Hand sorting coffee at Beanspire’s mill in Mae Kha Jan, Chiang Rai.
Ally Coffee is excited to offer coffee from a new region: Thailand. Coffee growing in Thailand began as a project to eradicate opium cultivation in the 1970’s. Many countries in Southeast Asia undertook similar projects of promoting alternative crops, and Thailand’s cultivation of arabica coffee proved to be the most successful. Thailand’s thriving coffee farms have been supplying the domestic market for decades, and the specialty coffee culture in Bangkok and other cities is as mature as any in Australia, Europe, or the United States.
Today, the average age of Thai coffee farmers is between 25 and 35 years old. This young generation of entrepreneurs has studied in universities, traveled the world, consumed their own coffee as siphons, pourovers, and espressos, and chooses to work in farming because it offers better prospects than earning a PhD or working a government job. The story of coffee production in Thailand is the inverse of the story in many countries, where farmers are abandoning family properties for better paying jobs in cities. Growing coffee in Thailand rewards producers for their work, and so children of farmers are coming to the farms, ready to carry Thai coffee into a new generation.
The booming local specialty coffee scene in Thailand helps guarantee farmers a good price for their coffee, and new specialty exporting businesses, like Beanspire Coffee, are helping Thai producers share their coffee with the world.
Jane Kittiratanapaiboon and Fuadi Pitswan of Beanspire Coffee
Beanspire Coffee was founded in 2013 by Fuadi Pitswan and Jane Kittirantanapaiboon. They themselves are part of the rising coffee generation. “This young movement is a result of Thailand being more developed than most coffee origins. It is very easy to get to coffee farms in Thailand: farms in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai are only 45 minutes from the city,” says Fuadi. The story of coffee in Thailand is “a good success story for using coffee as an agent of change and sustainability,” and Beanspire wants to write the next chapter to include more farmers with a broader reach.
The region of Chiang Rai is Thailand’s northernmost province, lying in the mountains along the borders with Myanmar and Laos. The border location made it a prime trade route during the days of opium cultivation, but today farmers in Chiang Rai are thinking about the locations of coffee mills rather than of smuggling routes. Beanspire’s mill, operated by Jane, is located in Mae Kha Jan, Chiang Rai. It is outfitted with a destoner, huller, and size and density sorters. Producers deliver their coffee to the mill, where Beanspire handles the milling and export stages. From here, coffee can either remain single-farm microlots or be collected into community lots, like the Mae Kha Jan Washed, to represent and support the shared work of producers in the Chiang Rai region. Always it is packed in the same triple layer bagging as Thai rice grains: GrainPro inside high density polyethelene inside cotton outer layer.
Coffee milling and storage at the Beanspire facility.
“Beanspire supports Thai farmers in offering their finest green coffee beans to a competitive market without losing their identities,” Fuadi explains. “We work with coffee growers at the farm level to maximize the potential of Thai coffee.” Chiang Rai and Thailand’s northern mountains have rich soil and apt climate conditions for cultivating coffee, but producers cannot rely on the terroir alone. They must be attentive at every step to ensure that the coffee they send out to the roasters of the world is the best representation of Thailand’s coffee capabilities.
Farmers grow globally familiar varieties like Catuai and Typica and also local varieties developed specifically for Thailand, such as the Chiang Mai variety that was released in 2007 on the 80th anniversary of the former king. The tradition of farming in Northern Thailand is one of polyculture, and producers understand sustainable land use as an integral component of producing quality coffee.
Coffee from Thailand embodies the practice of moving coffee forward, and Ally Coffee is excited to partner with Beanspire to offer Thai coffees to roasters who also want to be a part of the movement towards sustainable quality.