Coffee has been a staple of Laos ever since it was introduced in the early twentieth century. As a result, coffee spots in Luang Prabang & throughout Laos have sprung up in every kind of iteration from street vendor to Western style cafés. In Lao, coffee is pronounced “khaafeh” (similar to how you would say café). If you want real Lao coffee, you must order “khaafeh Lao”. And the Lao version of coffee should not be missed by anyone traveling through.
At first I was considering using a rating system in order to categorize different coffee spots in Laos, but I felt that it did not give enough justice to some of the more local places I visited. This list is thus based on my own personal experience in each café. I also put a heavy emphasis on atmosphere & the taste of the coffee. I love coffee so much that this post is being written with a cup of coffee next to me.
Note: this listing has been edited & updated as of January 2020 to reflect the current cafés in Luang Prabang.
1. Pasaneyom Coffee Shop
You just have to try this local place. After all, you are coming to Laos to experience Lao culture right? This is one of the most local & authentic places to sit down for a cup of joe. You might even strike up a chat with a fellow Lao next to you while you relax in the early hours of the morning. Pasaneyom Coffee shop is not a place where you would sit with a laptop or casually read the newspaper; it is an experience in & of itself. If you are someone who prefers to enjoy new experiences with new friends, you can always join a popular food tour that starts here.
2. Café de Laos (at the Chang Inn)
From the moment I approached Café de Laos, I knew I was in for a serious treat. Sitting off the main road next to Wat Sen, you will notice the row of french presses and espresso pots that line their counter. This is because they source their coffee beans only from various regions in Laos. When ordering your coffee, you get to choose from a selection of 12 different locally grown beans. Beans are freshly ground for either a french press (pictured above) or a syphon brew.
Though if their prices written in dollars (and not kip) on their menu indicated anything, it is that this is not the type of place suited to budget travelers. However, if you are a coffee connoisseur, then you are in the right place. Café de Laos not only has a very cozy atmosphere, but the coffee is well worth the price. In my opinion, Café de Laos serves up the best tasting coffee in Luang Prabang.
3. Le Café Ban Vat Sene
This is a very colonial-style café just off of the main Sisavangvong Road. With a connection to the upscale L’Elephant restaurant merely two blocks away, it definitely has a classier feel than many other cafés. Espressos & Americanos are priced at 15,000 kip. I also ordered a freshly baked baguette, since it only costed 10,000 kip (not including butter or jam for an additional 7,000 kip each). There are up-to-date newspapers here from Vientiane, Bangkok, & even France (the Le Monde)! I felt like I was in heaven. This also would be a great place to bring along your laptop to get some work done. However, I preferred to enjoy this beautiful Sunday not behind a screen, but instead watching the world go by.
The story of Saffron Coffee is an uplifting one that deserves to be shared. The Hmong, Khamu, & Yao (Mien) who lived up in the high lands were unable to grow typical crops like the rest of Lao. They turned to opium as a way to earn income until the government banned this practice. This resulted in the groups resorting to slash and burn agriculture. A researcher realized that these mountainous areas would be perfect for coffee cultivation & Saffron was born.
Saffron says that it always buys the entire amount of coffee cultivated from these ethnic minorities in order to provide them with income. As for my espresso & Americano, they had a very rich & bold flavor that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would suggest taking home a bag (87,0000 kip) of their organic coffee due to their story alone. My recommendation is to visit their location on the Mekong rather than the location near the night market.
If you are a tourist, you would be hard pressed not to stop in at least one of the two Joma Coffee shops in town. I have to admit that I come here a little too often, but it is a great way to cool off with air-conditioning, a reasonably priced cup of coffee, & the daily Bangkok Post or Vientiane Times paper. The internet, however, is fairly intermittent. I would not advise coming here & expecting stellar performance on their wifi network. My last few visits here had me walking out in anger as I could not even connect to the wifi. Joma’s coffee is decent, but not quite as flavorful as other places around town. My favorite part of Joma is that they sometimes have a plate sitting out of day-old pastries that are 50% off. That’s a pretty good deal for an expat living on a budget.
6. Le Banneton Café (aka the French Bakery)
Near the end of the peninsula on the main road, Le Banneton Cafe sits quietly across from Wat Sop. It is known as the ‘French Bakery’ since it sells many baked goods that can be ordered to go. There is almost zero traffic in this area of town, so it is truly a stress-free place to enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning. The menu is written with English translations of French menu items printed much smaller & off to the side.
I decided on a Coffee Noir (black coffee) & a baguette with butter and jam. The coffee is reasonably priced (10,000 kip for a small) & arrives with a lot of crema on top. (Crema is a brownish foam usually on top of espressos. It definitely adds to the taste!) However I was sad to find out that they offered no newspapers to read. They do have a stack of Western magazines & books. I would recommend coming here with someone else to enjoy a meal together.
7. 96 Coffee
96 Coffee is a part of the Luang Prabang Inn hotel just a few meters away. Their coffee is not the cheapest in Luang Prabang, but the atmosphere is comfortable enough to spend a few hours here in peace. Their interior has a free computer to use the internet, a few leather couches, and comfortable outdoor seating to enjoy your cup of joe. 96 Coffee stays open until 9:00pm, which is late by certain standards here in Luang Prabang. The internet is also fairly reliable and plenty of Vientiane papers are here to keep you updated with all things related to Laos. My opinion is the Americano here packs more flavor than at Joma.
8. Formula B
Finding this newcomer proved a bit tricky, but worth the confusion! Located above the Madame Boupha boutique (next to Dexter on the main street), Formula B is the place for coffee lovers who like to keep their Instagram drool worthy. Not only can you order everything from a North South (2 shots of espresso, a medium roast from Luang Prabang province & a dark roast from Paksong province) to a fancy iced coffee with shots of flavoring, whipped cream, & sprinkles. Serious coffee drinkers will love it and so will casual drinkers. Do not overlook the cakes on offer. The carrot cake is the thing of dreams.
9. Silk Road Cafe
The Silk Road Cafe has been featured heavily in the past few blog posts I have written, but it is equally a great place to come for a quiet coffee by the Mekong river. You can also stop by for a free tour of their silk process, take a silk dyeing class, eat an amazing brunch, or come here for a Lao lunch with a western twist! There are newspapers that seem to be stocked daily & their wifi is great as well.
One downside to the cafe is that they do not stay open to serve dinner so the cafe closes earlier than other coffee spots in Luang Prabang. It is also somewhat farther away from the city center than the other cafes reviewed in this post. But don’t let that discourage you from coming here. You can always get their free shuttle from either shop location in town!
10. Dao Coffee
It is no surprise that this place has an interior decorated like a 5-star hotel lobby considering the location next to Amantaka. When I walked in, I felt a little under-dressed in my shorts and flip flops. Dao Coffee is very classy, dare I say, elegant? One unique aspect of their menu is that all their hot drinks (whether it is a cappuccino, Americano, espresso, etc) are priced at 15,000 kip. Similarly it is 20,000 kip for almost all their cold coffees. Dao Coffee’s sign outside said that it closed at 6:00pm, but on the day I visited they were closing at 5:30pm.
The atmosphere is very quiet & would be great place to work as they have free wifi available. In my opinion, their cappuccino tasted flat & almost flavorless. However, I don’t order cappuccinos often. If nothing else, you will run into Dao Coffee’s 3-1 instant packets sooner or later.