My Laos Experience: Part III
How poor quality coffee becomes great: the time it takes
A continuation of My Laos Experience: Part II
On December 6, 2016 I got this text message from Laos,
“Hey Paul, I want to tell you about this Reward Program we started with the coffee farmers. We had an interesting development happen since I first e-mailed you. A village has split off, and is not sending any coffee to Japan, electing to only send coffee to America. Last year they cupped at 87 without picking fully red ripe cherries and without adding any compost to the soil. This year we have had them picking only red, eight compost bins were created in each farm this summer, organic fertilizer tea is being sprayed on every tree, and the micro lot will be about 14,000 pounds(54 sacks). Plus the processing area is impeccable now! And we have created a pick team so that the ten families rotate between farms ensuring they pick only soft ripe cherries and no over ripe beans. This system is so different from the traditional way that they do it in Laos where it is traditional to only pick your own farms trees. Last year, they only picked about 70% ripe . This year it will be 95%.
We spray painted the harvest baskets red so they have a constant reminder to pick ripe cherries.”
98% ripe cherries from last weeks picking.. Luscious looking and a hard days work!
“Michael(shown below) , being the coffee expert here with me, believes we could hit 89 or 90 points with this lot. The harvest is late(usually it starts in October) so we don’t have mid pick samples yet but will soon.”
This is a unique way to help pickers see the results of their picking. The paddle has 50 holes. Each hole represents 2% of the picking. Fifty random cherries are pulled from the basket and placed in the wholes. The number of green and over-ripe beans are counted and the calculation for percent of red ripe is made. For every not ripe cherry, a percent of money is lost as the flavor is corrupted by these beans. This is the best system I have seen for improving the motivation of coffee pickers in forty years.
John (pictured below right, Lao Farmer) with Michael (below left) with his compost in his hands. John has the cleanest washing tank ever. He even keeps plastic cover over it when he is not using it to keep the dust out.
The red baskets and Mr Sam Sung and his puppy. Note compost bin in background:
Note coffee trees in background. They are the dark green trees that rim the patio:
In the lower portion of this picture you can see one over-ripe cherry:
Here is Tyson Adams with a village friend who must be half his size and three times his age. I bet she cooks up some great Lao Cuisine!
Fifteen years ago I wanted to help Veterans For Peace make their peace with their Laos experience. They dropped bombs on the people of Laos and had deep feelings of guilt; they needed to do something positive for their souls.
Now in 2016, a different person from a different generation, (Lee Thorn was 65 in 2014, Tyson is 31 now) is picking up where we left off but he brings different and more pertinent skills to Laos. Both wound up working with the same Jhai Coffee cooperative and now, after fifteen years, we have reconnected with that coffee coop and look forward to being able to roast it so you can taste it.
The way coffee becomes great is with time and hard work in the fields.
There is one other aspect that is needed and that is love. If the trees provide enough income to pay for a family’s food, clothing, shelter, health care and education, then a farmer will love his trees. It is the love that the plant feels that creates the best flavors the tree knows how to produce. But it is as much the love as it is the soil, weather and variety that makes good coffee become great coffee.