Laotian coffee history
by BO LI on Jan 27, 2023
Or, rather, elephants as Laos is traditionally known. Recently we took an overview look at Laos as a newer hotspot for stunning coffee beans. While Vietnam and Indonesia usually overshadow other coffee regions from around Southeast Asia, we would like to shine the spotlight on Laos, which is a true haven for stupendous coffee beans. This is due to Laos's majestic natural landscape and wonders which lead to sublime beans being produced there. However, today we will learn about the origins and history of coffee in Laos.
The introduction of coffee plants
Laos came under French rule in the 1890s. It was French colonists who first introduced coffee to Laos. The first coffee plants in Laos were brought over in 1915 and included both robusta and arabica plants. The plants were introduced into northern Laos before the colonists discovered that the southern regions were more ideal.
Coffee plants were introduced as cash crops and the Bolaven Plateau in the southern Paksong region was the main source of coffee production. During French colonial control of southeast Asia, coffee was introduced to other colonies, most notably, Vietnam.
The production of coffee continued until the outbreak of World War II when not only did many of the coffee planters and plantation owners leave, but the whole country itself fell under Japanese control. Though Japanese Imperial rule ended at the end of World War II, the Vietnam War brought more tumult and disruption to the region and Laos coffee plantations. The area of Paksong was heavily bombarded by American aircraft. Land mines also still dot the area and make movement in Paksong dangerous. Despite these challenges, Laotian coffee planters returned to reinvigorate the region. Within the past 20 years or so, arabica in particular has been a specialty coffee bean produced in Laos.
Today the main region that produces Laotian coffee continues to be Bolaven Plateau in Paksong. This is because this region offers the best environment for coffee production. Laos as we have discussed in our previous article is a real paradise for coffee plants.
It hits all the check marks in the sort of "Goldilocks zone" of coffee, which includes a tropical region that sports volcanic soil found at high altitudes. Other variables required for great arabica beans include cooler weather at these higher altitudes and plenty of rainfall, cloud coverage, and precipitation. Also, rich biodiversity doesn't hurt coffee plants one bit and a dense forest canopy is highly beneficial to coffee plants. So too is the presence of birds and other animals that may feed off of the same bugs and other pests that might normally harass coffee plants.
A history that is being made as we speak!
Luckily, Laos and its natural wonders have been continuing to create quality coffee beans, especially arabica beans. So we can say with some firm confidence that this story is much more than history but rather history as it unfolds for Laotian coffee farmers. We hope you seek out some Laotian coffee beans yourself maybe you'll get hooked and buy enough beans for a million elephants! Get it? That is because Laos is the "Land of a million elephants"? Maybe we need some coffee ourselves...!
• Beach, Regina. “The Rich History of Lao Coffee.” Culture Trip, theculturetrip.com/asia/laos/articles/the-rich-history-of-lao-coffee/.
• “Coffee Production in Laos.” Wikipedia, 23 Aug. 2022, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_production_in_Laos. Accessed 18 Jan. 2023.