For coffee lovers, there’s nothing quite like that first cup in the morning to signal the official ribbon-cutting start to the day. The fresher the beans –the better the moment. So, can you imagine the nirvana of standing in the middle of a sprawling coffee plantation captured by the waft of natural Arabica in the air and biting a bean straight from the vine?
If you love coffee as much as I do, you will find a lifetime memory in visiting a coffee plantation on your next trip to one of the many coffee-rich destinations in the world. Many plantations are remote in order to take advantage of healthy soil — so planning is required, but well-worth the effort.
My visit to the Sinouk Coffee plantation in southern Laos is like being in the Willy Wonka Factory for coffee lovers! Plush trees and fragrant flowers decorate the grounds where the occasional visitor can enjoy (what else?) a deliciously fresh cup of coffee at a small table by a stream.
I never thought fresh coffee could possibly get any better, but enjoying a cup in the place where it originated listening only to trickling water and singing birds covered by a canopy of large-leaf trees proved me wrong. This moment of bliss capped off an enlightening trek through the plantation where I learned about the labor that goes into this one cup of coffee. The experience truly re-defined my criteria of what makes a great cup of coffee.
Loas is a primitive country and many processes for food, transportation and infrastructure still require manual labor. Sinouk creates five types of coffee from carefully selected Arabica beans. The plantation uses both wet processing and dry processing methods.
My host takes me to an area of the plantation where beans are drying before they go to be cleaned, graded and processed. He pulls back a large tarp for me to examine the drying beans that covered the equivalent of a suburban front yard. The intense 90 degree sun is the perfect ingredient (and perhaps their secret one) to dry these beans to perfection. Many processes here are done by hand, even carefully selecting each bean that is eventually roasted.
As with all great coffee plantations, location is everything. The Bolavens Plateau in southern Laos has rich volcanic and virgin soil and plenty of rainfall throughout the year; the medium to high elevation provides a cool climate and organic farming methods, including harvesting by hand, make the best use of Laos’ natural resources.
As with many remote plantations, getting here to see it first-hand wasn’t easy. It required a flight into Pakse, Laos from Cambodia where I was staying. You can also get to Pakse from other Southeast Asian locations like Hanoi, but most inbound flights only occur three days of the week. Once in Pakse, I had a pre-hired local guide waiting for me. After passing through several tribal villages, passing farmers herding cows across the road and monks walking barefoot to their destinations, I arrived to the paradise of the Sinouk plantation.
My appreciation for the work that takes place on the plantation is enhanced by the added effort it takes to get here. Someone had a knowledge and a vision and turned this fertile ground into a successful plantation that distributes coffee throughout the country. Success has not altered the Sinouk processing methods or their humble presence which is likely why they maintain a high and consistent standard for their beans and coffee.
There are many great coffee plantations throughout the world. Laos’ Asian neighbors in Indonesia and Vietnam also produce high-quality coffee. Places like Costa Rica, Brazil, Hawaii, Ethiopia and Kenya also produce lots of coffee meaning there are lots of opportunities to plan a visit to a plantation during a trip to any of these destinations. If you are looking for a way to add something special to your trip, I highly recommend taking a half-day to visit a coffee plantation and enjoy the fruits of their labor. I promise it will be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.