When people think of where the world’s best coffee comes from, Thailand doesn’t rank very high. For all the great things Thailand is known for coffee isn’t usually one of them. In fact 10 years ago it was a struggle to find a cup of real fresh coffee anywhere outside a fancy hotel or restaurant.
Those days are well and truly gone. The streets and roads of Thailand are lined with cafes selling quality local coffees. This is a lucrative business today, thanks in part to decades of government efforts to encourage villagers in remote mountain communities to replace opium crops with coffee beans.
Private companies and individuals have gone in on the action, working with villagers to grow organic coffee and establish sustainable farming and selling practices that benefit the local community. Here is a sampling of the companies bringing quality Thai coffees to the market.
Akha Ama Coffee was founded by Lee Ayu Chuepa, who grew up in an Akha hill tribe village outside Chiang Rai. Villagers struggled to make much profit from the coffee trade, as they had to travel long journeys to Chiang Rai and sell to a middleman who took a hefty share of the profits. Lee found a way to put himself through school, attended university and made it his goal to give back to his community.
The result of his ambitions was Akha Ama Coffee. Village farmers grow quality, organic coffee and Lee ensures fair prices in exchange for a percentage of the sales going to his stores.
He opened two Akha Ama shops and if you’re ever passing through Chiang Mai, you should absolutely stop in to one of them. The coffee is tasty, and care has clearly gone into everything from the preparation of the beans to the decor of the shop. To encourage patrons, coffee enthusiasts and travelers to engage with the product they’re consuming, Akha Ama leads a yearly coffee journey. Guests stay in the village, meet the farmers and see exactly how coffee beans are harvested and readied for sale.
Another socially minded enterprise, Doi Chaang is a partnership between a Canadian father-son business team and Akha villagers in Doi Chaang. The company is 50 percent grower owned, and has received a number of accolades in recognition of their business model and quality product.
Doi Chaang coffee is made from organic arabica beans, and is “shade grown, handpicked, fresh water washed and sun dried,” according to the company . There are a number of Doi Chaang coffee shops throughout Northern Thailand, including in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, where you can find the original Doi Chaang shop.
Like Akha Ama and Doi Chaang, Duang Dee coffee is produced by villagers in northern Thailand and the coffee enterprise allows them to bring in sustainable income and maintain their traditional way of life. Duang Dee also works with farmers to educate them about preventing soil erosion and sustainable, ethical farming practices. This not only benefits the villagers by ensuring they are able to continue living off the land, but the environment as well.
No pesticides are used in coffee production, so there’s also the added health benefit of not having to worry about beans being heavily treated with chemicals. It allows consumers to make ethical choices when they have a hankering for a cup of joe. According to the Duang Dee website, they distribute thousands of coffee trees to village farmers, with no obligation that the farmers have to sell to them.