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Mae Chedi, a district in Chiang Rai, Thailand, is traditionally known for its tea plantations. While tea remains a primary source of income, coffee has also become a significant part of local farmers' livelihoods. The region has transitioned from a historical association with opium cultivation to a thriving hub for high-quality Arabica coffee, thanks to a transformative initiative by the late King of Thailand in the 1970s. The government redirected the focus of local farmers towards coffee cultivation and alternative crops, laying the foundation for a new era that has seen remarkable success in recent decades. Today, the accessibility of land and the profitability of growing high-quality coffee are attracting young adults aged 25-35 to coffee farming.
The Mae Chedi Cooperative, consisting of 19 members, is dedicated to producing quality coffee to meet the rising demand for specialty coffee in both local and international markets. What distinguishes this group of young producers is their willingness to experiment with processing methods, often integrating traditional tea fermentation practices into their coffee. In their second year of export, we've selected a lot where coffee cherries undergo a nine-day fermentation in sealed, non-permeable HDPE bags, creating a zero-oxygen environment that promotes lactic acid production during the early fermentation stage—a process akin to how tea is fermented in the area, enhancing the coffee’s overall sweetness and complexity. Subsequently, the coffee dries on raised beds until it's ready for milling.
The Chiang Mai coffee varietal, a disease-resistant hybrid, is an accessible local cultivar designed for ease of cultivation and better quality compared to its more common relatives, such as the Catimor. Its genetics include a Caturra and Timor hybrid crossed with SL28, a prized Kenyan varietal known for high-quality fruit expressions. After complete drying, the coffee undergoes destoning, milling, size grading, and multiple passes through the density table to sort only the highest density - and most valuable - green coffee beans.
Founded in 2013, Beanspire Coffee exemplifies the success of using coffee as an agent of change and sustainability in Thailand. Collaborating with local farmers like the Mae Chedi Cooperative, Beanspire ensures that the finest green coffee beans maintain their identities in the global market. Farming practices in Chiang Rai prioritize sustainability, incorporating polyculture, organic methods, and cultivating local varieties alongside globally recognized ones. This commitment to quality positions Thai coffee prominently in the global specialty coffee market, with a new generation of farmers embracing specialty coffee farming as a path to success.