Cultivating sensory and cupping skills among coffee businesses in Lao PDR
Pinphet Phongsouli has run her family business in the vibrant city of Pakse in southern Lao PDR for the past four years, taking on the roles of manager, barista, and owner of Toped Café.
“For the first two years, the drink menu was limited to smoothies and juices. I didn’t know much about coffee,” says Pinphet.
Pinphet’s first exposure to specialty coffee came from a friend introducing her to pour-over coffee a few years ago.
“I was intrigued by how it was brewed and tasted. To me, it's more than just ‘coffee’, but it's the flavour, the experience and the process.”
Teaching herself, Pinphet attended a local barista course and competition. Meanwhile, she added coffee to the café's menu, which quickly became a hit with customers.
Globally, coffee consumption is expected to increase by 1.3% to 166.63 million bags in 2020-21 as the global economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. In Lao PDR, the coffee industry has great potential, being the main cash crop for many small-scale farmers. Indeed, coffee accounts for the country’s third-largest agricultural export product, currently exported to more than 26 countries in Asia, Europe and North America.
Small business owners like Pinphet, however, often face challenges in meeting the global demand, increasing quality standards or the price. These include having no opportunities to improve the knowledge and skills on specialty coffee.
In late October and November of this year, the café business owner benefited of a virtual training together with other coffee producers, coffee company/café owners, baristas, and coffee industry workers.
Organized by the International Trade Centre under its EU-funded ARISE Plus Lao PDR project, the training focused on “Improving Sensory and Cupping Skills with Specialty Coffee Association Certification” and included two training modules on sensory skills and green coffee.
Sengchanh Khammountha, the Vice President of the Lao Coffee Association, says: “This training is vital for coffee producers and workers in Lao PDR. The coffee sector is a key source of agricultural production and exports. Consequently, it creates more jobs, generates income to families, boosts the country’s economy – while improving the local livelihoods at the same time.”
Khankeo Moonvong, the local ARISE Plus Lao PDR Project Coordinator of the International Trade Centre further explains: “This training course provides necessary learning modules to improve the skill set of people within the coffee industry, specifically targeting the ability to assess and manage quality. Successful participants are awarded Specialty Coffee Association certification, which is useful for communicating with buyers. This way they can rely on the coffee quality assessment.”
Recently, Pinphet started selling coffee beans in her café and online. She works with local farmers from the Bolaven Plateau in sourcing and processing coffee beans. Pinphet told us that in the past, her coffee evaluating skills were based on experience. After attending this training course, she is more confident in her coffee sensory skills. She also understands the specialty coffee supply chain – from seed to cup, including cultivation, harvesting, processing, drying, shipping, storage, and delivery. Therefore, these newly acquired skills can now help her in communicating better with the farmers to achieve the quality that she needs to meet her customers’ expectations.
About Arise Plus Lao PDR
The ASEAN Regional Integration Support – Lao PDR Trade-Related Assistance project (ARISE Plus Lao PDR) is funded by the European Union (EU). It aims to contribute to inclusive economic growth, increased climate change resilience, mitigation of vulnerability and job creation in Lao PDR.