There is no shortage of artsy cafés nestled among the colonial buildings near Kampot’s old railway station, which makes the much-loved Café Espresso’s new location – on the road out of town, towards Kep – a boon.
The Aussie-style café, first opened five years ago in the centre of town, quickly became popular for its laid-back vibe, good food and especially for its coffee beans, which are roasted in-house. The brand, Rumble Fish, quickly expanded its distribution to Phnom Penh.
Likewise, Café Espresso moved from narrow shophouse to warehouse last month. The new building – a converted salt shed – is a lofty space lined with hangar lamps, couches and wooden tables. The panes in the roof flood the room with natural light, making it a perfect place to settle in for an afternoon.
The owner, Angus Whelan is a stout Australian with reddish hair tucked underneath a cap and a casual demeanor that belies the effort that has gone into his business. He says the warehouse isn’t exactly what they were looking for, but it will do.
“Originally, we really wanted a houseboat,” he says, taking a quick break in a cushy seat.
In fact, as with the previous iteration, Café Espresso feels like it’s been there for quite a while. An eclectic collection of art and recycled hand-painted signs decorate the walls, along with a mural painted by Whelan’s brother.
Whelan first visited Kampot a decade ago, and kept coming back. He and his wife decided to stay. “We realised: instead of paying thousands of dollars to go on vacation … why not try living there,” he explains.
Coming over from Brisbane, he says that good coffee was the first thing he missed. He set out to make his own.
“It’s always been about the espresso,” Whelan says – as if the name wasn’t a hint. The caffè macchiato ($1.50) Post Weekend sampled proves his point: you would be hard-pressed to find better coffee in town.
The café still retains its rotating food menu, which is in constant evolution. A Jamaican jerk chicken night he recently hosted led Whelan to revive a ginger beer recipe he’d first concocted as a 13-year-old, he says.
It’s now a fixed menu item (served on ice with lime), and a customer favourite.
Last weekend featured green eggs and ham ($5.75), two poached eggs with spinach, peppered ham and pesto cream on sourdough toast. It was a comforting delight before riding into the oncoming afternoon deluge following the Kampot Writers and Readers Festival.
Also comforting was Whelan, who makes the trip several times a year to stock up on ingredients. He shouted out cautionary instructions to customers hitting the road in the rain – a friendly face in a place to which Post Weekend will almost certainly return.
Café Espresso is located in Kampot near the stoplight intersection on National Road 3 on the way to Kep. It is open Tuesday to Sunday.