Mar 10, 2013

Enjoy Coffee from the Akha Hilltribes
in Chiang Mai

See the location on Mae Chan Tai Google Map
See the location on Akha Ama Cafe Chiang Mai Google Map

Pictures by Aka Ama Coffee
Coffee is harvested in Mae Chan Tai village and served in Chiang Mai:

Picture by squarewithin
Akha Ama Cafe



Akha Ama Coffee กาแฟอาข่า อ่ามา - Ama means "mother" in Akha language - was the idea of a woman and her son in the Akha village of Ban Mae Chan Tai บ้านแม่จันใต้ (also: Ma Jan Tai). But it was a long way until 14 Akha families of Mae Chan Tai in 2007 began producing “Akha Ama Coffee” instead of selling the green beans to middlemen for a low price. The story of this coffee starts in the 1940s in the middle of the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang, as onourownpath.com notes. Many of the Akha people, living in the southern mountains of China, fled south out of the country by foot - to Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Many then began growing opium. In the 1990s the royal family of Thailand startet projects to help them out of opium production, then coffee was introduced to the Akha people. But they got dependent from the coffee buyers, also because they had their own language and did hardly speak Thai. This began to changem when Akha Ama sent her first son, Lee, off to a Buddhist school at a temple in Lamphun. From then on he improved his Thai and started picking up English. To improve his English skills he started talking with foreign tourists. Lee finished high school and became a member of various youth groups and organisations in Chiang Mai, including UNICEF. "I wanted to do something for society, but I didn't know what," he explained to Chiang Mai City Life how he went on to study English at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University. And then he did an internship at Child’s Dream, an NGO run by former Swiss bankers based in Chiang Mai. There he learnt about community development. And he realized: His village was growing coffee. "But the problem was that we received very little benefit from it. We had knowledge but we were not business savvy."

Lee and his mother convinced the people of her village to not only produce, but also process and market their own coffee. The climate of the northern Thai mountains is suited to growing Arabica coffee beans. The majority of the coffee plants grown in northern Thailand are of the Catimor hybrid. But Mae Chan Tai village mainly grows the true Arabica varieties Catuai and Typica, which produce a much higher quality coffee. They also decided to produce in an organically sustainable way. The coffee plants at an altitude of around 1500 meters are now grown in between larger fruit trees and a wide variety of vegetables. This benefits the soil ecology, creates humus, stabilises hillsides against erosion and retains moisture during the dry season. Due to constant crop rotation, pests are less liable to negatively affect the plants. Therefore the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides can be reduced. And this is close to the system that the Akha people have used throughout their history.

Meanwhile Lee Ayu Chuepa runs Akha Ama Cafe in Chiang Mai (see video of Thai PBS), where you not only get Akha Ama Coffee but also a variety of teas and fruit juices as well as delicious cakes and muffins (9/1 Mata Apartment, Hussadhisewee rd, soi 3). He started it after receiving a social entrepreneurship grant. And from here he distributes the coffee to other shops and also abroad. The Way of the Wai shows pictures of the cafe and the village. Mrs Red Has a Red Bag has also pictures from Lee's village. See more pictures of Akha Ama Cafe.

Every November and January now Lee organizes coffee journeys to Mae Chan Tai village with a homestay overnight at his familys home. A Teacher's Journey describes this experience: "They offered us tea and dinner which consisted of peanuts, green vegetables, mushrooms, and shredded shoots from some unidentified plant. I took a very chilly bucket bath in the bamboo shack out back by orange light of a candle and the blue light of the full moon." Read also this story.

Picture by onourownpath.com
The Akha village Ban Mae Chan Tai

Picture by onourownpath.com
Coffee beans

Picture by onourownpath.com
He gets a better price for the coffee beans now


Read about the marriage ritual of the Akha at Mae Chan Tai in a study by Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University.


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