Akha Ama Coffee – Where Every Sip Tells a Story
Akha Ama’s 14 families have come together to market their coffee collectively and ensure fair prices by eliminating middlemen and employing innovative crop rotation practices that benefit both the environment and reduce pest infestation.
Lee organizes biannual trips for coffee enthusiasts – locals, expats and digital nomads alike – who wish to experience first-hand the coffee journey in his village.
Akha Ama’s Story
Lee, founder of Akha Ama Coffee in Chiang Mai’s Old Town, is on a mission. He wants his hill-tribe village to gain fair trade status for their coffee; according to Lee, people at the beginning of production chains should receive equitable compensation without resorting to selling below-cost prices in order to make ends meet.
Lee led 14 Akha families in Maejantai Village to form Akha Ama Coffee, a multifaceted enterprise that marries social enterprise with small business ownership at both cafe and wholesale levels. Now, they grow and market their own beans without going through middle men, which ensures better prices as well as organic farming methods that limit harmful chemicals use.
At its core, this family-run and operated business not only improves their own livelihoods but also allows them to gain entry to global commodities. Furthermore, this business provides them with an avenue to exchange cultural experiences with outsiders who come visit or work in its coffee shop and farm.
Akha Ama exemplifies the rise of small, high-quality coffee companies in Thailand that serve a meaningful purpose while helping build sustainable communities that will benefit future generations.
Before recently, hill-tribe communities living in remote regions had limited economic prospects for growth. Now that high-end coffee has become more widely consumed globally, its financial benefits can seep back into these isolated villages and help lift them out of poverty.
Akha Ama is receiving international acclaim, with products from local farmers even reaching London! This recognition from around the globe signals an upturn of interest in Akha Ama and it bodes well for coffee fans worldwide.
To experience Akha Ama and watch their family-owned operation work, head to Chiang Mai’s Old Town and board a songtaew (pronounced song-tow), a red taxi-bus-truck. Traveling from there to Maejantai takes two hours. Along the winding roads it’s easy to imagine yourself there!
Akha Ama’s Mission
Akha Ama Coffeeshop is on a mission to help support Maejantai Village by spreading awareness that there are other sources for coffee than corporate farms; to this end they offer coffee day tours where guests can visit where their beans come from and purchase beans themselves!
As we all know, purchasing fair trade goods means more than simply visiting your local cafe: it means supporting those at the start of the supply chain and giving them a sustainable livelihood – this is exactly what Akha Ama stands for, and their story deserves to be told.
Lee Ayu Chuepa, co-founder of Akha Ama and one of the Akha people – an ethnic minority found across Thailand, China, Laos and Burma (Myanmar). As one of his village members to attend college – and with his black bowl cut and skinny jeans looking every bit the 20-something Thai kid! But behind this smile lies someone serious about helping pull his village out of poverty through sustainable and organically grown coffee production.
Once upon a time, hill tribes relied solely on bartering crops for goods from outside Thailand; but as Thailand became more modernized and required children to attend school, villagers needed cash payments in order to cover tuition costs and other necessities. At this juncture, Lee devised his plan for starting Akha Ama – his mother being his inspiration behind creating such an enterprise – to assist his village.
Today, 14 Akha families in Maejantai have come together to form the Akha Ama Coffee Collective. Working collaboratively on processing, marketing and selling beans under their brand, Akha Ama enables these Akha families to take control of their economic future by earning fair prices for their labor and providing their families with new sources of income and opportunities.
Akha Ama’s Coffee
Hill-tribe people of Asia have for centuries been protected from Westernization’s rapid spread; due to their distinct culture and shared languages that transcend borders, they’ve not succumbed to globalization in quite the same manner as other groups; instead they have developed a wide array of local crops including coffee.
Before 2010, however, farmers in Maejantai had little recourse but to sell their beans at whatever market prices were offered. Lee, which in Akha means “mother”, wanted to help these farmers and established the Akha Ama collective in 2010. With this move he cut out any middle men that may otherwise reduce prices while guaranteeing higher harvest profits for them all.
Akha Ama’s goal is to promote environmentally sustainable agriculture practices that reduce chemical use and produce healthier crops for both farmers and their consumers. They use only Fair Trade certified ingredients, provide their workers with health insurance, education scholarships and micro loans so that they may start businesses of their own.
Approach has proven fruitful, with Akha Ama brand becoming immensely popular throughout Thailand and beyond. Both their shop and farm have become hugely popular among Thais, expats, digital nomads, as well as digital nomads who travel – the coffee is not only delicious but also highly affordable; plus there is an amazing array of baked goods including their popular oatmeal cookies!
It is one of the premier specialty coffee shops in Chiang Mai and an ideal venue to meet fellow coffee enthusiasts. I have frequented Akha Ama many times now and it never ceases to delight. Their service is friendly, the coffee just right (not too bitter nor sweet!), making this an enjoyable stop to meet fellow coffee enthusiasts or enjoy some delectable refreshments with friends! Whether for work or just leisurely reading time!
Akha Ama’s Cafe
Akha Ama Coffee cafe, situated just outside the moat, is my go-to spot for a cup of coffee in Chiang Mai. A social enterprise supporting hill tribe villagers to grow, market, and sell their coffee beans; plus it showcases Akha culture through traditional decor and cuisine!
Lee Ayu Chuepa is the founder of Akha Ama Coffee, an innovative social enterprise that integrates small business ownership at multiple levels: farm, cafe and wholesale. His story illustrates the impactful force of social entrepreneurship as well as how small enterprises in indigenous communities can transform livelihoods through employment opportunities.
Coffee business has provided 14 Akha families in Maejantai village the chance to increase their earnings without giving it all away to middlemen who control local markets. Now able to process their own beans, they have greater control of pricing their product at higher levels, as well as flexibility working with roasters who may not want direct dealings with Akha farmers.
Before Akha Ama Coffee was established, farmers sold their green coffee at whatever market rate was acceptable – often far less than its true cost of production. Now with an alternative source of income and being able to see their work from start to finish, all 14 families involved feel more pride and ownership for the product they produce.
Akha Ama’s coffee farm employs an ecological farming model with crop rotation and soil-building mulch – not only is this approach good for the environment, but it’s also sustainable, eliminating expensive and harmful pesticides from use altogether.
As for Akha Ama’s coffee, it is truly single-origin and an absolute treat to taste. Their beans are lightly roasted so as to allow natural flavors such as sweetness and nutty notes to shine through; I find their coffee truly hard to resist!
Lee and his team have set new standards in Chiang Mai specialty coffee, focusing on quality and innovation. As a result, their efforts have garnered the admiration of coffee lovers worldwide who recognize both Akha Ama’s exceptional product quality and reasonable pricing structure.