Coffee with a Purpose in Chiang Mai

This is a Hipmunk post from Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads

Yesterday was National Coffee Day, so I wanted to write today’s post about a really special coffee shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I discovered Akha Ama when I was living in Chiang Mai last year, and it quickly became one of my favourite places to visit in town. Not only was the coffee deliciously strong, but the story of the café – and the Akha tribe who grew the beans – was extremely compelling. 

Freshly picked beans at Akha Ama


The story of Akha Ama starts with its founder, Lee, a charismatic young man who in 2007 decided to create a local enterprise to support disadvantaged farmers from his home village, Maejantai, in Northern Thailand. His company helps to support a village that has very little access to education, food and health care. In Lee’s own words:

In the past farmers have used remedies such as chemical products, fertilizer and pesticides or insecticides, in the hope of speedy improvement. They did not realise then, that by doing so they threatened their very existence even more so. Akha Ama Coffee offers today to the communities in this region a chance to strengthen the local economy by introducing concepts of sustainable and organic agriculture and by providing access to the business market for them. Akha Ama Coffee also raises awareness among the villagers, assists and advises them in order to achieve all principles of fair trade.

Beautifully brewed coffee, from Jenny who works at Akha Ama.

Akha Ama means “Akha Mother” in the Akha hill tribe language, and in a sense the coffee shop and its related projects have provided a supportive, motherly role for the community. Lee runs Coffee Journeys several times a year, taking visitors up to the Akha village to learn about its history, the way coffee is grown and why he is focusing on a sustainable mode of growing the beans. 

There’s a tumultuous, sprawling history behind how the tribe ended up in Northern Thailand, much like the story of how the Yunnan tea villages came to exist on the slopes near the Burmese border.  Fleeing the civil war in China, many of the Akha marched southward by land, through Myanmar and Laos, and into the mountains of Thailand’s rugged north, including Meelaw, who is the woman whose face is on each bag of Akha Ama coffee.

Lee explaining the coffee growing process. Photo credit: On Our Own Path

For more background on the Akha, how they got to Northern Thailand and how coffee was introduced to the region, please read this excellent post from Kyle and Bessie at On Our Own Path. And for those of you who are in Chiang Mai, you’d be remiss not to stop in at Lee’s welcoming coffee shoppe to try a cup of java for yourselves. You’ll not only support an excellent cause, but get a great brew in the process.

Where to find it:

Akha Ama Coffee

Mata Apartment, 9/1 Soi 3, Th Hussadhisewee, Chiang Mai
086 915 8600
Facebook Fan Page here.

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