Last weekend the Lorensen family and I were given the pleasure of being part of Akha Ama‘s Annual Coffee Journey.
Lee, the visionary behind this Socially Empowered Enterprise, organizes an annual trip to his hometown–a very remote Akha village on the top of one of the mountains in Chiang Rai province–so that his coffee loving patrons can experience first hand the journey our coffee beans take from plant to cup.
We were given the opportunity to actually participate in the harvesting of the coffee cherries and then watch the process of de-husking, washing, drying and sorting out of the beans, after which they are sent down the mountain to be roasted, packaged and sold.
Though I’ve been working and participating in the coffee industry for the last 7 years, I have never felt so knowledgable about those little beans.
Here’s a closer look into our experiences:
1. Getting there and back. We started the commute in the back of three song-teos and after 2 hours of we transitioned into 4 4×4 trucks. With 42 people packed into the beds of these trucks and we started going up this mountain.
Up, up, up. Never stopping–up. Muddy, muddy, muddy–up. One wrong move and we’re dead–up.
This is real life guys.
Fortunately, against all odds, we made it to the clouds. And the temperature dropped about 20 degrees and for the first time in my stay in Thailand, I was freezing. Our breathe was able to be seen. No amount of telling me, ‘It will be cold on the mountain’ could have prepared me for this.
2. Our host. The group of 42 of us were heartily welcomed into the Akha villagers homes for the weekend, however, they did request a separation of male and female guests, meaning that the Lorensen family was separated for the weekend and I reaped the benefit of getting to be roommates with Tracy, Iris and three other ladies.
This village, being as remote as it is, doesn’t get many Western visitors, so naturally, everyone was very excited to see who was spending the weekend in their guest room.
Between language barriers (the villagers speak Akha and only a little Thai), cultural differences and the freezing cold, all we could do was laugh. And laugh. And laugh.
So many funny things happened as we were trying to sleep. It was so cold. The room we were staying in was build out of wood and attached to the main home. I fully expected to wake up with snow surrounding me, it was that cold. The window and the electricity were not controlled by us, which meant ‘on lookers’ and lights turning on and off at the home owners delight.
I also forgot to inform Carla that I am quite the sleep talker, so my mumbles kept her up all night as she was trying to respond to the sweet nothings I was whispering in her direction.
Never in my life had I thought freezing to death a possibility in Thailand.
I thought about it a lot that weekend.
4. Coffee drinking. Aka, coffee rations.
This is probably my favorite part of the whole trip.
One must keep in mind that all the people who came on this trip are lovers of coffee and part of the excitement coming on this trip is that we get to drink lots and lots and lots of it.
Well, it was one of those expectations vs. reality situations.
Coffee was provided. Yes. But as we are in a remote mountain village where electricity can not be depended on, the method of preparing coffee was the one cup-pour over method. So, cup at a time, they made us coffee and then would split the cup with four or five of us waiting patiently in the cold.
I somehow missed the memo that I was supposed to bring my own mug, so I waited for my friends to get their share and then used their cups. By the time you were given your ration the coffee usually wasn’t hot anymore, but despite all this, everyone was super excited and happy and impressed.
While Caleb, Tracy and I were laughing over the absurdity of this situation (42 people waiting in line for their share…) everyone else was so eager and didn’t seem to think there was anything unusual about the situation.
Oh the hilarity.
After our morning coffee rations we went on about an hour hike further up the mountain and spent the afternoon working the coffee harvest. The 42 of us were able to harvest the amount that one of the villagers does in a single day of work. We were obviously very efficient.
We then hiked back down, ate dinner and got snug back into our beds. We woke up the next morning, had our rations and hopped back into those trucks for our frightful decent back into the city and then to our warm home. The journey is over.