This grower has a photo album.
Breyting is the Orlando based Fair-Trade initiative company behind the new mission based brand coffee Snake Bomb Coffee. http://www.breyting.com
Snakes, Bombs, and Coffee!
You might be wondering, “What do snakes and bombs have to do with coffee?”
First we have to take you back 6 years ago to Laos, Vietnam’s neighbor, where Breyting® learned that the 20-year trade embargo placed against the country was lifted due to changing political systems. It is here in the high mountains that Laos produces a Canephora coffee that rivals Arabica coffees, and is considered by many Europeans to be one of the best coffees in the world.
When we arrived in Laos and started exploring the conditions that made this coffee so exceptional, we learned that it was not necessarily the rich volcanic soil or the ample rainfall or the French who planted the first harvest during their occupation (1700-1950s). The rich flavor and incomparable depth of this coffee was largely contributed to the bombing during the Vietnam War. You probably are having the same reaction we did…”Bombs did what?!”
You see, due to bombing during the Vietnam War, farmers were forced to move their crops to much higher slopes on the mountains to distance themselves from the dangers below. Unexpectedly and against all odds, the coffee adapted well, developing its own rare and distinctive flavor, resulting in Lao coffee being the only Canephora in the world grown at 1300 meters (4,265 feet).
We also learned just how many Americans don’t know that the US was never at war with Laos. In fact, the Lao people collaborated with the United States against communism, but because the Ho Chi Minh Trail ran through Laos, the US dropped over 266 million sub-munitions (bombs) on Laos, equivalent to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, around the clock, for nine years. It’s hard to really wrap your mind around these numbers, but it’s more bombs than were dropped on Germany and Japan combined.
After finding out we (as Americans) were responsible for this amazing coffee, as well as the 70 million unexploded bombs that are still killing Lao people today, we felt compelled to take action, so we went to the local village leaders and asked what we could do.
Their responses were all the same: they wanted access to free markets for their crops, help for their children to get an education, help removing the 70 million unexploded bombs, and anti-venom for snakebites. Snakebites are one of the most neglected public health issues in poor rural communities in South East Asia. Most villages lack accessible and adequate medical facilities and as a result many farmers needlessly die each year from snakebites.
We were confronted with a decision. Do we get on a plane and forget these conversations took place and go home to sunny Florida, where there are no bombs and the hospitals have anti-venom for snakebites? Or, do we stay in Laos, and take on what might be the most daunting task of our time?
“Without a doubt it was a life changing moment for us,” said founder Ric Coven. It was especially significant for co-founder Jordan Inthirajvongsy, who is uniquely both a refugee of Laos and a patriotic US citizen who served in the United States Army for four years. This was her first visit to Laos since her mother carried her and her sisters through the mountains to escape the war, and her first realization that the adopted country she loves had devastated her homeland.
While the decision to get involved was unanimous, a mystery remained: how does Breyting®, a small coffee company, help rebuild what cost the United States an estimated $8 million dollars a day (in today’s dollars) for ten years to destroy?
Beyond the financial cost is the challenge of locating the bombs. Bombs are not just in one area; they are all over the country. Before water lines, electricity, housing, hospitals, schools or any industry can be built in the contaminated villages, the bombs must be removed. It’s a painstaking, labor-intensive, and extremely expensive endeavor. Estimates to remove the unexploded bombs reach into billions of dollars.
We don’t have a few billion in spare cash lying around, but we do have the means to rally support from corporations, governments, and organizations, which would make a huge difference in the lives of Lao people.
Now that we had a plan, we had to come up with something we could use to rally support and a name for this movement. It seems we were drinking the answer everyday: this amazing coffee. We tossed back and forth many names for the coffee, but decided to call it what it was: Coffee that helps solve the snake and bomb problems. That is how Snake Bomb Coffee™ was born.
Fast forward four years later, and we have organized the coffee supply chain, built relationships with the organizational leaders within Laos (both government and non-government programs) and we are ready to introduce Lao coffee to the world, rallying people and resources to support an array of economic, social, and environmental initiatives within Laos.
Drink Snake Bomb Coffee™ and Bite Back
Breyting employs a rigorous, self-imposed higher standard for cupping and grading which results in an astonishing taste profile that is described as having “natural hints of citrus, milk chocolate, and jasmine with good body and smooth finish”. Renowned organizations, such as the French CIRAD Coffee Institute placed Lao coffee among the 12 best coffees in the world.
Our beans are harvested and pooled from small estate plantations in the mountains that rise above the Mekong River as it winds through Laos. This region has extraordinary beans—from an Arabica Typica grown at 1,300 meters to a natural process Arabica Catimor grown at 1,000 meters—providing one of the only places in the world that produces a superb quality wet-process Robusta grown at 1,300 meters.
We pride ourselves on knowing the names of our farming partners and sharing a mutual passion for cultivating world-class coffee. We practice direct trade; offer accommodating payment solutions and long term purchasing agreements that are equal to—or above—today’s fair trade pricing. All the farms we support are registered under FLO (fair trade label) with annual certification updated by TFLO-cert, (a separate certification body that performs the regular audits.)
Over the last couple of years, the Department of Agriculture in Laos has made a strong push to organize its own version of ACT (Agriculture Certification Thailand). This project has become quite successful and led to the formation of the LCB (Lao certification body). Breyting works in unison with the LCB, NZaid (New Zealand) and IFOAM (International Organic Labeling) to obtain certification.