Typically for our Trader Joe’s office snack-run, I have one request: coffee. While I prefer leaving what kind of coffee up to interpretation, today I was feeling very, very specific. Ethiopian (I am well aware that they stock a delightful shade-grown, fair-trade, organic, serenaded-to, gently caressed Ethiopian).
So, they got coffee from Thailand instead.
They do say that Thailand is the Ethiopia of Southeast Asia…mmm…do they? Probably not. In any case, it inspired me to sit down and write about my visit to a coffee plantation in Northern Thailand. It also inspired me to plan a trip to Ethiopia, in order to write a blog post about Ethiopian coffee. So keep checking back. Coming 2021.
I love coffee. Not with any sort of high-brow barista fanaticism, but simply as a person who enjoys the ritual of caffeine. If it tastes good, then even better. French-press, pour-over, percolators, crushing beans with a shovel in the dessert and using a dirty bandana as a filter. Definitely done that. For me, the process amplifies the product.
To this end, I headed off on a four hour motorbike ride up a mountain in Northern Thailand, to visit a coffee plantation that was nothing more than a grid coordinate. After hours bumping between paved roads, gravel, dirt… I was salivating over the awaiting cup o’ joe.
Lucky for us, they had a sign.
We arrived at the plantation’s “tasting room”. Our barista was an elderly woman sitting on top of a few wooden pallets with a small pot of water on a camping burner, cups, saucers, and some bags of beans. They say Thailand is the land of 1000 smiles and this lady was wearing 999 of them when we walked up. While they were fresh out of organic Pumpkin Spice or Skinny Frapp, she was delighted to grind up some beans by hand, dump them in a patina press and get the brew going.
The tasting room was nothing more than a thatched-roof bamboo platform dangling off the mountainside over a lush plantation. Coffee trees lined the slopes, funneling down into a vibrant grove of palms, thick ferns, and rows of drying racks filled with sunbathing beans. I swear I saw this same view in a reclaimed wood picture frame in Starbucks!
We perched on a couple of tree stumps and our barista brought over a tray with two small cups of muddy coffee. No sugar. No cream. Just the way it should be…but with a couple Ritz crackers? Ok, we’ll get to that. Now, this coffee was black— blacker than black. The rich aroma of floral arabica rose above the earthen jungle air. The flavor was even richer and darker. Nutty, chocolate-y, bold, but with a soothing heaviness. And while you may think Ritz crackers only pair well with Cheese Whiz, they also go great with coffee, where the buttery saltiness balanced nicely with the bitterness.
Hours later in Chiang Mai we were still a little shaky. It may have been the potent coffee. It may have been the white-knuckle descent down, down the mountain on a motorbike with “delayed” braking. Regardless— it was a worthwhile caffeine ritual.