It was in early March before the world shut down that Ratchanon “Poon” Theppabutra flew in from Melbourne to celebrate Qingming with his family. But as COVID-19 set fire to the planet and Thailand and Australia entered full lockdown, not only was Poon’s family gathering canceled, but the barista couldn’t return to his life in Melbourne.
But Poon was quick to turn the crisis into opportunity. The veteran barista, who is established in Melbourne’s vibrant cafe scene (Manchester Press, The Crux & Co. and Code Black), turned his Bangkok home into a coffee shop where he now serves everything within his expertise – creating a new treat for caffeine fans in the Ratchada-Sutthisan area.
Only one week after Thailand locked down, Poony Poony Coffee opened in April in Soi Sabai Jai 4, with the help of a borrowed coffee machine, classroom stools from his mom – a retired teacher – and a fair amount of Ikea.
“I came back and got stuck here. What was meant to be a short visit turned into a loooong holiday,” Poon said as his hands etched steamed milk atop a coffee cup, creating a bunny-shaped stencil over the Flat White.
Poon’s business kicked off with delivering bottled coffee to nearby homes, and when the national lockdown lifted, expanded to sit-in customers.
Apart from the quality coffee Poon pours his years of experience into creating, the cafe also provides a cozy ambience that’s like having a cuppa at a friend’s house. On the offer is a range of serious coffee – mostly single-origin beans from around the world – as well as tea and baked goods.
However, after opening the cafe for a few weeks, Poon learned making ends meet meant adapting to the Bangkok’s demand for novelty.
“Unlike cafes in Melbourne, serving only classic coffees isn’t enough,” Poon said. “Opening a cafe in Bangkok, I have to create new, signature coffees or else it won’t attract customers.”
One of Poon’s proudest pours is the Babyccino (THB50), warm milk with foam expertly frothed into two smiling teddy bears. The kid-friendly drink earned Poon his first job in Melbourne at printing house-turned-cafe Manchester Press.
What I liked best at Poon’s though was the Rum Barrel-Aged Filter Coffee (THB100), which fills the cup with an aroma of woody, boozy notes from beans grown in San Jose, Colombia. It’s paired uniquely well with a chewy-custardy French canele pastry (THB60).
If one wishes to kick the party up a notch, go off-menu with the Espresso Martini (THB200), a combination of freshly-brewed espresso, coffee liqueur and vodka garnished with three coffee beans.
Patrons who don’t drink coffee won’t be disappointed either since they can opt for some custom-made, non-caffeine beverages. The highlight is the Yakuza Sour (THB100), a bubbly refreshing combo of matcha with sparkling lime.
On whether the cafe closes when the pandemic eases or becomes permanent, Poon admits he doesn’t know what the future holds.
“I am saving to go back [to Melbourne],” he said. “But I don’t know which direction this cafe will head. Right now, it’s hard to plan for the future.”
Poony Poony Coffee is open 9am to 5pm every weekday except Thursday, and 10am to 5pm on weekends. It is located on Soi Sabai Jai 4 and can be reached from MRT Sutthisan.
Soi Sabai Jai 4, Samsen Nok, Huai Khwang, Bangkok
Opens 9am-5pm every weekday except Thursday, 10am-5pm on weekends
This article, Stranded by pandemic, Melbourne barista opens specialty cafe in Bangkok home, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!