When the isolated Akha tribes people of Northern Thailand were ordered to trade in their opium crops for coffee beans by the Thai Royal Commission, they probably did not realize how fair a trade they were given. Until recently, Thailand was never thought of as a coffee nation, but due to a unique series of events and their partnership with the Vancouver-based Doi Chaang Coffee Co., they’ve been able to radically turn their lives around.
What started with modest beginnings in the mid-80s has become a champion in the global coffee market thanks to unique mountain growing conditions and a lucky high grade Arabica bean. And then there was the help from the recently departed Wicha Promyong, a wealthy Thai philanthropist with monkish leanings. Promyong got to know the remote hill tribe, which was living in poverty, through his antique trading expeditions. He noticed that despite the excellent coffee beans they were growing, they were getting low-balled by local buyers who knew that they weren’t going to make the six-hour trek back to their village with their goods. Promyong encouraged them to form a co-op so they could have better bargaining power, and gave them other business tips.
Not surprisingly, he eventually became president of the organization in Thailand and partnered with John Darch of Vancouver, a former business exec looking for his next venture. John helped fund the company and together they helped create what has become a wildly successful chain of Thai coffee houses with over 200 shops in Thailand alone and plans for expansion across Asia. It also helps that the prestigious Coffee Review has ranked Doi Chaang Coffee over 91%; that’s a few percentile above some Starbucks roasts.
The coolest part is that unlike many so called ‘fair trade’ coffee deals, the Akha tribe keeps 50% of their earnings which are re-invested into their once destitute village – which now even accommodates eco-tours so you can see the whole coffee plantation process, stay at a bed and breakfast, and have your motorcycle fixed, just in case that’s how you roll through the jungle.
Doi Chaang has recently expanded their serious coffee drinker Single Origin line (found in upmarket shops like Harrods UK and on Winners shelves if you’re lucky!), with a new series of colourful blends with fun names like Chillin’ and Espress-Yoself that have just launched at Ontario locations of FreshCo. Hopefully more fair trade coffee companies are willing to take the lead and give more to the growers who dedicate their lives to their crops.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for your last trip to Thailand, or just like a great story to go with your morning brew, then this is a great coffee for you!
What are your thoughts on the Doi Chaang Coffee Company? let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.