Earlier this year, I travelled to Laos in South East Asia. I decided to visit because I started to hear that good things were coming out of the southern highlands. There was a round trip I could do on a motorbike around the Bolaven Plateau that would allow me to pop into several plantations and cafes, getting a chance to speak to the locals and sample what the country had to offer. We flew in on a tiny twelve seater plane into the highlands to a place called Pakxe. Thinking it would be another dodgy highland town, we managed to find a rooftop bar with fantastic food and wine, plus an awesome pizza restaurant (my favourite thing, apart from coffee of course!).
With a full belly, we left the next morning on our bikes to check out some of the plantations around the area. Only 40 minutes in, we noticed a coffee business on the main drag called BB Coffee in the area of Laongam. With 34 degrees heat we snuck in there in the hope we could have a look around and get in the shade. We met an amazing guy Vaden, the owner in fact, who was more than willing to show us around his self-made wet and dry milling station.
He has a coffee plantation, a roaster and a mill, which means he cuts out all the middle men and has full control. He’s a great engineer, who designed the mill himself. He produces Arabica coffee with caturra bourbon and typical varietal blend, which is from a single origin with a micro climate. It is grown in 100% rich volcanic soil at 1.276 meters above sea level.
My favourite part of visiting Vadens mill was seeing his processes. Once the beans are washed and dried, they are sorted by a bunch of lovely, smiley, giggly women who sit around nattering and picking out the good, the bad and the ugly. The pickers have great attention to detail, so more often than not there aren’t many bad beans in the batch at all. All the beans have a purpose somewhere in the coffee world, so nothing is ever wasted.
He has really great ethics. All his staff are paid well and stick with him for a long time. He’s also a part of an international organisation that makes sure farmers are looked after and not exploited, an issue that is very important to me. It was great to stumble across this hidden gem, as the rest of our trip lead us onto several plantations that were cleverly disguised tourist traps! I felt very privileged to meet such a humble man with such strong ethics, who lived and breathed what he believed in.
I remember leaving that place on my scooter, my poor old bike mate lagging from all the coffee talk, but I could’ve sat with him all day and listened to his stories. I left there with a smile on my face.