Coffee Journey – A tour for those who love coffee
I can’t remember the last time I went on a tour that went more than a day, so I find it remarkable that on my stay in Chiang Mai I was talked into going on a three day tour. Well I wasn’t really talked into it. The conversation went something like this:
Friend: “Hey James, you like coffee. You should go on the Coffee Journey”.
The combination of words coffee + journey had me hooked straight away. I signed up without asking what would be involved. If my friend had said, “Hey James, would you like to go away for three days with a bunch of people you don’t know with no internet and no hot water”, I may not have signed up. I’m glad I did.
The Coffee Journey is a tour put on by the owner of Akha Ama Coffee, a cafe I frequent regularly in Chiang Mai. Lee runs the cafe in Chiang Mai and the coffee is grown at his village in far Northern Thailand.
[Lee at Akha Ama Coffee – Chiang Mai]
With free wi-fi and possibly the best coffee in Chiang Mai, the Akha Ama cafe is a haven for remote workers, in a city full of remote workers.
The tour runs a few times a year, leaving Chiang Mai on a Friday morning and returning on Sunday afternoon. The ride to the village is about 5 hours from Chiang Mai. Once at the village we were invited into Lee’s family home where he talked about village life and its people. This region is home to the Akha people (Akha Ama means Akha Mother).
[Traditional dress of Akha woman]
We ate dinner in his home (thanks Ama), and were billeted out to homes in the village.
[Remote Akha village, high in the hills]
Saturday morning. Breakfast, and finally a coffee!
[Coffee on a coffee farm. Life is good.]
To the coffee plantation
On the Saturday we walked an hour to the coffee plantation, where we got to see the full cycle of a coffee plant, from seedling to a mature tree. I was expecting a plantation type set up, with rows of coffee trees. Instead the coffee trees are mixed with larger trees and other fruit trees, which gives natural shade to the coffee. In addition to running this business, Lee has also been teaching the local farmers the benefits of using compost as fertilizer, rather than using chemical fertilizer. The coffee is organic, though it is not marketed as organic as it costs thousands of Euros to have official accreditation as an organic product.
[Walking to the coffee plantation. What a happy group of people we got.]
After lunch we got the hands on experience of picking the coffee ourselves. This is quite an art form as you have have to pick the right coffee cherries (the dark red one and not the light red or green cherries). Care is also needed to not break the stem from the branch. Talk about pressure. To make it even more stressful, I had a seven year old girl who designated herself as union leader, and was inspecting all of my pickings for green cherries.
[Bountiful harvest of beautiful coffee]
In addition to picking the right colour cherry and not breaking any stems, the trees were located on a very steep hillside. There were falls and cherry spillage among us amateur pickers.
Processing the coffee
On the last morning we were shown how the picked cherries are processed. First the fruit is stripped from the bean and then the bad beans are removed.
[Removing the fruit from the bean]
From there the beans are soaked for 2 to 3 days in water. After that they are hand washed. All of them! The unwashed beans are quite slippery, so after hand washing the beans are removed of this slippery film.
[Soaking the coffee]
From here the beans are then sun dried for a couple of weeks, depending on the weather. Once dried the beans are bagged and stored for six months. The beans are then machine processed to remove the outer husk, then finally ready for roasting.
[Drying the coffee]
Talk about a process. I have a new appreciation for coffee (on top of the appreciation I already have for coffee). I will never look at a coffee the same way again. If you love coffee I would highly recommend this tour. For details on the tour check out the Akha Ama Facebook page. The tours aren’t on a regular schedule so you may need to check back regularly.
[With my Chiang Mai coffee dealer and his sister.]