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Coffee production in Laos

By: Thomas Wanhoff Posted: January-19-2011 in
Coffee Beans
Thomas Wanhoff

Every country has it's own image, like Cambodia as the country where Angkor Wat is located and where the Khmer Rouge killed their own people, or Vietnam as the place where the Vietnam War took place, and Thailand as the land of the smiling people. What about Laos? It is getting a bit of a reputation as an eco-tourism destination, it is known as a laid back country where everything slows down. But not many people know that it actually produces one of the best coffees in the world.

The Women's International Group recently invited Mr. Sinouk Sisombat to a talk about coffee in general, Lao coffee in particular, and the challenges of coffee production.
Sinouk, as he is known, was born in Pakse, Laos, but was raised in France. In 1994 he came back to Laos, and started what he thought was the right thing to do: developing a coffee plantation in Laos. First he became a farmer at the Bolaven-Plateau, an ideal place for coffee production, where it has just enough rain and humidity to grow premium Arabica beans. Coffee grows best between 600 meters (Robusta) and 1000 meters (Arabcia).

He expanded his business then to trading, and later also to roasting. Now Sinouk coffee is well know as it is certified organic in Laos, Thailand and the EU. His 56ha plantation produces largely for export markets; mainly the EU. "But recently I had a request from Korea. So I had to decide if I go to a German Coffee fair or meet Korean business people. I decided to meet the Koreans, since this might be another big market", the coffeemaker said.

Laos produces about 20.000 tons of coffee per year, 5000 tons of Arabica beans and 15000 tons of Robusta. The difference between Arabica and Robusta: The Arabica Beans are usually seen as higher quality because of the mild taste. They are used in Espresso. Robusta is of a slightly lower quality, usually used for regular coffee and also the typical Lao coffee with condensed sweetened milk.

Sadly, more and more coffee production goes to Vietnam, where it is used for instant coffee. "I am concerned about the quality of Lao coffee. How can you make sure that you have high quality when you make it for instant coffee?", Sinouk asked. Although the 3in1-coffee brings added value, and the around 12000 tons per year are a huge number, Sinouk believes in the higher qualities for connoisseurs, who appreciate good coffee as a luxury. A challenge will be to secure land for quality coffee plants. For now, already 7000ha have been given as concessions to foreign investors from Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore

Sinouks company diversified a bit, from a pure plantation to a coffee roaster with it's own brand. You can find the Sinouk coffee in all supermarkets in different blends and roasts. They also have a resort in Pakse and will soon open a hotel.

Diethelm Travel Laos is offering a special coffee tour in southern Laos, where you can visit plantations and factories, and where you get first-hand information from coffee experts. Just send a dtlls [dot] d [at] la [dot] diethelmtravel [dot] com (request by email).

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