Graph Café is a tiny coffee shop in the old part of Chiang Mai that seats six people. It’s a full house today but no one is drinking coffee. Instead, the customers here are snapping photos of their drinks. The Monochrome is the most popular: an iced latte made with milk, espresso, vanilla and powdered charcoal. Then there’s the Holiday, served in layers of velvety panna cotta, charcoal, coffee and milk with a vial of espresso and charcoal. The drinks cost about $4.50, much more than the average iced Thai coffee.

“Normally, charcoal in Asia is medicine. Here, we are presenting it in a new way,” says the cafe’s co-owner, Karuephron Satrabhaya. “Now I see other coffee shops have copied my menu. I’m happy to be their inspiration.”

Charcoal supplements have been taken for years in many parts of the world to ease indigestion, clear up spotty skin and prevent hangovers. But adding the residue of burnt wood or coconut to a latte is a relatively new trend. Graph Café first started selling it to locals and tourists in Thailand in April. An Instagram search of the hashtag “charcoallatte” reveals many coffeehouses from Poland to Japan serving the eye-catching drinks — hot and iced, with regular and condensed milk, sweetened and unsweetened. Activated charcoal is tasteless but leaves a slight grittiness in your mouth.

Cafe owners say customers are willing to pay extra for charcoal in their coffee for its detoxifying effects and because the drinks look fabulous.

Learn more about charcoal coffee on KCRW’s Good Food blog. Photo by Stan Lee.


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