Doi Chaan is a quirky establishment in tiny Chiang Rai, a town near the Golden Triangle in Thailand’s far north, close to the Myanmar and Laos borders.
The space has an interior garden complete with fountains, and salsa music echoes throughout. But the focus is on the locally grown Doi Chaang coffee. These are Chiang Rai’s own organic, fair-trade beans, grown by the indigenous Akha hill tribe people on an 8,000-acre coffee plantation.
The shop is run by the Doi Chaang Coffee Co. partnership. Under a four-year-old arrangement, John M. Darch, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based president and chief executive, sells Doi Chaang beans in retail stores in Canada and the U.S., and now at Harrods in England. The Akha people, he says, maintain a 50% stake in the company, and the majority of proceeds go back to their village.
Popular beans include the single-origin peaberry medium roast, plus “many people like to try the Doi Chaang wild civet coffee,” Mr. Darch said. Also known as Kopi Luwak, it is prepared using coffee cherries that are eaten and passed by the nocturnal creatures, which select only the ripest to consume. Mr. Darch notes that not only is the civet coffee “world class,” but consumers who buy it are helping to sustain the Akha’s unique way of life.
Doi Chaang Coffee is a single-origin, premium Arabica. It is certified organic, forest canopy grown, hand picked, fresh water processed, sun dried, hand sorted and freshly roasted to ensure the highest possible quality for each cup of Doi Chaang Coffee. Naturally low in caffeine, it has a complex and flavourful profile which is enhanced and released through detailed cultivating, processing and roasting methods.
Doi Chaang Coffee is naturally cultivated and processed in the remote Doi Chang Village of Northern Thailand. Rich fertile soil, high elevations and ample rainfall make Doi Chang Village one of the premium coffee growing regions of the world. We naturally cultivate a variety of Arabica plants under a canopy of sun-filtered plum, peach, pear and macadamia nut trees in altitudes between 1200 and 1600 metres above sea level. The fallen leaves from our various fruit and nut trees create nutritious mulch for our coffee plants, providing a subtle fruit and nutty taste to our coffee. The shade and high altitudes slow the growth of our coffee cherries, creating a more complex, dense and intensely flavoured bean.
Our cherry flowers begin to bloom in February and the cherry fruit is ready for harvesting from November to March. Selectively hand picking only our ripe cherries ensures minimal damage to our plants and that only our best cherries are processed.
Fully Wet-Method Processing
This labour intensive traditional processing method washes and flushes the bean from its fruit. Although time consuming, the wet-method helps maintain the inherent qualities of our beans.
First, we pre-wash our cherries in a tank of fresh spring water where all our ripe cherries will sink to the bottom and any unripe cherries will float to the top and be removed. Second, we remove the skin and pulp by putting our cherries through a pulping machine. Third, our beans are fermented in water for 48 hours to remove the mucilage layer and allow a series of chemical reactions to occur which enhance our coffee’s aromatic and flavour qualities. Finally, we thoroughly hand wash our beans with fresh flowing spring water to remove all traces of the mucilage and prepare the beans for drying. All the mucilage and fermented byproducts will be recycled as fertilizer for the coffee plants.
We evenly spread our parchment-covered beans on patios to naturally sun dry over the next seven to eight days. During this time we continuously hand rake and re-spread our beans to ensure they fully dry. In the evenings we pile up and cover the beans to protect them from moisture. Once our beans are dried to an 11% moisture level they are warehoused until we need them for roasting.
Hulling & Sorting
This final stage of processing is done just prior to roasting. Our coffee beans are removed from the final parchment layer with the use of a hulling machine. The coffee beans are initially sorted and graded by shaking the beans through different sized sieves and then hand selected to ensure only the finest grade beans are roasted.
Doi Chaang@Art 542/2 Rattanakhet Road, Chiang Rai. Tel.: 66-05-375-2918
Akha Ama Coffee in 2010, Lee Ayu Chuepa founded Akha Ama Coffee, which also sells beans produced by the Akha indigenous group — although his family comes from a different village than the one that produces Doi Chaang coffee, he says.
The first of his 210-person village to graduate from university, the 26-year-old Mr. Lee says his success initially made him feel guilty when returning home. His people produced coffee beans before, he says, but were often taken advantage of by middlemen.
So in an effort to “come back closer to my roots,” he says, he worked with his village to improve their cultivation methods and expand their retail presence. Today the beans are available in Chiang Mai grocery stores and in this café, which doubles as the Akha Ama headquarters.
Mr. Lee’s passion, he says, is “to find ways to connect the market to the village” and to focus on sustainability and free trade. He also leads periodic trips so that outsiders can visit his village to see how the coffee is made.
The “Strong Roast” beans are a favourite among visitors to the cafe, who add that Mr. Lee’s knowledge about coffee and friendly demeanour is a bonus.
Akha Ama Coffee is 100% arabica coffee growing on 1.92 hectares. In the year 2009 we have harvested more than 2’100 kg of fresh beans. In 2010 we expanded our plantations and expect the production to double within the two years to come. By the year 2012 we will be able to offer 4 core products: parchment coffee, green coffee, roasted coffee and grounded coffee.
Akha Ama Coffee is supported by the Thai Royal Project. Their experts have selected the best coffee plants for us – it is our responsibility to harvest the best coffee beans for all coffee lovers. We therefore pay special attention to each phase of coffee production, making sure that each process is adequately monitored and the coffee tested at all stages.
Akha Ama Coffee is harvested during winter time. The beans are shelled on the same day of the harvest and then processed according to the traditional wet procedure of removing mucilage by soaking the beans in water for 48-72 hours and subsequently washing them by hand. Akha Ama Coffee operates in accordance with the hightest standards in all relationships with customers, suppliers, environment and the community.
Akha Ama Coffee supports local farmer with principles of fair trade and sustainabilty. As Akha Ama Coffee is supported by the Thai Royal Project we can sell coffee plants to farmers of the village to very low prices. At the same time the Akha Ama Coffee brand ensures that the coffee can find access to the business market. The revenues are then invested again for seeds and for trainings. The farmers are offered courses for the production of organic fertilisers and for sustainable plantation management.
Akha Ama Coffee 9/1 Mata Apartment, Soi 3, Hussadhisewee Road, Chiang Mai. Tel.: 66-86-915-8600