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Best coffee in Cambodia?

By: Expat Advisory Posted: January-01-2006 in
Expat Advisory

Isabel Calvert loses no sleep in her quest to find the finest brew in Phnom Penh.

Wow! Best Coffee? What an assignment! Considering the extraordinary number of coffee spots in the cities, picking out the best coffee is a mammoth task. Here are a few humble offerings found in Phnom Penh.

Fresco, 361 Sisowath Quay, is first off the ramp. It's an expatriate favourite due mostly to the "Illy" brand used. Illy is authentic Italian coffee - recommended by Italians! What more can you say? Fresco uses only Illy coffee so their espresso, the latte macchiato and the cappuccino are excellent. Some think Frescos is overpriced, but they are one of the few fully tax-compliant places in town and they use great beans.

The Living Room around the corner on St 51 has beautiful coffee. 100% Cambodian organic beans impart a rich, smooth and aromatic flavour. The decaf is also very good as a late night treat that won't keep you up through the night.

Java Cafe, 56 Sihanouk Boulevard, offers a comprehensive list of coffee (and tea) options and has wonderfully frothy cappuccino, despite the open air venue (humidity is the death knell of froth). Java also has the best hot chocolate in town if you're not a coffee drinker, and Java Cafe's Tea Room at Monument Books, 111 Norodom Boulevard, is a little colonial (air-conned) oasis! The Coffee Maker, also on Sihanouk Boulevard, is one of the most recently-completed cafes in Phnom Penh and offers excellent views of Hun Sen Park. The decor is upmarket and offers both traditional dining tables and chairs and more comfy lounge chairs and coffee tables for those that want to stay a while. The cappuccinos are of good quality and rank amongst the better on offer in town.

Shop no. 547 in the centre of the Russian Market (near the food stalls) has the self-professed "best coffee and iced coffee in Phnom Penh". This has been confirmed by many friends, some of whom have gone there on a daily basis for the past eight years! Both hot or cold, the Vietnamese coffee (made in the traditional way with all the sieving and straining) is clean, consistently good, cheap and strong. The iced coffee, made with condensed milk and clean chucky ice, is a cold, sweet hit to give you the energy to shop til you drop.

A massage after shopping is great and Amara's Le Quay Boutique Cafe and Creperie, 154 Sisowath Quay offers up caffeine and food treats to get you going again after a massage. The coffee is fabulous - ranging in price from $1.90 for an espresso to $2.80 for a Vienna, with the usual range of cappuccinos, lattes, macchiato and Moccas along the way, spiced up with the offer of Doppio and Ristietto, hot chocolate, 4 iced coffees and 3 blended iced frappuccinos, as well as a good lunch menu. The ambience must be mentioned. The cafe is on the ground floor of the spa and shares the relaxing atmosphere of the upstairs suites. Gentle pan flute music wafts through the air conditioned air with water features trickling in the background. The flockedfabric furnishings beg to be caressed. It's a women's oasis at the top end of town and gives the lovely ladies at UNICEF and the UK Embassy an easily accessible lunch time treat (a spa treat and meal would fit in a 2-hour lunch break).

If a coffee on the go is required, pop into any Caltex Star Mart Coffee Plus (the best one with small coffee tables and nice pastries is at the corner of Mao Tse Tung and Monivong) or any Lucky Burger/Seven outfit. Both chains serve surprisingly good coffee - (relatively) quick, take-out or sup-in, a good variety of latte, cappuccino, flavoured and iced coffees, and at Star Mart a variety of smoothies. Both are cheap caffeine hits but you get a bigger serve at Star Mart. The caramel frappuccinos at Lucky's are lovely, but could do with a bit more caramel syrup on top.

Now, all restaurants offer coffee, and my favourite Italian, Le Duo is no exception. Dinner topped off with an espresso with grappa is a bomb! Mostly grappa - with a half shot of espresso, and two sugars. With so many choices, it's difficult to make an assessment without blowing your brains out on caffeine.

So here's a reader challenge. Whoever can send in the most "Quick Test Coffee Quiz" entries to Expat Advisory Service over the next three months wins a free meal for two at one of Phnom Penh's swishest, newest restaurants.

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Have fun!

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