For those who can’t live without their caffeine fix, the search is always on for a good cup of joe. Next-level coffee junkies, however, take their caffeine obsession to a different level. They visit coffee plantations, pick cherries, learn how to roast, and join coffee cupping activities. In fact, the taste of coffee in the places they visit are some of the most defining moments of their experiences.
If you are a traveler seeking this kind of experience overseas, Thailand is one of the closest coffee-growing countries you can visit. Though Thailand is not often linked to world-famous coffee, it is home to many plantations where your coffee dreams can come true. Aside from giving you a taste of Thailand’s unique coffee origins, this country’s farm tours have fascinating stories to tell.
From bean to cup: a glimpse and taste of history
Thailand’s burgeoning coffee industry scene had a unique role to play in the Southeast Kingdom’s history and development. For many years, the highlands where Arabica coffee was grown used to be bleak and barren.
This is because the tribal communities who lived there survived from slash-and-burn agriculture, which resulted in massive deforestation and the depletion of food sources. Poverty drove them to opium cultivation, drug trafficking, and heroin production. It took interventions from Thailand’s royal family to turn the tribespeople from opium to coffee, which now provides a source of livelihood for these communities.
One such coffee plantation is Suan Lahu located north of Chiang Mai, where you can have a short four-hour visit, a day tour, or even an overnight stay with a host from the Lahu tribe, giving you the opportunity to immerse in the tribe’s way of life. Here you can go on a guided hike with the locals, pick coffee cherries, observe coffee processing, and even roast your own Arabica. From January to December, you can even enjoy traditional campfires.
Doi Tung in Chiang Rai Province is another of these opium farms turned coffee plantations. This community located at 1,389 meters above sea level is home to more than 3.5 million trees, a source of livelihood for almost 900 families. Doi Tung’s farm to cup experience immerses you in different aspects of coffee production, from cherry picking to roasting and tasting. Aside from its coffee farms and facilities, Doi Tung is also home to the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum where you can find thousands of unique temperate plants.
Another possible destination in Chiang Rai is the village of Doi Chang, which is situated in an altitude of up to 1,700 meters above sea level. At the village’s coffee shop, you can take a sip of the organic, single origin coffee while enjoying the fresh mountain breeze. The nearby museum called Academy of Coffee lets you learn more about the region’s produce. Outside the museum, you can look at the coffee trees filling hills and plots owned by local families. Finally, there’s the coffee processing plant, which you can see at work during the main coffee season.
Some of the world’s finest
Thailand’s coffee farms don’t only give you a glimpse of the coffee’s journey from bean to cup. They also produce some of the world’s best coffee.
Doi Chang, for example, is home to free-range, stress-free civets that eat only the ripest, sweetest cherries. These undigested beans are infused with the flavors of the civet’s diet and the enzymes in the its stomach. When roasted, these beans have the flavor profile of citrus-toned acidity, cedary dark chocolate, and raisiny fruit.
The social enterprise Akha Ama Coffee in Chiang Mai, which also hosts a three-day Coffee Journey with the local Akha tribe, has also produced award-winning coffee. Known for its distinct citrus notes and acidity, Akha Ama’s coffee was selected for the World Cup Tasters Championship in 2010 and 2011.
While visiting these coffee farms let you enjoy delicious coffee, it also lets you support local communities who are making a living and preserving their heritage. This makes your #THAImazing story both memorable and meaningful.