When the French arrived in Laos, many were taken by the laid-back lifestyle available in this land so far from home. And as they settled into this country, they started to explore the possibility of growing coffee on the cool Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos. They were in luck. Volcanic eruptions, long since over, had left fabulous soil behind, just perfect for growing a really good cup of coffee. So in the early years of the 20th Century, with Arabica and Robusta plants from Saigon’s botanic gardens, coffee was being grown.
Today, Laos is becoming known for that coffee, first started all those years ago.
To really understand about Lao coffee, nowhere is better than the Bolaven Plateau. Over 95% of all the coffee in Laos is grown here. To learn more about the process, and to explore the coffee plantations, check out the amazing tours from Mystic Mountain Homestay where Mr Khamsone delights in sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge about Lao coffee.
Between November and April when the coffee cherries turn to orange and bright red, they are picked and left to dry for a few weeks before being roasted and ground. Speciality coffee shops dot the plateau. Maybe you want to search out your favourite blend. Whatever you prefer, you can find the place for you here.
As you head north in Laos, and wander round the streets of Vientiane, you are spoilt for choice with a range of coffee shops, from the choice of different roasts in Trio, to Kung’s Café where you can try a traditional Lao coffee, strong, sweet and milky that will set you up for whatever the day ahead throws at you, and a wide variety in between. Sinouk Coffee Pavilion, a little outside the city, offers barista training (from half a day to 2 days in duration) for those looking to hone their skills, but also an easy-to-enjoy tour which includes their coffee history gallery, learning about the roasting process, a cupping session and finishing with a cup of their authentic Lao drip coffee. Unroasted beans are on sale here too, so that you can develop your own perfect roast back home.
In Luang Prabang, Saffron Coffee trained up farmers to plant coffee when their previous crops of opium became outlawed. By working with these farmers to help develop the best beans to create a perfect cup of coffee, they have helped to give a sustainable income to over 800 hill-tribe farmers across 25 villages. And they serve it at their delightful café alongside the river in Luang Prabang.
One thing that Sinouk, Trio and Saffron Coffee all have in common is a love of Laos, the coffee and the people. Whilst they are all passionate about the coffee, it is the people that come first. They invest heavily in their people, in training them to produce the best beans possible, and in ensuring that they get a fair deal for their crops. These are companies that are all focused primarily on ensuring that the coffee they serve you, has reached you from people who have been treated well. They work directly with the farmers so you can know that coffee you are drinking, has benefited everyone, wherever in the chain they have worked, right from the sapling to the cup.