The main coffee growing region in Laos is the high elevation Bolaven Plateau which has volcanic red earth soils in which the coffee plants thrive. Coffee plant varietals include Arabica as well as Robusta and Liberica Coffee.
Coffee plants were first introduced to this area in the 1920s by the French who recognized the high altitude plateau with its fertile soils as a prime coffee growing area.
The Bolaven Plateau includes three southern provinces: Saravan, Champasak and Sekong and sits west of the border with the central Vietnam’s highlands and north of the border with Cambodia.
Coffee Production in Laos
Laos shows great potential for future coffee production due to its large populace (nearly 7 million people) and abundant land for coffee cultivation. This landlocked nation has seen its share of war and strife, however, and more than one-fourth of the people live in poverty.
While many have relied on opium as their only economic opportunity, coffee is increasingly becoming an alternative.
In the 1990s a coffee-growing initiative in Laos was funded by the European Union but eventually failed due to the lack of a market for the product. However recent efforts to rejuvenate significant coffee production in Laos are coming to fruition.
Hundreds of thousands of coffee trees have been planted and the crop is replacing opium in some areas. The Laos town of Paksong is considered the “coffee capital.”
Laos Coffee Facts
Historically most Laos coffee beans have been sold to middlemen who sell it to the Soviet Union and other communist allies.
New markets are now being developed in the United States for Laotian coffee with a focus on the production of higher grade organic Arabica coffees that are marketed as specialty coffees rather than lower grade Robusta commodity coffees.
This brings a much higher return for the farmers and is providing incentive to increase high quality coffee production in Laos.
Though the volume of coffee production is still relatively low it is expected to increase in the coming years along with overall Laos coffee quality and due to improved cultivation, harvesting and processing.
Laos Coffee Brands
A company named Saffron Coffee in Laos offers coffee beans that are cultivated by hill tribes (e.g., Mien, Khmu, Hmong and Gasak) in the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang in the mountains of northern Laos along the Mekong River.
Saffron Coffee is shade-grown, organic Arabica coffee grown more than 800 meters above sea level on the Luang Prabang plateaus and wet processed.
In the early 1990s Laos produced about 83,000 bags of coffee (approximately 5,000 tons) and this has now more than quadrupled. Much of the coffee of Laos is exported to France.
Laos Coffee Exporting
While coffee production in Laos is expected to continue to increase quite rapidly, there are limits due to a shortage of labor.
However there will also surely be improvements in yield per acre due to better growing methods, and improvements to coffee bean quality that may bring higher returns and bring Laos respect in the specialty coffee market.
Currently the Laos coffee crop is predominantly the lower grade Robusta though the amount of higher grade Arabica being grown has been increasing. There is also a very small amount of Liberica Coffee being grown in Laos.
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