The last time I visited Luang Prabang, Saffron Coffee was one of my favorite places to grab breakfast and, of course coffee. Therefore, I was so excited when I learned that they offered coffee tours to educate their patrons on their coffee and business practices. I actually have a friend who used to work for Saffron and I also have a second personal connection because the founder is from Springfield, Missouri – where I’m from! I’m really excited to have had the opportunity to partner with Saffron because I really love their commitment to the local Lao people and sustainability. This tour was an amazing education on coffee and also gave a really interesting insight into Saffron Coffee.
A Little About Saffron Coffee
Originally the founder of Saffron Coffee started out operating a chicken farm, but unfortunately bird flu hit just afterward. Luckily for coffee-lovers + the families that work for Saffron Coffee he switched to coffee! His focus was adding value to the local economy, producing a high-quality product and focusing on sustainability. That brought them to coffee. Saffron focuses on shade-grown, organic coffee. The company has been successful to the point that there’s currently more demand for their coffee than there is actual Saffron Coffee. Saffron Coffee is currently working with over 800 Lao families.
The Process of Growing The Coffee
We met at Saffron Espresso Brew Bar + Roastery which sits just off of the Mekong River in the morning to meet up with the other tour members and our awesome guide, Paul. To start the tour, you get to order any coffee off the menu so you can be alert and ready for the tour. Although everyone else waited until the end of the tour to get theirs instead, I really enjoyed this. I loved sipping my latte while taking the tour and learning about the process that brought me my delicious coffee. Then, we all loaded up in a van for a short ride out to take the tour.
The tour takes you out to their offices. In addition to their office, they have a sample plot so you can see coffee growing. They also do their roasting in this facility and this is where their delicious baked goods are created. Typically this is also where the tasting would be. However, because we were there during a certification training class, we went back to Saffron Coffee for our tasting.
Paul thoroughly explained the coffee growing process in this sample plot.
Fun Fact: it takes coffee plants 3 years to start producing coffee beans.
Paul showed us which berries were ready to be picked and then let us sample them to understand the flavor and feel of the bean. This was great because it allowed us to learn more about the bean and the dying process by seeing the different layers of the berry. Paul explained that they have a nursery that grows the coffee plants. When they get tall enough for farmer to grow, they sell them for 1000 kip (about $0.12 USD) to farmers that work with them. Saffron Coffee has found that selling the plants, even for this tiny amount, gives the farmers a sense of value and investment, rather than giving them the plants.
The Roasting Process
All the coffee at Saffron Coffee is roasted in this 12 kilo roaster. The drum is heated to extreme heats and the awesome roasters actually start to recognize when the coffee beans are ready based upon the sound of the beans popping/cracking and 12 kilos takes about 17 minutes.
We were really lucky to arrive just as a batch of coffee was finishing roasting so we got to watch it drop. As it dropped the amazing aroma of coffee filled the air!
Every single bean is checked for quality assurance. Smelling the progress of the roast in real time!
During harvest season, the tour would also include a trip out to their processing plant. Unfortunately, we were just a little too early, but considering how much we really enjoyed the tour it would only make the tour even better!
The Coffee Tasting
The first thing Paul did for the tasting was show us the different beans and we were encouraged to smell the beans.
Oh my gosh, words cannot describe the deliciousness of these baked goods. Each one was unique. My favorite was probably the cheesecake brownie, though. Matt’s was the vegan brownie.
Then we weighed the beans for the perfect cup, Paul ground the beans and then each up was individual brewed.
After the coffee brewed, we took in the aroma one more time before sampling.
To really taste the coffee, you get a spoonful and slurp to ensure the flavors cover your pallet. I felt silly slurping but it was really interesting to learn and experience the correct way to taste coffee. I won’t give any spoilers on the flavors, so you can make up your mind on which is your favorite.
Lastly, we all had samples of Saffron Coffee’s cascara tea. Cascara is the skin of the coffee berries. By doing this, they’re making something out of a product that’s typically considered “waste”. Plus, it was really refreshing and tasty!
About Little More About Saffron Coffee’s Coffee
Their coffee is shade-grown, organic arabica beans. Every farm they work is is certified organic and the farmers are also trained to grow sustainably. If they start working with a new farmer that has used chemicals in the past, they have to go three years without using chemicals before buying their coffee. They choose shade-grown because it’s environmentally friendly because it doesn’t require slash + burn agriculture. Also, it creates a better tasting fruit.
They buy the cherries directly from the farmers who have been trained only to pick the best cherries. Saffron Coffee only buys cherries within a certain color spectrum (they’re hand sorted) to ensure customers get the best coffee. After they’re roasted, every single bean is sorted for quality.
Why You Should Take Saffron Coffee’s Tour
If you’re a coffee-lover, this tour is simply a must. You’ll learn so much about coffee from growth to consumption. I learned all kinds of little facts, like coffee beans aren’t brown until after they’re roasted. Plus, you get an amazing appreciation for Saffron Coffee specifically when you hear the lengths they go to to provide consumers with the best quality cup of coffee possible while being good to the environment and the local economy. You’ll walk away feeling good about your decision to support this awesome company!
Tours are available Tuesdays + Wednesdays at 8am. The current cost is 240,000 kip (or approximately $30 USD). You get your choice of coffee drink, a tour of the facilities – including transportation, then a tasting of multiples coffees and baked goods.
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Disclaimer: Although Matt + I received complimentary tours from Saffron Coffee, all opinions are, as always, my own.