Chiang Rai, pronounced "chee-ang rye," is a beautiful coffee-growing region located in the northernmost part of Thailand. Nestled in the Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar converge, this area boasts an average altitude of 1,200 meters above sea level. Interestingly, Chiang Rai is not only known for its high-quality coffee but also its mesmerizing White Temple, a contemporary Buddhist temple that attracts thousands of tourists each year.
Coffee cultivation in Chiang Rai can be traced back to the 1970s when the Thai government, together with international organizations, introduced coffee as an alternative crop to replace opium poppy cultivation. This initiative aimed to reduce drug trafficking and promote sustainable agricultural practices in the region. Over the decades, Chiang Rai has emerged as a prime coffee-growing region, known for its Arabica beans and the unique flavors they offer.
In Chiang Rai, coffee farming is primarily done by smallholder farmers who own plots of land varying in size from one to twenty hectares. Most of the farms in this region practice organic and sustainable farming methods, which include intercropping coffee plants with other crops such as fruit trees, vegetables, and legumes. This not only enhances the biodiversity of the farm but also provides additional income sources and food security for the farmers.
While specific details on the processing methods used in Chiang Rai are limited, it is known that most coffee in Thailand is processed using the washed method. In this method, coffee cherries are de-pulped to remove the outer skin and then fermented in water for a specific period to break down the remaining mucilage. The beans are then washed and dried on raised beds or patios, allowing them to develop the clean and bright flavor profiles they are known for. Another common processing method in Thailand is the honey process, where some of the mucilage is left on the beans during drying, resulting in a sweeter and more fruit-forward cup.
Coffees from Chiang Rai are known for their well-balanced flavor profiles, offering both bright acidity and a pleasant sweetness. Typical tasting notes include floral and fruity notes such as jasmine, berry, and tropical fruit, as well as more complex flavors such as chocolate, caramel, and nuts. The body is often medium to full, with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel, making Chiang Rai coffees a delightful and satisfying experience for specialty coffee enthusiasts.
One of the most renowned farms in Chiang Rai is Akha Ama Coffee, founded by Lee Ayu Chuepa in 2010. Lee, a young entrepreneur from the Akha ethnic group, established the farm with the aim of empowering his community by providing them with a sustainable and profitable livelihood through coffee cultivation. Today, Akha Ama Coffee is not only known for its exceptional quality beans but also its dedication to social responsibility and community development.
Chiang Rai continues to gain recognition in the specialty coffee industry, with its unique coffees and sustainable farming practices captivating the hearts and palates of coffee lovers around the world.