Akha Ama Coffee
In addition to their traditional crops of rice, vegetables and beans, coffee plants were introduced to the Akha people in Thailand in the past few decades by the Thai Royal Projects and the Thailand Highland Development Project. The climate of the northern Thai mountains is extremely suited to growing Arabica coffee beans, the most sought after coffee bean in the world and indispensable for making real espresso. Combined with the agricultural skills of the ethnic groups who live in these mountains, including the Akha, production has grown significantly in recent years, up from around 500 tonness of Arabica in 1991 to more than 4000 tonnes 20 years later.
Although the majority of the coffee plants grown in northern Thailand are of the Catimor hybrid, Maejantai village, the “birth place” of Akha Ama Coffee, mainly grows the true Arabica varieties Catuai and Typica, which produce a much higher quality coffee.
In 2010, 1 Akha families of Maejantai village began “Akha Ama Coffee”. Instead of selling the cherry and parchment coffee to middlemen for a low price, the family decided to process and market the coffee oneself, ensuring a better price for the product. The family also decided to change to an organically sustainable system of mixed multi-cropping system for their coffee, reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. The coffee plants, which grow up to about the height of a human, are now grown in between larger fruit trees and a wide variety of vegetables. This system is beneficial to the soil ecology, produces 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. Although seen as a “new” system of agriculture in the West, it is actually very close to the system that the Akha people have used throughout their whole history, to work in cooperation with nature, instead of against it.
The quality of Akha Ama coffee was immediately recognised internationally: it has already been selected out of 2500 entries both in the year 2010 and 2011 for the World Cup Tasters Championship by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe, an international organisation which defines speciality coffee as “… a crafted quality coffee-based beverage, which is judged by the consumer (in a limited marketplace at a given time) to have a unique quality, a distinct taste and personality different from, and superior to, the common coffee beverages offered. The beverage is based on beans that have been grown in an accurately defined area, and which meet the highest standards for green coffee and for its roasting, storage and brewing.”