With its nearly-perfect growing conditions of abundant rainfall, cool temperatures, rich volcanic soils and high elevations of up to 1300 metres, the Bolaven Plateau (named after the Laven, the largest ethnic group on the plateau) is known as one of the world’s top coffee growing regions and accounts for nearly all of Laos’ coffee production. The history of coffee in Laos began around 1915, when the first coffee trees were planted by French colonists, and after many years of trial and error, successful coffee harvest in Laos was on its way by the 1930’s. The specialty of the Bolaven Plateau is the Arabica bean, which is known as one of the best in the world.
However, which amounts to roughly 15-20,000 tons per year, the majority is the Robusta bean, which is both cheaper and more commonly traded on the world market. One can distinguish between these two coffee trees by their size: the Arabica tree is the shorter one (about 2 metres tall). In addition to these two varieties, there are now heartier and higher-yielding variants of the Arabica bean that are gaining in popularity, such as Kantimor bean. Although there are a few large companies that produce coffee commercially on the plateau, most of the coffee that you see in the area is grown by family farmers, who either sell their beans to the large companies or join together in cooperatives to sell it on the world market. Coffee and tea growing is, thus, a vital source of income for most of these villages and for the people of Champasack Province.
The Coffee Research Centre at Km 35 en route to Paksong offers coffee tasting upon request during regular office hours (8:30AM-4:00PM) Monday through Friday. Here you can also purchase fresh coffee or take a look at the experimental coffee plots on the grounds. Coffee and tea can be found for sale outside the major waterfall sites on the Plateau, and at select stores such as the Sala Bolaven near Km 12, which offers a superb variety of local farmers’ product ranging from fruit jams to organic wines. To visit coffee plantations and learn about the production process, one can either hire a guide from a tour company in Pakse or visit villages directly.