The Saffron Coffee Story

The story of Saffron Coffee begins with a group of tribes living high in the mountains of northern Laos. Unable to plant and harvest rice in the lowland paddies like the majority Lao, these tribes cultivated opium poppy on the mountain plateaus.

When opium cultivation was outlawed by the Lao government and measures were taken to curb its production, tribes like the Hmong, Yao (Mien) and Khmu had little choice but to engage in slash-and-burn agriculture in order to survive. In this practice, entire mountainsides are cleared of natural growth and burned off. These upland fields are planted for one season and then abandoned the following year as a new mountainside is cleared, cut and burned. A new field is cut each year for up to 15 years before the orginial field is replanted. Planting upland rice and corn, the harvest is often barely enough to sustain the life of a mountain family. Without a replacement cash crop for opium, the mountain tribes have succumbed to extreme poverty.

In 2004 David Dale, an American living in Laos, researched the possibility of planting Arabica coffee in northern Laos. His research led him to one Hmong village that had already planted coffee as a part of an EU project, but had discontinued harvesting the beans for lack of a viable market. David also explored other highland areas around the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang for the possibility of coffee production, and found the land to be promising and the interest high among the hilltribes. As a result, Saffron Coffee was born.

Partnering with local Hmong and Khmu workers, Saffron Coffee created a coffee tree nursery, planting numerous varities of Arabica coffee seeds. When these seeds germinated the seedlings were transplanted into over 300,000 plastic bags. After the coffee trees were of sufficient size, Saffron Coffee sent them to over 300 mountain farmers in more than ten different villages who have land appropriate for planting coffee. Saffron Coffee agrees to purchase all their coffee when it comes time to harvest.

As the red-ripe "cherries" are harvested by hand, Saffron Coffee purchases the coffee from the farmers, wet-processes it into quality green coffee, and roasts it fresh in Luang Prabang. Coffee is becoming the first sustainable cash crop for many upland farmers since opium. By purchasing their harvest Saffron Coffee now gives the mountain hilltribes choices. If their old are sick, they can now send them to the hospital for care and to buy needed medicines. They can now also afford to send their children to school without needing to keep them out in the fields because of high-maintenances slash-and-burn agriculture.

Saffron Coffee is driven by three passions--the passion to help improve the lives of Lao mountain farmers by promoting Abrabica coffee cultivation; the passion to conserve the environment by reforestation associated with shade-grown coffee production, by eliminating slash-and-burn agriculture and by employing only organic cultivation practices; and the passion to produce the highest quality highland Arabica for you to enjoy as you sip your cup of Saffron Coffee.

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