by Lauren Lamont
Over the weekend of November 23rd to 25th, 14 of our students from FairNIST travelled to Chiang Mai to visit our partner, Thai High Coffee. Their trip constituted learning the entire process of the production of coffee from plantation to milling and roasting. In partnership with Thai High, FairNIST will be working on a development project with two farmers from the Akha Ama hill tribe as an initiative to upskill and better their livelihood.
On the first day, the FairNIST team paid a visit to the ThaiHigh coffee headquarters, run by Ray Buerger, to take a tour of the facilities and be informed on the roasting sequence/process of FairNIST coffee. This was an opportunity to try the innovative coffee beverages the ThaiHigh team had come up with including experimentation with Cold Brew-based drinks and the refinement of basic coffee drinks such as the espresso. The visit enabled the students to distinguish between the taste of two different types of beans we offer and refined their palettes to discern a quality processing of the roast from a poorly processed roast.
The next few days were for the purpose of understanding and interacting with the entire process the beans go through that must precede the roasting of the beans. We ventured into the coffee plantations and our selected farmers, Khun Dao and Khun Ardong, brought us through their refined process of preserving the plantations and deciphering beans that are ripe for picking. They also brought up the issues they face in this respect and gave us insight into their lifestyle and routine. This made us aware of how far removed it is from ours and yet the extent to which we rely on his work for the production FairNIST coffee. We also asked Khun Dao and Khun Ardong to inform us of areas of concern in hopes of being guided in the direction of potential development projects we could pursue that would fulfil their needs. By extension, this was to see if we as a social enterprise can assist the farmers in innovating new ways to cultivate coffee that are more efficient and easy for them to integrate. We also inquired the current state of the coffee market to ensure that the farmers are still receiving fair prices for their efforts.
Another aim of this trip was to explore marketing techniques/strategies used in the coffee industry that could be applied to FairNIST. We visited coffee shops such as Ristr8o (known for its Latte art) and Akha Ama (a fair trade social enterprise coffee shop). Akha Ama, a highly successful and expanding coffee enterprise based in Chiang Mai, was co-founded by Lee Ayu. Lee Ayu graciously gave us the opportunity to question him on his marketing strategies and approach, and a tour of the facilities. We saw the strength in story-telling as a marketing strategy when he explained his own experience growing up in a rural village that he now supports through his coffee empire. Thus we hope the inspiration we drew from these trips will show in our products and brand.
This trip involved expeditions into the flourishing coffee plantations in Chiang-Mai, visits to the farmers we support and the exploration of other enterprises similar to ours. Our purpose was to understand the areas of concern for the farmer we support to enhance our coffee production and to fulfil the needs of the community in future projects and endeavours. Many of the students that joined us on this trip had gaps in their knowledge on the coffee production process. We filled those gaps with interactive learning and having the experts we work with, such as ThaiHigh and the workers at the production facilities, explain the inner-workings of the facilities, to answer any questions our student employees had. The extension was to venture into the marketing side of our enterprise. We gauged what can be done to enhance our branding and marketing to reach a wider audience as Akha Ama and Ristr8o have managed to achieve. Overall, this trip was enlightening and immersive, and we hope it will inspire a fresh chapter of FairNIST for the upcoming year.
The result of this trip was an enhancement in the processing technique. Khun Dao and Khun Ardong have now been trained in a more efficient method in green bean processing (as seen in images above). The beans now have more depth and fruitiness in flavour and are overall enhanced in quality. Our selected farmers now earn higher incomes due to this shift in quality and in their diligent efforts to learn the new steps we implemented as a result of the surveys taken during the FairNIST trip.