One of the rare disappointments that Iâ€™ve had when hunting the provinces for Cambodian food is finding Cambodian coffee. Iâ€™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 Cambodiaâ€™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 cafÃ© 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 Iâ€™m surprised that I could not smell it from my house and Iâ€™m still not sure of the best method to remove it from my clothes. Iâ€™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.