Up for the Cup: Asia’s Booming Coffee Culture
Asia is well known for its tea traditions, which encompass everything from intricate ceremonies to the growing of premium leaves. These days, coffee culture is making a highly caffeinated charge around the continent. Aesthetic micro-roasters offering the world’s finest brews are dotted around the local neighborhoods of Asia's leading cities. But the most exciting development has been how indigenous bean growing scenes are being cultivated everywhere from Northern Thailand to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, to global critical acclaim.
UP FOR THE CUP: ASIA’S BOOMING COFFEE CULTURE
Asia is well known for its tea traditions, which encompass everything from intricate ceremonies to the growing of premium leaves. These days, coffee culture is making a highly caffeinated charge around the continent. Aesthetic micro-roasters offering the world’s finest brews are dotted around the local neighborhoods of Asia's leading cities. But the most exciting development has been how indigenous bean growing scenes are being cultivated everywhere from Northern Thailand to the highlands of Papua New Guinea, to global critical acclaim.READ MORE
NORTHERN THAILANDThe drying process in Doi Chaang
If Champagne in northern France is ground zero for sparkling wine, and Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy is the motherlode of nutty cow’s milk cheese then Northern Thailand is the undisputed epicenter of Thailand’s booming coffee culture. The Kingdom has quietly been coming up on the rails to stake a claim as a coffee power to be reckoned with in recent times. Ongoing work with local minorities in the notorious Golden Triangle, who have swapped their traditional cultivation of opium for the more auspicious coffee bean, has proved key to this burgeoning industry. While family-owned farms in provinces like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Nan are also working with conservation groups to help rehabilitate forests. Other X-factors include avant-garde producers, great farmers, and the best terroir. Sample a cup sourced from boutique plantations at prime spots including Akha Ama and Gallery Drip Coffee in Chiang Mai.
BOLAVEN PLATEAU, LAOSPicking arabica coffee berries by hand in Paksong
The lush Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos is the epicenter of the Laos coffee movement. The fertile uplands of the area supply perfect conditions to grow quality arabica beans. And that’s exactly what a handful of producers are doing via a ‘quality over quantity’ approach. Producers have worked with farmers to improve quality and put beans that fetch higher prices on the market. In recent years, Bolaven Plateau coffee has appeared on shelves in the U.S. and specialty coffee shops in neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore. The coffee is best sampled on the Bolaven Plateau itself. Indeed, every bag of beans you buy or cup you sample is redolent of the fresh mountain air and stunning natural scenery in this magical corner of the world. If you're interested in exploring the coffee heartlands of Laos, Remote Lands will arrange a guided plantation tour accompanied by a well-known regional coffee expert.
DALAT, VIETNAMCà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk)
Vietnam has traditionally been known for its dark, intense coffee made with robusta beans. This reaches its apogee — to visitors and Vietnamese alike — in the form of ca phe sua da, iced Vietnamese coffee, sweetened and supercharged by a hefty lashing of condensed milk. Yet while robusta fans will still find much to love about Vietnam’s traditional coffee culture, tastes are getting more sophisticated in the Southeast Asian country as growers turn to the mellower arabica beans. Major cities like Hanoi, Saigon, and Danang are all blessed with exceptional coffee shops. The center of the country’s coffee culture though is the Central Highlands where coffee plantations thrive on the misty slopes. Like Northern Thailand, many of the coffees produced in the Central Highlands region are cultivated by local minority peoples — such as the K-Ho — using knowledge passed down by generations of harvesting experience.
TORAJA, INDONESIAA farmer sun dries her harvest in the Toraja Highlands
Indonesia’s coffee culture is world-renowned. Indeed, coffee drinkers the world are in thrall to a “cup of Java” a colloquialism that has its roots in Java’s rich history of bean export. For contemporary coffee drinkers, perhaps the most exciting coffee scene in the archipelago is not in Java but in Sulawesi, where Toraja coffee is staking its claim as Indonesia’s finest cup. Grown in the mist-shrouded mountains, this unique arabica variety is celebrated for its exceptional quality and distinct flavor profile. Toraja coffee boasts a rich, full-bodied taste with hints of earthiness and a delightful balance of acidity. The beans are handpicked by skilled farmers and processed with care, resulting in a cup that exudes complexity and depth. For those interested in visiting Torajaland, it is also home to one of the world's most bizarre funeral rites.
PAPUA NEW GUINEABefore and after roasting in PNG
Situated next to two of the coffee industry’s powerhouses, Australia (cafe scene) and Indonesia (coffee growing), Papua New Guinea was bound to develop its own unique coffee culture. Coffee production traditionally made up almost half of the country’s total revenue of exported agricultural goods, second only to palm oil, although there have been recent attempts to diversify. The industry is still deeply rooted in local communities, with smallholder farmers cultivating beans across the fertile highlands. The unique terrain and microclimates contribute to the distinct flavors found in PNG coffee, characterized by fruity notes and a bright acidity; it is highly prized. Coffee plays a significant role in PNG's social fabric, with traditional coffee ceremonies famous for fostering community connections. PNG is tipped by many experts to become the big powerhouse in global coffee production and export.
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