The Bolaven Plateau, located in southern Laos, is a region that may not be well-known to the average coffee drinker, but it holds a wealth of history and unique flavors that specialty coffee enthusiasts can truly appreciate. Pronounced "boh-lah-ven," this elevated region ranges from 1,000 to 1,350 meters above sea level and is known for its fertile volcanic soil, cool climate, and abundant waterfalls—making it an ideal location for coffee cultivation.
Coffee was first introduced to the Bolaven Plateau by French colonialists in the early 20th century. The region's climate and rich soil made it a perfect environment for growing coffee, particularly the robusta and arabica varieties. Over time, coffee production became a significant part of the local economy, with many families in the area relying on coffee cultivation for their livelihood. In the 1970s, during the Vietnam War, coffee production in the region was severely impacted, but it has since recovered and production continues to grow in both quantity and quality.
With the majority of the coffee farms in the Bolaven Plateau being small, family-owned operations, traditional farming and processing methods are still predominantly used. Most of the coffee grown in the region is shade-grown, which not only helps protect the plants from the harsh sun but also promotes biodiversity and healthy soil. The farmers typically use organic and sustainable practices to maintain the quality of the soil and the health of the coffee plants. In terms of processing, the most common method used in Laos is the wet processing or washed method. This involves removing the outer skin of the coffee cherries and fermenting the beans in water to break down the remaining mucilage. The beans are then washed and sun-dried on raised beds or patios. This method generally results in a clean, bright cup with distinct acidity and clarity of flavors. However, it's worth noting that some farmers in the region may also use other processing methods such as natural or honey processes, depending on their resources and preferences.
Coffee from the Bolaven Plateau is known for its unique and diverse flavor profile. The most common flavors found in these coffees include bright, fruity notes such as green apple, citrus, and stone fruits. However, the variety of microclimates within the region can also result in coffees with more complex flavor profiles, featuring notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts. The body is typically medium, with a balanced acidity that makes for a pleasant and enjoyable cup.
The Bolaven Plateau may not be as well-known as other coffee-growing regions, but it is a hidden gem that offers a unique and delicious experience for specialty coffee lovers. By supporting the farmers and producers in this region, we can help preserve their traditional farming methods and contribute to the growth and development of the local coffee industry. So the next time you're looking for a new and exciting coffee to try, consider exploring the flavors of the Bolaven Plateau in Laos.