The buzz about Doi Chaang coffee


Wicha Promyong, CEO of Doi Chaang Coffee Company. The coffee is rated in the top 1% of the world's best. - Photos SAM THAM/The Star

Wicha Promyong, CEO of Doi Chaang Coffee Company. The coffee is rated in the top 1% of the world's best. - Photos SAM THAM/The Star

Doi Chaang is an organic coffee grown in the hills of north-easterm Thailand.

IT is 1pm. I have had two coffees in as many hours on top of the one earlier in the morning before leaving for work, and I am scurrying around the office like a mouse in a maze.

The buzz is courtesy of two of the most popular coffees at Doi Chaang café in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, during an interview with the company’s Thai president, Wicha Promyong.

“Not strong. Rich,” he corrects The Star photographer Sam Tham and me when he hears us talking about the beverages – my second – that we are drinking.

“Doi Chaang coffee is the cleanest. The caffeine level is 1.02%. Other coffees are 1.5%.”

I won’t argue with his description, but right now all I know is I am finding it difficult to form words and my eyes keep darting about.

An Americano from the Doi Chaang cafe in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya.
Drink an Americano with a little sugar – it will boost the flavour of the coffee.

Doi Chaang is named after the village in the hills of north-eastern Thailand from where it originated (although the village name is spelt with only one “a”). It started 12 years ago when Wicha and Piko Saedoo, an elder of the indigenous Akha hill tribe, organised the cultivation of coffee as a source of income for the impoverished community. A tie-up with a Canada-based family-owned company and a Beyond Fair Trade business model followed, which brings us to the internationally renowned brand it is today.

Doi Chaang has seen rapid expansion in recent years, says Wicha. “Asia is becoming a big coffee-drinking region and people are going for good coffee now. Our coffee is one of the highest priced, but it has expanded very quickly in the past two years.”

“In Thailand, there are 300 Doi Chaang coffee houses. In Korea, Japan, Australia, the Gulf area ... we’re expanding very quickly. There is a shop in Greece that was selling a big brand for 22 years and now they have switched to Doi Chaang,” he says.

The Jaya One shop is the only Doi Chaang outlet in Malaysia, which started just over a year ago. It is run by Brian Lee (general manager) and Luisa Kwek (operations manager) of Elephant Mountain Coffee.

“We’re very happy to work with Doi Chaang. We learnt a lot from Khun Wicha,” says Lee, using the Thai honorific.

Both Lee and Kwek had worked in coffee houses in Thailand and were impressed with Doi Chaang’s story and unique partnership with the Thai farmers who own 50% of the company and retain 100% of the proceeds from the sale of their beans.

“And so we chose to open the outlet selling Doi Chaang coffee. We think it is of high quality,” Lee says.

Iced Doi Chaang Coffee from the Doi Chaang cafe in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya. In the background are Brian Lee and Luisa Kwek.
The Iced Doi Chaang Coffee is a popular beverage at the Doi Chaang cafe in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya. In the background are Brian Lee and Luisa Kwek.

The brand has been rated in the top 1% of coffees worldwide by the leading independent Coffee Evaluator, and has won numerous awards for its Beyond Fair Trade business structure.

Doi Chaang is the only single-estate, 100% Arabica, USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade Certified and shade grown coffee grown in Thailand. However, due to a shortfall his year, Doi Chaang is offering blends in North America.

“We still use Arabica, but we blend 50% to 60% of Doi Chaang beans with quality organic beans from Guatemala, Colombia or Sumatra,” says Wicha. “This brings up a new character of the coffee.”

As the coffee is organic, the Doi Chaang farmers do not use chemical fertilisers, insecticides or herbicides on 90% of the 4,050ha that is cultivated.

“If the plant is strong, there is no need for herbicide. We know how to use by-products of coffee and cow dung as fertiliser,” says Wicha.

Doi Chaang is now available at Harrod’s and is the only brand besides Illy that is sold in its own packet.

From not even drinking coffee before he started with Doi Chaang, Wicha now has about six or seven a day.

“We have to keep tasting. The amount of coffee is the same, we just use more or less water,” he says.

Wicha recommends drinking coffee with at least some sugar, something I wished I’d known before I finished my hot, black Americano.

The milky Iced Doi Chaang I am sipping comes with sugar syrup added to it – Wicha suggests 20ml to 30ml.

“The Thais like it sweeter, about 40ml and made from brown sugar,” he says.

“But no condensed milk, only dairy milk,” says Wicha with a grin, well aware of Malaysians’ predilection for the sweet stuff.

Doi Chaang Coffee, Jaya One, B2, Block D, 72A Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Related story:

Doi Chaang raises a community on coffee