Doi Chaang Coffee: Making Free Trade Fair Trade

Serious Fun Food. I hope you know that’s more than a tagline here at Sippity Sup.

Sure we have some fun with our food here. Food can be one of life’s great joys. But there’s more to food than the pleasure it brings & the nourishment it provides. So I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to Doi Chaang Coffee.

These days it’s not hard to be aware of the social aspects of the food we eat and how it gets to our table. This growing awareness of the politics of food is a very good thing. But do we really understand the consequences of our choices? There’s more to it than buying  ‘natural’, organic, locally-grown produce and healthy snacks for kids. These are important issues to be sure. But there are more basic concerns as well. The politics of food, including the how and why we consume what we do, has deep social and moral implications. This is where the serious part of Sippity Sup comes in because it provides a platform to discuss these issues within our community.

One of these issues is ‘fair trade’. Our enormous demand for quality products at Walmart prices has created an unforeseen monster. That monster is the growing divide between rich and poor, reduced access to basic needs (food, water, and shelter) and inadequate education and healthcare. Now, this monster has been growing for a long time. We modern folk are not entirely to blame. But we modern folk are in a unique position to learn from our past and try to build a better future for all the world’s children.

Children of Doi Chaang‘Fair trade was designed to hobble the beast somewhat and give the people providing for our ever-widening mouths a chance at building a sustainable, livable and equitable life. Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as higher social and environmental standards. It focuses in particular on exports from developing countries to developed countries, most notably handicrafts, cocoa, sugar, tea, bananas, honey, cotton, wine, fresh fruit, chocolate, flowers, and coffee’. Yes, the stuff in the mug sitting on your desk, the stuff for which you may have paid as much as $5.

Where did that coffee come from? Can the men and women who grew it feed ‘healthy snacks’ to their kids?

I recently sat down with Doi Chaang Coffee visionaries Wicha Promyong, president, Pornprapa Bunmusik (Sandra) general manager and John Darch, CEO, because I wanted to learn more about fair trade and its effects on real people in real business. The idea behind fair trade is far more important than mere altruism or charity. It based on solid theories of capitalism because without market value, fair trade will never be free trade and cannot be sustained.

What I learned about Doi Chaang (both the Coffee and the village of the Akha hill tribe of Thailand for which it was named) profoundly changed what I thought I knew about coffee and how it came to market.

“The story of Doi Chaang Coffee is set in a small village located in the Northern Thailand region of the Golden Triangle. It all began a few years ago with the hill tribe families of the Doi Chang Village uniting to create their own coffee company. After 20 years of cultivating and processing coffee, the farmers grew frustrated selling their high-quality beans for minimal prices to coffee dealers who would blend them with other, inferior coffee beans. Through their own initiative, the families decide it was time to directly offer the unique taste of their own premium, single-origin, organic Arabica coffee.

The villagers soon establish themselves as independent successful coffee producers building their own processing plants, drying facilities and storage warehouses. The coffee is cultivated in small family gardens with everyone committed to maintaining sustainable agriculture and having minimal impact on the natural habitat. All aspects of production are carefully monitored to ensure consistent and optimal taste in every cup of Doi Chaang coffee.

Committed to offering Doi Chaang Coffee as an exclusive single-origin, certified organic Arabica, the growers approached a small Canadian group of coffee enthusiasts to bring Doi Chaang Coffee into the international market.

In recognition of the equal value of their contributions, the growers and the Canadian group established an equal partnership for the international distribution of Doi Chaang Coffee. The growers continue to focus on cultivation, processing, and domestic sales while the Canadian group provides financing, marketing, roasting and distribution for the international market.

Today, the Doi Chang Village and the surrounding area are home to 8,000 people within eight hundred families, all living and primarily working together to cultivate and produce a premium organic, single-origin Arabica coffee.” (from Doi Chang Coffee)

Please take a moment to watch this half-hour special on Doi Chaang Coffee from Global News BC (Canada). I think you’ll be as moved and motivated by this uplifting story as I was. I am presenting here it in four parts. But these four parts are just the beginning.

I also hope to be introducing you, over the next few months, to some of the principals featured in this documentary. I am arranging a semi-regular series of guest posts, straight from Thailand. It’s a unique opportunity for our community to not only learn about Doi Chaang Coffee but to hear first-hand from several points of view just how fair trade works and how it effects people from the source all the way through the market chain to the consumer.

Doi Chaang Coffee (including the legendary wild civet coffee) is available through their online retail shop, or at select coffee shops and restaurants in parts of western and Ontario, Canada. As well as Harrod’s in London, England and a few places in California.



Greg Henry

Sippity Sup