BACK TO BASICS: ROOTS COFFEE ROASTER & ROAST RESTAURANT

*The following content was produced for Asia Eater Magazine and was published online May 13 2014. Video, images and article by Meredith C. Browne*

Varatt “Tae” Vichit-Vadakan is serious about coffee.The owner of Roots Coffee Roaster, a boutique micro-roastery in Bangkok, Tae recently won the National Thailand Barista Championship. But while the Bangkok-based barista is happy to pose for pictures with the trophy, he is also quick to defer the attention to his team of farmers and his roaster. “The prize is for them as well, not just for me,” he says.

Situated in the Huay Nam Koon area of Chiang Rai, the farmers that work with Roots are able to grow high quality coffee due to the cooler climate and high elevation in Thailand’s northernmost city. Recently, Tae has focused on collaborating with his farmers and roaster to try different processing and roasting methods. No matter the changes, he states that the most important element in creating a good cup of coffee is a true understanding of the bean.

IMG_3192“You can have the best beans in the world and you can have the best espresso machine in the world, but if you don’t understand what you’re working with you will not be able to bring out the best of those beans,” Tae explains.

Only open to customers on Saturdays and Sundays from noon until 6pm, Roots solely sells coffee-based drinks and a small assortment of freshly baked pastries.

Despite the fact Roots enjoys sourcing coffees from other countries, the 120 percent tariff on imported coffee has made Tae and his team reconsider their ambitions.
“I think our goal here is not so much on how much output we could produce, but recently, on how we could improve the quality of the local coffee beans,” he reflects.

Roots also aims to tell consumers the story behind each cup of coffee. During the week there are workshops available to the public on a variety of topics whether it be a basic barista lesson or coffee tasting exploration class.

It’s a business model that Tae says could not have worked six years ago when he started his first café.

“[People in Thailand] did not appreciate or value coffee as much as some of the other countries around the world.”He has since seen the coffee scene change dramatically in Bangkok, with more Thai people now traveling the region to specifically to drink coffee.

Challenging this notion, Roots has an unconventional compensation system located by their door. In the beginning, the honesty box was created out of necessity because there were only three people working when the café first opened.

“We decided to test it out, as a way for us to understand how much people are appreciating our coffee,” Tae explains, cheerfully adding that the results have been better than he expected.

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Aside from the task of developing a different coffee selection every six weeks, Roots also roasts all of the blends served at Tae’s other business venture: Roast restaurant. Specialising in comfort food, Roast serves anywhere from 600 to 700 customers a day. The menu, designed in the style of a newspaper, provides customers with information from behind the scenes of the company such as a profile of Executive Chef Johnny Liu.

While Tae is clearly keen to inform and educate his customers, he explains that his philosophy is elementary: “Simplicity is quite hard to find in this city. Roast takes them back to the basics.”

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