You Oughta Drink the Water

Coffee and Water

It’s pretty rare in Thailand that I’ll drink coffee, but nowadays due to age and a certain acceptance that getting drunk during the day takes the enjoyment out of the evening, I do sip the crushed beans on the odd occasion. But why do they keep giving me a glass of water with it. By the way, the coffee and water in the top photo are mine but the handbag isn’t. I’m a bit of a sugar freak but I ain’t that sweet.

Thai teaI much prefer a pot of western style tea (photo right) but in Thailand’s smaller towns and more off beat cities some cafes don’t serve it. Looking at the Thai script on the menu cards often leaves me wondering exactly what they do offer.

Thai’s understand the word coffee but tea mostly gets a puzzled look and the Thai word for tea (cha lorn) normally sees you being served hot Thai flavoured tea (no milk) which doesn’t do much for me at all. The sweeter iced tea (cha yen) sold in Thailand is tastier and so much more refreshing.

Many Thai people drink Green Tea to aid their digestive system and also for weight loss. Young Thai ladies swear it helps keep their bodies trim and Muay Thai boxers are known to use it for quick weight loss when training for a bout.

The green tea emporium in Thailand expanded by over 20% in the first nine months of 2009 and the chilled green tea market now has a yearly sales value of over 160 million US dollars. Back to coffee and water.

Turkish coffee in an Arab villageIf you were asked where coffee originated from then I’m sure many of you would perhaps guess at South America, Brazil. Those of you who are more caffeine dependent will probably know the answer is Ethiopia in Africa. The African nation was the first to recognize the vitality and energy the coffee beans yielded.

Coffee soon appeared in Arabia as trade routes widened and the former major trading hub Port of Mocha in Yemen has the name of the renowned coffee bean whose origins are firmly planted in Africa. In the 21st Century coffee beans are cultivated in many parts of the world.

Java beans from Indonesia, Bourbon from Brazil, Costa Rican Tarrazu and the highly priced and prized Jamaican Blue Mountain are just a few that show how far the popular caffeine bean has spread from its roots. There was no mention in my research of Tesco’s Own Brand, must be a new one. Back to water and a few theories as to why it’s served with coffee.

Apparently coffee has a bitter taste, I chose the word apparently with great care because I thought it tasted like coffee. The dehydrating effects of caffeine are well researched and so the glass of water that partners it makes sense until you dig a little deeper.

Caffeine acts as a mild diurectic, which basically means you urinate more. Water has the same effect and so theory one gets a big no no from me even though I do understand the replenishing effect water has and that coffee still leaves you a little thirsty at times.

Coffee and water

Theory two is simple. The glass of water is there to keep you the customer at your table longer. A cunning ploy to get you to order something more. If the theory is correct then in Thailand the water would be there more as a way to give you more time to relax after drinking your coffee rather than any ruse or scam. Cunning ploys are not really a part of Thai culture and the devious scheme to get you to spend more would fit much more snugly into western society.

My final theory took a lot more research and goes back many years to Arabic traditions and their coffee houses. In the traditional North African and Middle East coffee houses a proprietors hospitality was just as important as the quality of the coffee his establishment sold. Water was expensive due to its sparsity and by serving it as an accompaniment to the coffee it was a way for the shop owner to show the customer their gratitude for their visit and trade. I quite like this explanation but I’m not convinced enough to buy it even if the offer comes with a free glass of the clear stuff.

After researching this subject in some depth I am still unsure as to why a glass of water is served with coffee. Perhaps you know the answer. I do know that I oughta drink the water but I never do. How about you?


Photograph (bottom image)  Melange coffee with water  by Pschemp

Photograph Turkish coffee by Etan Tal


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

19 Responses

  1. Talen says:

    I don’t know why they would serve the water with the coffee but I would suspect the coffee may be hot and the water may be there to cool off a burnt tongue?

    It can be a struggle getting a good cup of hot Tea in Thailand…I love a nice black tea, especially after dinner. I have a few haunts where I can get some good tea and one variety is grown locally.

    I even found a little tea shop in Mukdahan where I can get a perfect cup of tea.
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..Thailand Holidays 2010 =-.

  2. Mike says:

    To be honest Martyn I haven’t a clue about the combination, not unusual for me I might add. However Thai coffee does tend to be undrinkable for me on occasions, very thick and bitter so I would probably drink the water to clear my palette.

    Talking about water though reminded me that over the last few months I have tried to drink more since I tend not to like plain water but get a little dehydrated at times even though I am a tea addict.

    Glad to say I have managed to start to enjoy it more and despite the extra fluid intake I don’t seem to need to take extra loo stops.

    I tend to take my lead from my Thai house-mates who drink water as if it were going out of fashion.
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Thailand-Land of Compromise =-.

  3. Jon says:

    Coffee is Thailand is a long lost family remember, once removed, from that we enjoy in the UK. If it isn’t thick and bitter, as Mike says, it is sickly sweet and undrinkable. Personally, I can’t stand the 3-in-1 (which many shops make and serve as ‘fresh’ coffee) though many expats swear by them.

    As for the water, I always considered it a freebie, in the same way we were given a few nicely presented cups when DIY shopping for bathrooms t’other day.
    .-= Jon´s last blog ..Goal of the season – Manny Figueroa, Wigan =-.

  4. Steve says:


    As far as I can tell you’ve hit on the three major reasons that people believe water is served with coffee. In Thailand I’m guessing it’s as much the dehydration factor as anything since many places will serve you water with food or snacks. I really should drink much more water myself, being from a cold climate I’m just not used to it. Usually the wife is constantly pushing me to drink more (water that is).
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..Should I Move To Thailand? =-.

  5. Hoo Don says:

    Talen I much prefer tea myself and I’ve heard so many English say how bad Lipton tea is but I don’t mind it. There’s a bar in Nong Khai where I always start off my lunch time with a pot of tea and at 25 baht I can’t complain. I do sometimes take a packet of English tea with me to Thailand amongst a few other things but nowadays Tesco Lotus seems to be fairly well stocked on foreign foods I hardly ever bother apart from cheese which is rather expensive in the LOS.

  6. Hoo Don says:

    Mike I have been making a conscious effort to drink more water myself on my last couple of trips but I’m the opposite in the loo stakes. Water passes through me pretty quick. Thai’s are obviously big water drinkers especially in the villages as it falls out the sky for free and money is a little tight. I’m not a big big lover of coffee but it’s quick to make and being a sugar lover I think that masks the bitter taste.

  7. Hoo Don says:

    Steve see my comment to Mike about the water. Adding on, dehydration is a big nuisance as far as I go when I’m in Thailand because I do enjoy a few beers. I have tried the electrolyte salt drinks before but tend nowadays to stick to plain water and cutting back on my beer during the day. Luckily my coming trip this month is during the cooler season and so dehydration is never a problem. I tend to avoid Thailand in April.

  8. Hoo Don says:

    Jon – Thick and sweet, I don’t mind it that way at all, any times we’ve made a very early trip to the local market I’ve always sat down with the locals and had a sweet, strong cuppa. The 3-in1 packs are a little bland but they are utter convenience in a word but like you they are not for me.

  9. Catherine says:

    I didn’t realise that the reason why we get water with our coffee is to stave off dehydration. Smart move (and one start doing with my morning coffee). I’ve only recently started back drinking coffee and it has replaced the water I normally drink. Well, water with a tea bag drowning in it!
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai Language Thai Culture: Looking for Rhymes in all the Wrong Places =-.

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine is reads like you don’t partake in the consumption of water too often unless it has coffee granules or a tea bag with it. I’m not totally convinced the glass of water is to stave off dehydration, I’d tend to go with one of the other two theories myself.

  11. Lawrence says:

    Martyn, enough about water. You can have to much (but I drink a lot). But I also drink a lot of hot green tea and I can tell you it has done nothing as far as weight loss goes,and my body is far from trim. Those young ladies may have a secret recipe, but it isn’t green tea.
    .-= Lawrence´s last blog ..Champassak, Lao PDR =-.

  12. Hoo Don says:

    Lawrence I personally don’t agree myself with the weight loss myth behind green tea. I reckon if you drank enough of most things it would fill you up and you’d eat less. Unfortunately Thai women and Muay Thai boxers are both not the kind of people to argue with.

  13. Lisa says:

    Hi all!

    In my opinion, green tea does help with weight loss. But just like any slimming supplement, it is not a sole solution. So if you think that you can start drinking green tea but continue to eat 10 bars of chocolate every day and the green tea will somehow magically burn the chocolate away an you’ll lose weight – you won’t lose weight. You’ll likely just get even fatter.

    On the other hand, if you start drinking green tea, and also start eating healthier and engage in regular exercise – you will certainly lose weight. And because you are drinking the green tea you will also feel much better and your body will be more efficient at execreting waste.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Cho-Yung Slimming Tea Review =-.

  14. Narconon Vista Bay says:

    Lisa i think u have made some important point about losing weight.there are many people out there complains that herbal tea & medication isn’t reducing their weight as it should be.but the forget the basic rules about losing weight is to eat healthy food & do some exercise regularly.without maintaining a healthy life no one can expect losing weight no matter how much green tea u consume everyday, it will never gonna help u losing u need to combine this three(healthy food,exercise,herbal tea) in ur everyday life,then u will see & feel significant changes in Ur body.

  15. Counter Fraud Guy says:

    Jeez, I couldn’t live without coffee! That said, when I was last in Ko Samui, come to mention it I don’t think I had a single cup. I drank plenty of beer and cocktails though!

  16. Daniel says:

    Well sometimes coffee can give you that cotton mouth or just that coffee after taste breath. A cup of water can re-hydrate you and just replenish your mouth of moisture.
    .-= Daniel´s last blog ..Loss Tips Weight =-.

  17. Gab says:

    The more water we drink, the better… not only water is vital to perform each day, but also for weight loss.
    .-= Gab´s last blog ..Abdominal Liposuction for Men =-.

  18. rome hotels says:

    i think a glass of water is to rehydrate yourself after drinking coffee.additionally this glass of water is a symbol of appreciation from the shop owner to their customers for doing business with them.
    .-= rome hotels ´s last undefined ..Response cached until Tue 30 @ 10:15 GMT (Refreshes in 2.88 Hours) =-.

  19. Hoo Don says:

    rome hotels – I’d say your assumption is pretty well spot on. Thanks for your comment.

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