Doi Chaang Coffee - Raising a village through coffee

Doi Chaang Coffee was born when Jon Darch met the successful but peculiar entrepreneur Wicha Promyong in the Northen Hills of Thailand. Wicha had been helping the Akha Hill Tribe transition from the dangerous opium trade into a more stable coffee culture. 

Together, they've not only changed the world perception of Thailand coffee (from bad coffee to exceptional "A" grade coffee), they've also raised a whole village out of poverty. Through their business, they've brought school supplies and teachers, health clinics and job opportunities to created a healthy place for its residence.

Today Doi Chaang Coffee offers high quality, organic, shade grown, Fair Trade coffee. I know, that's a bunch of cool sounding certifications. It's also why they've become a model to follow in the business industry.

In December, I had the chance to visit the coffee plantation for myself. I was blown away by the story and installations. Excited, I reached out to the company with a list of questions. John, CEO of Doi Chaang Coffee, was awesome enough to answer them.

A picture from our visit this December

How do you enjoy your first cup of coffee in the morning?

Social Medium brewed in a French press.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the last six months?

I’ve been studying for my Q grade so I’ve been reading up on coffee. One of the most recent books I’ve read is Coffee Obsession by Anette Moldvaer.

Where does the name Doi Chaang come from?

Doi Chang is the village where our coffee is grown. To help give our farmers a sense of pride we wanted to keep our company’s name in line with the cooperative they had worked so hard to start. The additional ‘A’ was added to emphasize the inflection when pronouncing the name. Doi Chang’s literal translation is Elephant Mountain.

Although fully funded by Canada, Doi Chaang Coffee is 50% owned by the farmers from the Doi Chiang region. How does this strengthen the relationship between producer and supplier?

By paying more than just a “fair price” for the coffee we are investing in the welfare of the farming families and working together to enhance their standard of living, education, health care, cultural heritage and identity.

It is to be noted that this is not charity but an investment strategy to ensure the sustainability and prosperity of Doi Chaang Coffee for the benefit of everyone involved in the enterprise.

When the growers are able to significantly benefit from the sustainability & prosperity of their goods, they gain financial independence, security, self-esteem and control of their own wellbeing. With basic survival no longer a priority, the farmers are motivated to sustain production and quality control and to form a strong enduring partnership

What’s special about civet coffee?

It is made from coffee cherries that have been passed through the digestive system of a Civet, a cat-sized mammal found throughout the jungles of Southeast Asia and Southern China.

When swallowed, the beans will pass through the civet’s system undigested. A unique combination of enzymes in the civet’s stomach enhances the coffee’s flavour by breaking down the proteins that typically give the coffee its bitter taste.

The result is an exceptionally smooth and light cup with an unusual, yet uniquely pleasing taste. The wild civets freely roam throughout the jungles of Northern Thailand and at no time are they caged or forced fed by the Akha coffee growers. 

What has been Doi Chaang Coffee’s biggest accomplishment in Northern Thailand? 

Initially, the Akha tribe cultivated opium for survival. The continuous use of “slash and burn” agriculture deforested the village and, out of desperation, many of the younger generations left Doi Chang to look for better opportunities in the city.

The biggest accomplishment that has come from our partnership with Doi Chaang Originals is the achievement of our goal, which was for the people of Doi Chang Village to become fully self-sustained. Our partnership over the last ten years had provided everything from environmental initiatives to having access to fresh groceries and modern medical supplies.

Since they have become so successful, the youth that had left to find other opportunities are coming back to the village to pursue jobs and education with the company. 

Briefly, can you describe Wicha Promyong?

It was Wicha’s commitment to reinvest profits into the growth of the Akha farmers co-operative and their community that inspired us to create the unique Beyond Fair Trade partnership we established with Doi Chang Village.

Wicha was a man of integrity, warmth and incredible generosity. For him, nothing was impossible if you were prepared to work hard and think outside the box. He saw the goodness in people and advocated passionately for a just reward for the farmers and the equality of everyone regardless of age, race, gender or ability. He was well-educated, articulate, world-travelled, and was the consummate entrepreneur, musician and artist.

Following various enterprises which brought him into contact with hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, he wholeheartedly embraced their way of life and regularly joined the tribes as they travelled on foot throughout the Golden Triangle without regard for borders or personal comfort.

[Editor's note: You can catch a glimpse of Wicha in the small youtube series documenting the birth of Doi Chaang right here. The video is preloaded to the exact time where we meet Wicha]

Thank you for doing this! Where can people learn more about Doi Chaang?

Facebook: /doichaangcoffeeco

Instagram: @doichaangcoffee

Twitter: @doichaangcoffeeco

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