Coffee is a product of our “economic forests” that promotes a sustainable coexistence between man and forest, creates jobs and a variety of occupations, as well as a stable income through the development of the entire production cycle, from cultivation, nurturing and processing to the café itself.Cafe Doi Tung
Coffee Plantation Adventures
Doi Tung Coffee, Mae Fa Luang, Chiang Rai
The first coffee growing I experienced was at the mountainous Doi Tung in Chiang Rai Province, about an hour from the city. Doi Tung coffee is the higher quality Arabica species and a mix of hybrids, Catimor, Caturra and Catuai. The highlands with rich soil and cooler weather, elevated at 800-1200 metres, are optimal for growing large amounts of organic Arabica coffee. Coffee trees are cultivated in shade and sun whilst intercropping with fruit trees is common practice for many of the following sites.
History – Doi Tung Development Project
The development project provided local residents with land-use titles and inspired them to grow coffee and macadamia nuts. Subsequently, a group of cafes named Doi Tung opened to market nationally and as production expanded, the coffee was marketed for export. Such single source brands offering their signature, organic Arabica coffee have thrived over a period of time and support individual families. All stages of the cycle are completed locally, granting the villagers a sustainable income.
We were able to sample the coffee in Doi Tung Cafe at Mae Fa Luang Gardens, originally an Akha village. We tried iced Latte with Macamadia and other iced coffees which were so flavourful with unique taste and a fabulous aroma. The cafe provided amazing views over the mountains and their coffee was for sale along with other regional products. Subsequently, I’ve seen Doi Tung coffee at their shops and cafes, and in general supermarkets in Chiang Mai.
Thepsadet, Doi Saket, Chiang Mai
Doi Langka Noi Summit
In 2021 we climbed Doi Langka Noi in the Thepsadet region, a challenging but fun loop of about 6 hours. We drove through coffee growing communities and cafes, an hour from the city, to enter the trail at Mae Don Luang village. As the path ascended there were numerous coffee trees and then the forest opened out to spectacular mountain views. At the peak we glanced at Doi Langka and other even higher mountains before descending through forest ferns and pristine waterfalls. Towards the end we encountered further coffee trees, people harvesting and coffee beans drying, a fascinating insight.
Sampling Coffee in Thepsadet
Two weeks later we returned to Thepsadet stopping at Good Vibes cafe in Pang Hai, one of many close together. From the sleek design, I thought I could be in Chiang Mai, save for the even closer-located mountains. Their iced Lattes and Espressos were delicious, delicate and beautifully presented whilst the backdrop of coffee trees and forest was fabulous. We scooted to Chae Son National Park on the edge of Lampang province before heading back to Mae Don Luang. At Mae Don Luang the coffees came with coffee cherry tea and at the cafe I purchased a bag of their beans.
Abonzo Coffee, Doi Chang
Nestled in the Doi Chang and Wa Wi mountains, Abonzo Coffee is one of many growing locations in the region. On a Chiang Rai trip in 2019, having already visited Doi Tung, we encountered Abonzo via the return to Chiang Mai.
At the plantation, I discovered that coffee growing became an agricultural alternative to Opium for hill tribes in Doi Chang. The founder of Abonzo, Pattrachai Mongkolkoolpongsai encouraged villagers of his Akha community to keep growing coffee despite it taking years to profit. The now successful project educates Coffee farmers to achieve improved quality and quantity of their coffee. Additionally, Pattrachai now supports Akha children’s education through scholarships meanwhile the region encompasses over 11,000 acres of plantation in various communities.
To reach Abonzo, we navigated steep roads which offered us magnificent viewpoints over the Mae Suai mountains. The cafe is about 30 minutes off the highway between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and an hour from Chiang Rai city. We sampled Abonzo coffee and browsed the beans, ground and drip coffee they were selling. Our coffee had a floral fragrance with balanced acidity and a delicious, fruity sweet taste. Additionally, we witnessed many elements of the process: the trees, a roaster, bags of coffee cherries and people sorting coffee.
All of the above experiences were humbling, offering perspective the achievements of the communities. Therefore, I highly recommend you visit all of the locations as they offer authentic opportunities to see coffee cultivation in beautiful surroundings. You can see many of the coffee trees on the encircling slopes, simply by driving through the mountains. Meanwhile there are many chances to be up close with coffee growing all over the provinces of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. A common characteristic of the regions is that they are not overly well-known and therefore not over-crowded with tourists.