Landlocked in Laos

There are some stories you hear and can’t un-hear. When we heard the story of a Florida-surf-girl (Mookie) marrying a Khmu-coffee-farming guy (Ahn), well, we boarded whatever flight Kayak said was cheapest and headed to Laos. This was the beginning of a story that still has much to be written, but one that has become a reality in ways we thought impossible just a few years ago. Yes, specialty coffee is sitting in our roaster from Laos.

As coffee drinkers, we consume a product that we had absolutely no hand in providing. No need for shame, that’s just the way it is. But we can be mindful of that fact and let it lead to gratefulness and awe every time we drink it. In the words of Wendell Berry, “Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance- is perhaps the most profound enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend”. Replace eating with drinking and, in this case, he nailed it. Coffee is meant to be enjoyed, and now you can even with Laos.

Auxano Coffee Cooperative produces specialty catimor on the Bolaven Plateau in Laos. Through Auxano, Khmu farmers are connected to an honest, more equitable specialty coffee market. This is a mind-blowing reality for coffee farmers in Laos who are used to sending their coffee on a pickup truck once a week during harvest season only to have it mixed and matched with Vietnamese coffee never to be heard of again. Laos coffee, through Auxano, is becoming a stand-alone, specialty coffee.

“Auxano focuses on training and resourcing coffee farmers so they can eliminate the middleman that takes the majority of the money and the farmer can be paid fair wages for their crop”, said Mookie.

Auxano believes in empowering the farmers to get creative and always work to raise the quality of their coffee through different processing techniques, farming practices, and genuine care. The cooperative is constantly working to provide more resources and infrastructure to make the future of specialty coffee in Laos possible. Laos is in difficult economic strife - being a poorer, land-locked country, with multi-leveled corruption, the obstacles to overcome are many and will take a community to achieve them. Many shark buyers are trying to exploit farmers and resell their coffee for high prices while paying low wages to the producer. Lao coffee farmers are generally disconnected from the real market, so they are easy prey for buyers such as these.

Photo by Harris Nash

When purchasing Khmu coffee, you are supporting a small group of farmers, on their way out of exploitation into a real market where they can have pride in how they support their families. Transparency, creativity, high quality, and empowerment are words Auxano lives by. Also, the coffee is delicious. This product has been worked on for several years from hand pulping & playing with coffee beans outside of a wood hut, to owning some land and gathering eight families together to honey process beans. Auxano is still growing and working on perfecting this varietal in southern Laos. Enjoy.

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