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Thailand's finer coffees

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This is a lovely story. Some months ago there was a longer programme about Khun Ayu and his Akha Ama coffee innovations in the north of the country on Discovery Asia Channel. It showed that to get the beans to the market in Chiang Mai requires a rickety road trip of 4 hours. The tale is especially heartwarming when you know that Khun Ayu was told by his villager parents who had never had an education that he must go to school. He then walked 4 kms to and from school every day. He learned fluent Thai and English, got himself to University and became the first from the village to graduate. The villagers knew nothing about coffee but Khun Ayu learned about coffee, how it could be planted and harvested, and how he could improve not just the quality of life for the villages but also the quality of the coffee they produce.

 

This is a different video in which Khun Ayu talks about his life, how he founded the coffee company, marketed the coffee and later the coffee shop in Chiang Mai. He is truly an inspiration.

 

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Excerpts from Nikkei Asian Review

 

What might three lively Roman Catholic priests from little villages in northern Italy be doing in a far-flung community in the hills of northern Thailand? Brewing some superb Italian-style espresso, of course -- and serving it at their own charming premises, Caffe Bruno.

 

Father Bruno Rossi, one of the priests-cum-baristas, explained how caffeine and Catholicism mix. Well, first of all we are Italians, he said -- his countrymen reportedly knock back 14 billion espressos every year. Then, there are the children the priests look after. And third, he continued: "Who knows who might stop by for a cup and inquire what lies behind our roadside cafe?"

 

Behind the building in the remote village of Chae Hom is a pasture of grazing sheep, as in a biblical scene. Beyond is a bright, inviting dormitory, one of four where more than 150 children from poor, remote villages are cared for while they attend nearby schools. From toddlers to teenagers, almost all are from hilltribe groups -- the Karen, Akha, Lahu, Yao and Hmong -- and less than half are Christians.

 

Profits from the coffee operation go to scholarships for the children and lessen the mission's dependence on donations from Italy. Buying beans from tribal growers at above-market prices improves their living conditions. And the priests urge farmers to adopt organic practices and techniques that will yield what they proudly describe as "superior Italian coffee."

 

"Before we opened our cafe, local people didn't really know much about us," said Father Raffaele Sandona. "After we opened, villagers, policemen, government officials came and asked what we were doing. It has become a window on our mission."

 

The idea of serving coffee emerged more than five years ago as the taste for a fine brew -- as opposed to the ubiquitous instant stuff -- was seeping even into rural Thailand. The country's northern highlands were producing some fine beans, but the priests, who savor a good cup, still did not rate it too highly.

 

So Rossi went off to Italy to learn about coffee (he is said to be the only priest with a diploma in coffee tasting) and was able to acquire a secondhand but top-quality 30-kg roaster machine from their homeland. Son of a carpenter and a jack-of-all-trades, Rossi designed and built the cafe himself.

 

Through experimentation the priests began to learn how locals would take to their style of coffee. Initially, the verdict was "so-so," said Sandona, explaining that Thais often prefer brand-name products, particularly foreign ones like Starbucks, which tend to boost their self-image.

 

"Then in 2014, we won a gold medal in Italy, and suddenly the same coffee was declared 'great'," he recalled, as he prepared penne pasta with homemade bread and pesto sauce for guests.

 

https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Life/Catholicism-and-caffeine-in-Thailand-s-hills

 

 

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