The New Normal of Café Reopenings: Bangkok

We take a look at how Hands and Heart Coffee Roasters and Factory Coffee in Thailand combine creativity with caution as the country slowly relaxes emergency restrictions.


Feature photo courtesy of Factory Coffee

On January 13, the very first case of COVID-19 outside of China was detected in a traveler arriving in Bangkok from Wuhan. In the report by Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, the Ministry of Public Health ensured that the country was well-equipped to handle the situation and underlined infection surveillance, prevention, and control measures being implemented throughout airports, tourist hotspots, and hospitals around the country.  With nearly a third of Thailand’s foreign tourists coming from China each year (10.99 million in 2019), it was only a matter of time before case numbers multiplied, triggering a lockdown that brought one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant cities to a standstill.

On March 25, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared a state of emergency that shut down restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues, and banned foreigners from entering the country. A week later, he announced a nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. With such severe prevention methods as state-mandated quarantine venues for all incoming travelers, and exit/entry registration via a digital platform to visit malls and retail businesses, Thailand is viewed as a success case in flattening the COVID-19 curve.

They do things different at Factory Coffee. Bottled cold brew is perfect for grab and go coffee, especially in Thailand’s never-ending heat and humidity. Photo courtesy of Factory Coffee.

True to the creative spirit of Thai people, many found ways to entertain themselves and keep the economy running as best they could, including coffee shops that endured two months of forced closure during the toughest period of Thailand’s state of emergency. Now that doors are slowly reopening domestically and internationally, some coffee shop owners have visions of a new normal that’s even better than before.

Hands and Heart Coffee Roasters

A couple months before COVID-19 struck, the owners of Hands and Heart Coffee Roasters opened a new dining and lifestyle venue down the road from their café. H Dining focuses on healthy comfort food that fuses Thai and Nordic cuisine, coupled with Hands and Heart coffee, fine wines, and freshly baked pastries. During Thailand’s state of emergency, the team had to figure out how to bring all of these experiences to everyone stuck at home, which resulted in a whole line of creativity to address the new normal of the self-isolation lifestyle.

“We thought of products that could respond to the change in lifestyles that could be enjoyed at home through delivery,” says Hands and Heart Coffee Roasters co-owner Fuangfu Jirathitivanich. “There was a reduction in wholesale coffee sales during lockdown, which is also why we shifted some focus to promoting retail products.”

For Hands and Heart, the “new normal” meant rethinking what their customers actually wanted. “For example, when we launched coffee bean subscriptions, we also offered packages that included equipment (like drippers, cups, and filters) to respond to everything our customers needed,” says Fuangfu. Hands and Heart also shared fun brewing recipes on their Instagram, including obligatory steps for washing your hands and Zoom video conferencing while steeping some cold brew.

The Hands and Heart roastery and café space is located behind H Dining, nestled in a homey building among shady trees. Photo courtesy of Hands and Heart.

On the H Dining side, they launched an impressive range of meal deliveries, bottled groceries, and ready-to-cook ingredient packs to bring their dining concept to your home. From single-origin cold brew to peanut butter spreads and roasted nam prik Thai mackerel all in bottles and jars, the Heyday Delivery project was born as a direct response to social distancing as a way to reconnect with the “home” space now that it’s become where we spend a lot of time again.

“It’s important for us to support each other locally now, from the very beginning of the chain all the way to the hands of our consumers,” says Fuangfu about his vision for the coffee industry in this new normal that has left its mark on the way we’ll be living in the post-pandemic world.

Factory Coffee

Factory Coffee announced their long-awaited reopening on June 8 to their Instagram followers with a lot of virtual hugs and reminders for social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing. “The new normal for coffee shops needs to be focused on trust and confidence with our customers,” says CEO and founder of Factory Coffee, Srettakarn Veerakultevon, who’s also the current Barista Champion of Thailand. “We need to do even more to exceed the old standards of quality and hygiene, so that customers can clearly recognize that they can trust in our shop.”

Factory Coffee has been around since 2013 and aims to keep making people happy with a simple cup of coffee, pandemic or not. Photo courtesy of Factory Coffee.

From the very beginning of the outbreaks in Thailand, Factory Coffee brought in experts to spray and disinfect every inch of their café-slash-roastery in downtown Bangkok. Although the shop remained open for takeaway, delivery orders were encouraged, with special promotions and new menu items that ensured people could still enjoy quality coffee experiences even while social distancing.

Factory Coffee’s signature bottled cold brew, coffee with milk, and newly launched milk tea, are popular for convenient takeaway and delivery orders. Photo courtesy of Factory Coffee.

One of the challenges of coffee deliveries was maintaining quality control when services were outsourced to popular companies such as LINE MAN and Grab. That’s why Factory Coffee launched their own delivery service to customers around the area. True to their tagline, “We do things differently here,” they wanted to make sure coffee would be served to their standards, even if that meant serving it all the way to your door. In this “new normal,” Srettakarn believes nothing will ever be the same. “If we want to continue building the momentum of the coffee industry, we need to shift our focus from quantity to quality in a way that carefully considers hygiene and environmental impact,” he says. “That’s how we can build trust between coffee shops and coffee consumers.”

Tigger Chaturabul tried to be a barista for two years until she realized she was better suited behind the business than behind the bar. She now runs her own copywriting and design studio, Curious Typhoon Studio, that serves F&B and other small businesses in Hong Kong. Her free-range creative lifestyle allows her to spend all her time in coffee shops everywhere.

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