One of the rare disappointments that I’ve had when hunting the provinces for Cambodian food is finding Cambodian coffee. I’ve been to the far northeast, met the growers in their villages, and then wandered about Banlung in search of fresh Java with increasing and unfulfilled desperation.
What I ended up discovering in my brief Ratanakiri-ward sojourn is that there is a disconnection between growing and roasting coffee within Cambodia. Rumour has it that a Cambodian roastery briefly existed in Ratanakiri until growers were offered a better price from Vietnamese buyers. Bulk beans are now shipped from Cambodia’s north east, processed across the border in Vietnam, then imported back to Cambodia as a finished product. While I can confirm the rumour with at least one bulk coffee vendor in Phnom Penh, it still has an air of disingenuousness about it because on a small scale, coffee is easy to roast. All you need is an oven, some patience and a good deal of practice. Or alternately, a popcorn popper.
Thus it was an embarrassing bitch slap to the face to discover that a café within walking distance of my house roasts local beans. The process is relatively simple. Sok (pictured) rotates the beans in a metal drum over white hot charcoal.
When they approach the correct degree of blackness (Phnom Penhois tend to prefer a black-as-pitch roast), Sok adds a cup of rendered pork fat, gives the drum a few more quick rotations to let the fat partly burn off, then dumps them onto a waiting mat to cool.
The coffee smoke is so rich that I’m surprised that I could not smell it from my house and I’m still not sure of the best method to remove it from my clothes. I’m not even sure if I want to remove it.
I find it comforting that even my coffee has meat in it, vegans probably less so.
Location: Corner of st.432 and 155, near Psar Tuol Tom Poung (Russian Market). Coffee is roasted in the afternoons around 3pm.