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Coffee in Thailand, Part 5 (2017)

Michael Babcock, Monday, December 25th, 2017

Cappuccino 1

Cappuccino at Ban Khun Chang Khian

In the past I’ve blogged a number of times on coffee in Thailand. (Links included at the end of the article.) As Kasma and I traveled around the north this past month – up to Doi Ang Khang and to several out-of-the-way places in Chiang Mai province as well as Chiang Mai itself – I couldn’t help but notice the changing coffee scene.

This is by no means a comprehensive review. Like my other blogs it contains my impressions and observations about the changing scene here in Thailand as I observed them.
 

(Click images to see larger version.)

On a recent trip to Thailand (Kasma leads small group, off-the-beaten track trips to Thailand) a trip member who works in the coffee industry told Kasma that virtually all of the coffee grown in Thailand is consumed in Thailand, unlike many other countries where most coffee is exported. When you drink coffee in Thailand, it is likely to have been grown there.,

Coffee Everywhere!

Isolated Coffee Shop

Roadside coffee shop


Each year there are more coffee shops in Thailand. More and more locations with shops or market stalls of any kind seem to have one selling fresh coffee.

Driving through the countryside on the way from Doi Ang Khang to Chiang Dao, we stopped at a viewpoint with a number of shops and, sure enough, one of them was a coffee place (pictured to the left). In addition to pretty good coffee, it offered some beautiful views of the mountains.

We often saw the signs for กาแฟสด (ka-fay sot – fresh coffee) at roadside stops and on random streets in various towns. Typically, the coffee is ground to order and then made using an espresso machine. You don’t really get drip coffee here in Thailand; if you order a black coffee you get what is essentially an Americano – basically an espresso with water added to make it about the same strength as a brewed or drip coffee.

Barista and stall

The roadside barista

Drin//www.thai Coffee

The author enjoys a cappuccino

I’ve noticed that more and more of the baristas are ma//www.thai better quality drinks. I almost alway order a cappuccino. When correctly made a cappuccino is espresso with just milk foam on top and no added milk. In the past, about half the time you’d get what was essentially a caffe latte, with straight steamed milk and not so much milk foam. Only once this year did that happen. More and more I’m starting to see foam art on the drinks as well.

Another change is that fewer places serve a small glass of tea with your coffee. In past days nearly every coffee shop would serve you a small glass of tea along with your coffee, to clear out the bitterness. Even the Amazon at Imperial World used to do this and didn’t this year. We were served that tea maybe twice this year.

A Proliferation of Coffee Growers

Coffee Brand

Ban Khun Chang Khian coffee

There are coffee beans available from many more growers these days. We drove up to the Hmong village of Ban Khun Chang Khiang above Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai and had a very good cappuccino at a coffee shop advertising “local coffee.” In fact, the shop grew their own coffee beans. Later on, as we walked through the town, we stopped to buy strawberries at a stand and I noticed that they had ground coffee beans for sale. I bought a bag and it’s pretty good coffee. They had both medium and dark roast available. They, also, grew the beans they were selling.

The Royal Projects now offer coffee beans for sale, both ground and as whole beans. I picked up a bag at the Royal Projects Fair this December in Chiang Mai.

Coffee label

Royal Project coffee

The encouragement and support given by the Royal Projects explains much of the proliferation as hill tribes and rural areas are encouraged to grow coffee beans for economic gain. They are also taught how to roast and market their own beans so they can control the whole process from growing to selling. The community of Doi Tung was one of the first to do this. There are also a number of Doi Tung Coffee Shops, both at Doi Tung and also in Bangkok, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. (Here’s a list of their branches and here’s my recent blog on Doi Tung.) Doi Chaang is another hill tribe community that has grown coffee for at least 10 years and they, too, have their own cafes.

In the supermarkets associated with the malls here in Bangkok, I often see a half dozen or more different types of ground coffee beans available – typically in 200 gram bags. Many supermarkets also have a brand of beans that you grind at the market, one way to insure fresher coffee.

Pour Over (Drip) Coffee

Drip coffee box

Doi Tung drip coffee

Spea//www.thai of drip coffee . . .

A couple of years back the only place I know that was ma//www.thai pour over coffee – where you get a quantity of ground coffee in a little apparatus that you can place over a cup and then pour hot water through to get a drip coffee – was Doi Tung. Then last year I found it at Black Canyon. This year the big chain of Amazon started selling it – it appeared to be pretty popular as many of the Amazon cafes we stopped at had empty shelves because they had sold out. Then at the Royal Project Fair in Chiang Mai, I found Royal Project pour over coffee.

Doi Tung charges 150 baht for 6 packets; the other three charge 120 for 5.

Of course there are disadvantages – the freshness of the coffee depends on how long ago the beans were roasted and ground. You are also dependent on how much coffee is in an individual package (it varied from 10 to 15 grams) for the strength.

Coffee set-up

Set-up for drip coffee

Nonetheless, I always travel with some now. Many hotels offer buffet breakfasts but they very seldom have brewed coffee – and when they do, it can range from OK to awful. Usually what’s available is instant Nescafe, which isn’t terrible and also doesn’t have the taste of brewed coffee. There’s almost always hot water available, so I just bring my pour over and make myself a cup. Usually the first cup is about the strength I like. I’ll do a second pour over, sometimes a third, just for the taste of real coffee.

Amazon Expands

Cafe Amazon at a gas station

There are a number of chains in Thailand – Black Canyon was the first and started out in 1993. It’s also the most international with a presence in Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and Myanmar. On the Black Canyon website they say they are “first Thai-owned specialty coffee retail business.” There’s the Cafe Rabika. Coffee World is another one. There are the smaller chains of Doi Tung and Doi Chaang. Certainly, the most widespread chain is Cafe Amazon, which was founded in 2002.

At first we saw Amazon mostly at the occasional BP gas station. Now, it is unusual to find a BP station that doesn’t have a Cafe Amazon. They are also expanding elsewhere in a big way. Two years ago one showed up in the trendy Thong Lo neighborhood (on Sukhumvit Soi 55) and last year one opened near the Bearing BTS station close to where we live when in Thailand. It is more and more common to find one at the malls. There is even an Amazon at the Royal Park Rajapruek in Chiang Mai. They seem to be everywhere.

When traveling we will get Amazon coffee quite often because they are so conveniently located at the BP stations. One thing I appreciate is that the price is consistent at all their cafes – a cappuccino is 45 baht, whether in a trendy neighborhood or a gas station. As a side note, 45 baht is a fairly standard price for a cappuccino in Thailand. Some smaller shops charge 30 baht and I’ve paid 70 baht at Black Canyon (albeit for a larger size); Starbucks is the most expensive of all.

Last year Amazon started offering “Premium” coffee at some of their cafes – a premium cappuccino costs 70 baht, a 55% price increase. I tried it once and didn’t feel it was worth the extra cost.

One change we’ve seen this year is the increase in Amazon labelled convenience food – cookies, chips, cakes and the like. Also, as noted above, they’ve added their own brand of pour over coffee.

Coffee drink

A specialty drink

Twice this year we’ve come across a much larger and fancier Cafe Amazon. Kasma’s comment was that they are trying to be more like Starbucks. As part of this, they’ve started offering more specialty drinks, such as the Popcorn Coffee Frappe. These specialty drinks seem to be every bit as unhealthy as their Starbucks counterparts, including enough sugar to hurry you on the road to diabetes.

Spea//www.thai of Starbucks, I avoid them. On a couple of occasions (someone wanted to meet at a conveniently located one; I needed to use a bathroom desperately) I’ve gotten coffee at a Starbucks in Thailand and it just is not very good coffee. And it’s more expensive than anyplace else: the prices are pretty much equivalent to what you would pay in the United States.

This year the quality of the product at Amazon seemed less consistent than in the past. The coffee at our other local Amazon, at Imperial World Shopping Center in Samrong, seemed weak and muddy the time I tried it. There seems to be more of a variation as to what I can expect when I get my cappuccino from a Cafe Amazon these day. When possible I’ve begun to search out local alternatives.

Previous Blogs on Coffee

Cappuccino 2

Cappuccino at the hilltribe village of Mon Jaem


Written by Michael Babcock, December 2017

Doi Tung

Michael Babcock, Sunday, September 17th, 2017

(Click images to see larger version.)
(There’s a slideshow of images at the bottom.)

Doi Tung View

View at Doi Tung

One of my favorite places in all of Thailand is Doi Tung, a mountain (doi means mountain) 1,389 meters high located in the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai province close to the Myanmar border. On Kasma’s Northern Frontiers trip (we have one scheduled for January 2018) we spend a day visiting 3 of the attractions there. I leave each of the three with a peaceful feeling, my heart full.

The area now is a lush, beautiful forested area with prosperous, thriving communities. It has not always been so. Had you gone in the mid-1980s you would have seen a barren, deforested area denuded by slash and burn agriculture. The roughly 11,000 people composed of 6 different ethnic minorities were living in abject poverty without basic infrastructure. People barely survived by cultivating opium, illegal logging and human traffic//www.thai.

The story of how its transformation came about is why there is such a special feeling to Doi Tung.

A Brief History of Doi Tung

The Princess Mother

The Princess Mother

Doi Tung was transformed because of projects initiated by an 87-year old woman, Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the mother of //www.thais Rama VIII and Rama IX and the grandmother of the current //www.thai Rama X – the Princess Mother (as she was called).

In 1987, at the age of 87, she came to Doi Tung for the first time and said “I will reforest Doi Tung.” Ever since she began hi//www.thai in the remote rural areas of northern Thailand in 1964 she had a special interest in the impoverished communities of the north. She encouraged and supported education, promoted traditional crafts as a way of earning a living and had a particular interest in improving medical care. (She had been trained as a nurse and her husband, the late Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, a trained physician, was the father of public health in Thailand.) In 1969 she had established mobile medical units that would bring trained personnel to remote regions, often accompanying them herself and earning the title Mae Fah Luang – “Mother from the Sky.”

Royal Villa 1

The Royal Villa & Garden

The people in Doi Tung were from 6 different ethnic minorities – Akha, Lahu, Tai Lue, Lawa, ethnic Shan and ethnic Chinese – who were not even accorded citizenship. The Royal family made no distinction – their compassion was for all people living in Thailand, whether citizen or not.

The Princess Mother initiated several projects at Doi Tung with the goal of bringing the people of the region out of poverty. The model came to be known as SALD – Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development – with its stated goal “to transform poor and vulnerable communities from dependency and basic subsistence living, towards full socio-economic sufficiency and independence.” (From About Doi Tung.) The key word was “sustainable.” The Doi Tung Development Project was set up in 1988 to oversee and coordinate the many initiatives.

Doi Tung Coffee

Doi Tung Coffee

To cement her commitment to the transformation of Doi Tung, she built “a home at Doi Tung” – The Doit Tung Royal Villa. She had always traveled back and forth from Thailand to Switzerland, where she had originally moved with her three children in 1933. As she aged, she had been searching for a location to build a home and the northern climate of Doi Tung was a good substitute for Switzerland.

The project used methods first established by her son, H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), starting in 1969, when he set up the Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station, which was the first successful attempt world-wide to transform a poverty-stricken area by replacing opium production with crop substitution.

At Doi Tung, the multi-pronged approach included education, medical care, treatment for addiction and job/skills training. Macadamia nut trees were planted with coffee plants underneath in order to create high-quality, shade-grown coffee for sale. The Doi Tung brand was created, a high-quality brand that had 4 branches – food, handicrafts (including woven clothes and accessories as well as ceramics and pottery), horticulture and tourism. By 2001, Doi Tung was self-sustaining.

Since 2003, the Doi Tung Development Project has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the best examples of alternative development in the world. Communities from Thailand, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Columbia have traveled to Doi Tung to learn how they can implement the principles at their locations. (See How it Spreads: Lessons from Doi Tung.)

Café Doi Tung

Café Doi Tung Treats

Café Doi Tung Treats

Our trips to Doi Tung always begin with a visit to Café Doi Tung. Coffee is one of the premier products of Doi Tung and since it is very tasty, it’s a great way to support the people there. I’ve already written about the Café in a previous blog (you’ll need to scroll about half-way down to the relevant section):

The coffee is delicious and the setting amongst the hills is a great place to enjoy your drink.

You can also purchase two of the signature products of Doi Tung: coffee, both as beans as well as individual cup drip-coffee packets; and macadamia nuts in the form of plain or seasoned nuts, macadamia nut butter (yum!) as well as macadamia nut cookies. The macadamia nuts are some of the best I’ve ever eaten – large and sweet. These products are now availalble all over Thailand – we regularly purchase them at several supermarkets in Bangkok.

The Royal Villa

Royal Villa & Garden

Royal Villa & Garden

The Royal Villa – picture a Thai-style Swiss chalet – was built to be the residence of the Princess Mother. It is a symbol of her commitment to transforming Doi Tung into a prosperous, self-sustaining community.

Because of its location, the climate is much more reminiscent of Switzerland than tropical Thailand. The two times I’ve visited Doi Tung it has been refreshingly cool.

The Princess Mother loved to garden. The villa is surrounded by beautiful flowers, many of them temperate climate plants, and also orchids. The walk up to the villa leads through planted flower beds to the house itself.

Wood carving

The Villa is filled with lovely wood carving

Alas, I’m unable to provide any photos of the interior of the villa where photography is forbidden. It’s a shame but perhaps best because photographs might not be able to adequately portray the peacefulness and beauty of the home. There is a lovely attention to detail throughout that includes beautiful wood carvings. As you go in, you are able to get an audio tour that explains what you are seeing. In the main hall, which would have been a reception area, there are beautiful art works as well as exhibits about the Princess Mother’s activities – including embroidery, reading detective novels and pressing flowers.

Much of the house has not been changed from when she was living there. I mostly was struck by the simplicity and serenity of her living areas.

Outside of the main reception hall is a balcony with a stunning view of the surrounding hills. When the Villa was built the view would have been quite barren. Now you see a thriving forest of green, a tribute to the transformation she inspired.

(See Education Attractions – Doi Tung Royal Villa.)

The Mae Fah Luang Garden

Mae Fah Luang Garden 1

A view at Mae Fah Luang Garden

The second main attraction at Doi Tung is the Mae Fah Luang Garden. The Princess Mother was an avid gardener and this lovely garden is a tribute to her love of plants.

Because of the elevation of Doi Tung (1,389 meters), many of the plants here reflect the Princess Mother’s desire to give the Thai people a chance to enjoy a temperate flower garden without having to travel out of Thailand. It also includes the lovely Lady’s Slipper Garden, containing a large variety of orchids of the genus Paphiopedilum (Lady Slipper). These orchids are also propagated commercially here – another of the projects providing self-sufficiency for the area. (See Doi Tung Development Project – Plants & Orchid.)

Located on 10 acres of land, it was originally an Akha village given to opium cultivation. The villagers were resettled and now local villagers earn a living nurturing and propagating the plants.

Lady Slipper 3

One of the Lady Slipper orchids

There is a fairly steep walk down through a lovely forest setting. On the way you pass by some colorful, whimsical stuffed animal figures that bring a smile to your face.

There are many paths for your wandering enjoyment. Other features include a lake with water birds, some example hill-tribe structures and a grassy area with the statue called “Continuity.”

For garden lovers, it’s worth a couple of hours just for wandering and enjoyment.

Note: This Mae Fah Luang Garden is different from the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum, which is situated in the Chang Moob Area. The arboretum is worth a visit of it its own with its combination of native flora, native orchids and rhododendrons from many countries set in the middle of a pine tree forest

For more information on the garden see Education Attractions – The Mae Fah Luang Garden.

The Hall of Inspiration

Hall of Inspiration

Hall of Inspiration

Is this the most compelling of the things to see at Doi Tung?

As a westerner, I found this exhibit moving and inspiring. I already knew of the dedication and service of Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), how his foundations had initiated thousands of projects for the betterment of the Thai people. I loved this exhibit because it placed his service and philosophy in context.

The Hall of Inspiration is a record of the life and works of //www.thai Rama IX’s royal family, starting with his father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the husband of the Princess Mother.

Photograph 2

The Royal Family in Switzerland

With historical photographs, videos and quotes I got such a lovely sense of how the family grew and evolved. Prince Mahidol himself inspired the selfless service that became the hallmark characteristic of the Princess Mother as well as //www.thai Bhumibol. Prince Mahidol is considered the father of modern medicine in Thailand for the efforts he made from 1920 (when he returned from his studies abroad) until his early death in September 1929.

The Hall documents how his wife, Princess Srinagarindra, carried on his legacy – she was offering scholarships to students as soon as they were back in the country in 1920. After her husband’s death, for the next two decades she raised three children as a single parent and instilled in them the parents’ ideals of selfless services.

Rippling water

Drops rippling in water

Then when her sons became //www.thais, she worked to improve the lives of both ethnic Thais and hilltribe people, through education, improved medical care and by training (including crafts) to develop economic independence and sufficiency. Even at the age of 87, a time when most people are slowing down to enjoy the fruits of their life, she initiated the Doi Tung Development Project and oversaw it until her death at the age of 91.

The Hall also highlights the history of Doi Tung, including photos and words from the villagers tal//www.thai about how the project affected and transformed their lives. Quotes from the Royal Family show the compassion and philosophy that drove their service.

Doi Tung itself is the living example of their philosophy:

Great things come from small beginnings
A gentle ripple starts from but a single drop;
That wave ever expanding, with no end in sight
Begins from one small point, our own self . . .

(See Hall of Inspiration.)


Doi Tung Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clic//www.thai on a slide will take you to the next image.


Princess Mother 2
Princess Mother 2
Doi Tung Signs
Café Doi Tung Sign
Café Doi Tung Treats
Café Doi Tung Sitting Area
Royal Villa 1
Royal Villa 2
Royal Villa 3
Royal Villa 4
Royal Villa 5
Wood carving
Doi Tung View
Royal Villa 6
Whimsical creature 1
Whimsical creature 2
Mae Fah Luang plant 1
Temperate climate foliage
Temperate plant
Rhododendron]
Temperate climate flower
Mae Fah Luang Garden 1
Mae Fah Luang Garden 2
Mae Fah Luang Garden 3
Mae Fah Luang Garden 4
Mae Fah Luang Garden 5
Dahlia bed
A dahlia
Glimmering foliage
Lady Slipper 1
Lady Slipper 2
Lady Slippers 3
Lady Slippers 4
Temperate foliage
Pond with ducks
Drying corn
Leaves and straw
Hall of Inspiration 1
Hall of Inspiration 2
Hall of Inspiration 3
Hall of Inspiration 4
Hall of Inspiration 5
Hall of Inspiration 6
Hall of Inspiration 7
Hall of Inspiration 8
Hall of Inspiration 9
Hall of Inspiration 10
Hall of Inspiration 11
Hall of Inspiration 12
Hall of Inspiration 13
Hall of Inspiration 14
Princess Srinagarindra

Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra

Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra exiting a helicopter at Doi Tung

Signs to the attractions at Doi Tung

The sign for Café Doi Tung

Some of the goodies available at Café Doi Tung

The sitting area at Café Doi Tung

A view of the Royal Villa, home of the Princess Mother

The Royal Villa viewed through one of its garden beds

The Royal Villa seen behind one of its gardens

The Royal Villa at Doi Tung

A view of the Royal Villa

An example of the lovely wood carving found at the Royal Villa

Doi Tung is nestled into the lovely mountains of northern Thailand

One of the orchids found in the gardens surrounding the Royal Villa

Whimsical creatures such as this decorate the trees at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another whimsical creature at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Foliage at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Temperate climate plants at the Mae Fah Lung Garden

Temperate climate flowers at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

An azalea at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another temperate climate plant at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

A view of part of the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another view of the lovely Mae Fah Luang Garden

Mae Fah Luang Garden view

Flower beds at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

More flower beds at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Dahlias at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Close-up of a dahlia at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Sun-lit foliage at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Lovely Paphiopedilums (Lady Slippers) at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

More Lady Slippers (Paphiopedilums) at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Close up of one of the lovely Lady Slipper orchids at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another close up of one of a lovely Lady Slipper orchids at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

A garden bed with temperate climate foliage and a statue

A pond with many ducks found in the Mae Fah Luang Garden

The Mae Fah Luang Garden has sample hilltribe buildings

A lovely still life found on one of the buildings

This sign greets you as you enter the Hall of Inspiration

Viewing the exhibits at the Hall of Inspiration

A sign at the Hall of Inspiration about Prince Mahidol

Photo of Prince Mahidol and Princess Srinagarindra

Sign with the words of Princess Srinagarindra

A photograph of the Royal Family in Switzerland

More words by Princess Srinagarindra on how she raised 2 kings

How change occurs from small beginnings

A pond at the Hall of Inspiration with ever-changing patterns

Drops of water expanding

The Hall of Inspiration covers the history of the Doi Tung Development

The guiding principle of Doi Tung

Some words of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Great things come from small beginnings

Princess Srinagarindra

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Websites for Further Study