The trickle down effect of the global pandemic might be responsible for the chicest Durian Cafe north of Bangkok.
When I described Lablae District back in 2014, I affectionately pronounced it a “Thai Nowheresville.”
Beautiful and mountainous, yes. The kind of place where rugged rubber boots are normal footwear and rubber-necking is normal behavior when foreigners explore the local fruit markets.
But the pandemic has had far-reaching effects, not all of them bad. So when we returned to Lablae in 2021, we found a brand new Durian Cafe serving Starbucks-worthy durian milkshakes with compostable straws in a cozy, Instagrammable space to munch your durian over a laptop.
How the world has changed.
About Summer Green Durian Cafe
The Durian Cafe is set in a beautiful, flat garden surrounding the family home of Summer, her mother, Pa Rian (Auntie Rian), and everyone else in their family. Concrete trails meander through the young trees of durian, longkongs, rambutans, and mangosteens.
Here you can sit on natural wood benches in the shade of a durian tree, sipping a durian milkshake and listening to The Weeknd.
Let’s be honest– we’re children of the 90’s, so after looking through the Summer Green Cafe Menu on Facebook we were getting excited about the experience.
We arrived when the cafe opened at 9AM prepared for a very millennial durian breakfast.
The cafe specializes in duriany desserts to pair with a fancy drink. Besides the Durian Caramel milkhake, there is also a Durian Affogato (espresso poured over durian ice cream), durian waffles, Monthong cheesecake, Monthong crepe cake.
Unfortunately for us, none of the durian options were vegan or gluten-free.
But there were plenty of other options for those of us with difficult diets.
I was sorely tempted by the coconut-flower nectar americano, but ultimately chose the coconut-flower-nectar matcha in order to be extra millenial (and also because who doesn’t love coconut flower nectar?!)
Richard went with the vegan chocolate smoothie bowl using almond milk, and after placing our order we went to order a Durian Buffet to supplement our breakfast.
Longlablae Durian Buffet
Across the grassy garden from Summer Green Durian Cafe is the family’s home, a wooden building on stilts with a huge pile of durian in its deep shade.
In 2014, Pa Rian, Summer’s mother, opened the house to visitors when she realized it was getting too difficult to transport all the durians to the local market. She needed 3 truckloads, going back and forth. It was hot and troublesome work.
So why not let customers come buy at the house?
Here they sell durian chips, stirred durian guan, and the most famous durians in Lablae District – the Linlablae and Longlablae varieties.
But because durian is famous around here, it’s not cheap.
When we visited, Linlablae variety was already sold out for the season. That variety sells for 550 baht per kg ($36 USD per lb).
What was left was Longlablae, a petite round ball of a durian that still sells for 180 baht per kg for the smallest sized ones ($12 USD per lb).
But size is deceptive. Longlablae packs a lot of durian to eat.
Richard and I both had fond memories of Longlablae from previous encounters, so we dug into our Breakfast Main with relish.
Richard remembered the surprise of finding strawberry cream in the durian, after a lifetime of only trying oniony Monthong.
Longlablae does taste very different from Monthong. Think of a texture like condensed mousse, a sweetness like caramel, and something of berry about the finish.
But what is most amazing about Longlablae is that, as petite as it looks, it has a lot of flesh to bite.
Each seed is tiny, and the skin is really thin, meaning that you have a whole cavity filled with durian flesh like some kind of strawberry-cream egg.
Just compare the seed size of the Longlablae to the durian variety that was common in Lablae previously, the Phueng Mueang.
Phuen Mueang พื้นเมือง
In Auntie Rian’s youth, they had only unnamed seedling durian (Pueng Baan พื้นบ้าน) and the local grafted variety (Pueng Mueang).
The seeds of this durian, she explained, are really big, and the flesh has a really strong smell. We of course, couldn’t wait to try it.
The family still grows a few trees, mostly to use the seeds for rootstock, and Summer uses the flesh for the desserts in the cafe to give them a stronger durian oomph.
The one that we tasted had a kind of off-grey color, a very thick, sticky texture and a strangely bitter, metallic tang. It was milky in its creaminess, with the same sort of sour-bitter aftertaste as I remember from drinking cow’s milk.
It was definitely different from anything I’ve tasted so far in Thailand, and unless you blend it with 3 tablespoons of glucose syrup I honestly can’t see Thailand’s millenials going for it.
Pueng Mueang is remnant of the past in Lablae, a past where children like Pa Rian had to walk to her family’s durian farm on the mountain, around 12km away.
Back then, durian sold for only 50 baht per kilo, and it had to be carried, by hand.
Now, her Longlablae is worth so much more and her family has a lot more opportunities than they did in her childhood.
And that, combined with a little sprinkle of pandemic, is how they ended up with the chicest durian cafe north of Bangkok.
How Summer Green Durian Cafe Started
Since the family opened the house to durian guests 7 years ago, they noticed that people who come to eat durian ask for other things too.
They ask for water, or coffee, or if there is any lunch available. The family had already started serving coffee, and were considering some other options for the 2020 tourist season when Summer would come home from school to help.
In the spring of that year, Summer was studying abroad in the United States. She spent the lockdown in Boston and, when Thailand opened to repatriation flights, went home.
Summer Green Cafe opened in December, 2020, to feature local products from the family’s farm and to be there when tourists come back and ask for coffee.
When asked if they would have opened Summer Green Cafe if she hadn’t come home from school, Summer said probably not. So for anyone visiting Lablae in the future, you have a stupid virus to thank for a comfy ambiance to chill in with your Durian Cake, Coffee, and Longlablae Durian Platter.
How to visit Summer Green Cafe
Summer Green Durian Cafe and Pa Rian Durian Farm are located in the same garden down a small lane off the main highway running from Lablae Village to Mae Phun Waterfall, before you get to Wat Hua Dong. You will see a sign on the left hand side of the road as you pass by.
Durian Bookings for Trendy Longlablae Durian Feasts can be made via Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/145summergreen