coffee trees, and, he was allowed to take 3 sacks of it for testing. From these evidences, it demonstrates that coffee planting in Thailand was blooming once. However, it is not clear whether Thai people in those days did not enjoy drinking coffee, or, the seeds might be so poor that people did not like it.

Coffee planting later experienced long interruption and finally went out of business. Nobody thought of seriously growing it. Still, drinking coffee became increasingly prevalent. There is no evidence about when coffee shops in Bangkok began increasing. Yet, it appears that in 2460 B.E., during the First World War, an American named Miss Cole established a coffee shop in the area of Si-Kak Phraya Sri. The shop opened every Thursdays, beginning at 3:00 to 6:00 pm, with shop named Red Cross Tea Room, decorating with Red Cross flags. It seemed that royalties and government officials as well as foreigners immensely patronized the shop. With the profits from the sale of this coffee shop, Miss Cole could support the coalitions Red Cross. It is understood that more coffee shops might popped up during these reign of King Rama the 6th and the 7th.

Regarding coffee in Thailand, Praya-Sarasart-Polakhan recorded that coffee was firstly imported into Thailand around 2447 B.E. by the Muslim named Nai-Dee-Moon. He got coffee beans from pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It was firstly planted in Saba-yoy district, Songkhla province. Then, there were demonstration plantings, which made it widely spread. The type of coffee planted then was Robusta coffee. The Arabica coffee was firstly planted around 2516 B.E. by demonstration planting in Mooser Huay Tad Village, Chiang Daw district, Chiang Mai province, after an organization imported various kinds of coffee for the hill tribes to replace opium planting. Eventually, coffee becomes important industrial crops on the northern plateau region of Thailand.

[Source: Documentation on Knowledge About Coffee, Research and Training on Highlands, Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University].

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