Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The cryptocurrency cafe where BitCoin buys coffee



The cryptocurrency cafe where BitCoin buys coffee

Owner Steve Menger.
Owner Steve Menger. Bennett Murray

The cryptocurrency cafe where BitCoin buys coffee

A seemingly down-to-earth eatery off street 360 has become the first place in the Kingdom to accept payment with the popular virtual currency BitCoin

Down an alley off Street 360, a seemingly ordinary shop-house restaurant, like hundreds of others in Phnom Penh, provides neighbours with a coffee fix or bowl of rice porridge.

But this seemingly run-of-the-mill restaurant wrote a footnote in Cambodian business history this month when it became the first in the Kingdom to accept a payment in the digital currency BitCoin. “A couple I met on Reddit got two coffees for 5,000 riel,” said Steve Menger, owner of Coin Cafe, with a laugh. At the time that they visited the cafe, 5,000 riel was worth about 0.0033 of one BitCoin.

While BitCoin’s presence in the Kingdom is near nil, a small group comprised mostly of foreigners evangelise the crypto-currency as a superior alternative to the dollar or riel.

“Software is decentralised, collaborations are happening all around the world, and I think BitCoin is the future,” Menger said.

BitCoin, which was first created in 2009, is a completely decentralised online currency with no direct oversight by any regulatory agency. Using software known as a digital wallet, users can give BitCoins to other users directly instead of using third-party services.

Coins can be purchased from other users or on a BitCoin exchange which tracks the currency’s market value. As of yesterday, the exchange rate was one BitCoin for $353.2.

Grant Knuckey, chief executive of ANZ Royal Bank, said the absence of sovereign backing – which would normally be provided by a national central bank – made BitCoin interesting.

BitCoin is traded as a digital currency.
BitCoin is traded as a digital currency. AFP

“It does, however, have most of the other aspects of a currency,” Knuckey said, adding that it’s currently more of an “interesting concept than a reality” in Cambodia.

But at Coin Cafe, purchases can be made on mobile phones by photographing a laminated QR code taped onto the wall and using a digital wallet to transfer the coins to the corresponding account.

Menger admits that the cafe, which opened last month, is unlikely to become a centre of BitCoin trading. While the government has not banned BitCoin, the National Bank of Cambodia announced it March it would not recognise the crypto-currency.

Merger hopes, however, that his website, bitcambodia.com, will become a viable method of exporting Cambodian products throughout the world via BitCoin payments. Business has not yet taken off – he has yet to make a sale – though he hopes other Cambodian businesses will soon take notice.

Ki Chong Tran, a 26-year-old 3D printing specialist based in Phnom Penh, said he hopes BitCoin will transcend traditional banking in the Kingdom much the way mobile telecommunications leapfrogged over landlines in the 1990s. E-commerce – which is currently limited in Cambodia – could be revolutionised even before a PayPal analogue appears.

“In a developed country, there’s already a pretty good banking system, whereas here there is hardly anything,” said Tran, adding that migrant workers in the cities would have a much easier time remitting money to their families with BitCoin.

But Tran admits that for all his enthusiasm, his BitCoin savings could evaporate overnight. “I’m a pretty realistic guy, I think it could end any minute. But it can potentially go so high, and I’m young still, so I can take the risk.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants