We have done café profiles all over the U.S., and several in Peru and Russia. This month we are continuing our international exploration with the best in Thailand – get ready for Doichaang Coffee Shops to blow your mind away fellow coffee freaks!
“I had restaurants and hotels, but I sold them all to go up to the mountains and work with coffee farmers 12 years ago,” – replied Wicha Promyong, the Doi Chaang Coffee Co.’s president, when I asked him how he got into the coffee business.
It seems like success inevitably follows the footsteps of a talented businessman: Wicha sold everything to seek a quiet refuge in the Thai mountains, but 12 years later found himself running one the best coffee companies in the country. Wicha’s Doi Chaang now owns 20 coffee shops in Thailand, supplies coffee to 300 others, and his coffee consistently ranks among the top in the world.
Let’s talk to the man:
V. Many cafes in U.S. like to announce themselves as being green and organic as soon as they receive the first delivery of biodegradable coffee cups, but you guys are really taking it all the way. Look at this jungle that you have built here: waterfall, garden with plants all over, and lots of organic products for sale. This is a beautiful shop! What is its history?
W. Thank you (smiles). Well, this is our very first shop that got opened 9 years ago. I opened it so that people could try our coffee and know how it tastes; however, I have never predicted such rapid growth and popularity. A person would come in, try our coffee and tell 5 others – it is magic what word of mouth can do. As far as the design in this particular shop I have used a traditional Thai style of building that brings the nature inside and makes the atmosphere really peaceful.
V. Could you tell our readers a bit about coffee culture in Thailand – how did it progress over time?
W. In the old days in Thailand, people mostly drank instant coffee with condensed milk. Then Starbucks came along and introduced the culture of drinking fresh coffee, so now the majority of consumers turned to fresh brew. They know how to drink coffee, and instant coffee consumption has gotten lower and lower especially in the last 3 years.
V. How did you manage to acquire enough expertise and knowledge to open up and operate one of the best coffee shop chains in Thailand?
W. Simple. I just went around the world, looked at the way good shops were operated, and drank coffee here and there slowly learning day by day.
V. You have traveled the world extensively, what makes Doi Chaang coffee shops unique among others?
W. I think the biggest “unique” factor for us is that 100% of the coffee in our coffee shops comes from our own plantation in Doi Chang province. We sell only what we grow and process at the plantation. However, because of that we have a little problem now: our coffees are being sold really well, but the demand has gotten too high. From Malaysia to Australia people are coming to us, but we don’t have coffee to sell because we sell only what we produce.
V. How is your company planning on resolving this situation?
W. We have expanded by 8000 acres in the Doi Chaang area, but we have to wait for another 3 years for the plants to sufficiently grow. In the future, we will be able to produce about 2000 tons a year, so it’s just a matter of time.
V. You have mentioned that Starbucks contributed to coffee culture progress in Thailand, but do you see more and more people choosing Doi Chaang coffee shops over Starbucks in Thailand?
W. You know yes, independent coffee shops are becoming much more popular in Thailand, especially with locals. They try our coffee once and always come back again. Maybe around 8 percent of our customers are foreigners: the majority is still walking the floors of Starbucks.
V. Wicha I think what you have managed to create with Doi Chaang Coffee Company is absolutely genius! What is the secret behind it?
W. I think the secret behind it all is – happy farmers. We pay them $1 per kilo of cherries! It used to be 12 to 15 cents per kilo before, and now it is $1. Plus our farmers collectively own 50% of the company, so they receive part of the company’s profits in addition to their sales. This is the way coffee business should be – not just one man making all the money – farmers should make good money too because they are the ones who produce.
V. Having done so much for the company and the farmers, what is the biggest reward for you to be part of all this?
W. Maybe I am getting old, but I don’t need money anymore. The money that I make I use to build schools and hospitals. In this stage of my life, I am concerned about helping others to achieve their goals, and traveling the world to demonstrate that our model can be applied to any place around the world.