The Lanna Coffee Company, which transitioned from a nonprofit to a for-profit business in late 2014 and essentially relaunched with a freshened brand aesthetic in July of last year, is continuing its metamorphosis into a specialty coffee butterfly through outreach to area consumers, professionals and neighbors by way of hosting community events in its home city of Fresno, Calif..
The company has opened its space to host art shows and a cold brew growler-fill station, public cuppings and tastings, and later this month, it will host the Fresno Brewers Cup, which will focus on Aeropress as its featured brew method.
The company, which imports, roasts and sells coffees exclusively grown by Thai hill tribe farmers, has benefitted since its reclassification from the guidance of new president, CEO and co-owner Bryan Feil, who comes to the company not with coffee expertise per se, but with substantial experience in social enterprise.
Feil’s earlier projects include the founding of Neighborhoood Industries, also in Fresno, which operates both a thrift store and a recycled textile manufactory. NI diverts millions of pounds of discarded cloth from landfills and recycles them into carpet pads, car insulation and other new products.
“I love seeing business as a tool to change lives,” Feil told Daily Coffee News. “It used to be t-shirts and couches, now it’s coffee.”
Lanna Coffee Company coordinates with the Integrated Tribal Development Program (ITDP), a Thailand-based nonprofit that has helped over 25 hill tribe villages to begin operating and benefitting from coffee farms that are owned entirely by the villagers. The village-owned farms produce about 250 million tons annually, from which Lanna gets first crack at sampling, cupping and selecting the best for purchase at generous prices, usually higher than the Fair Trade base.
Lanna then imports, roasts and sells roasted coffee products wholesale as well as directly to consumers through their website and a subscription program, while also selling greens to others roasters in the United States.
There’s estimated to be over one million Thai Hill Tribespeople living on high in the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand. Comprised of a mixture of natives, migrants and refugees that has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years, the people there today exist for the most part as subsistence farmers.
Extreme poverty and the accompanying lacks of clean water, education and healthcare are serious issues besetting these regions, yet are left largely unaddressed by the national governments which don’t consider hill tribe people to be citizens, but rather a threat to border security if not also to the environment for the frequency of “slash-and-burn” agricultural practices.
Various NGOs are now implementing different strategies to try to raise these tribes out of poverty and make them less susceptible to aggressors such as drug cartels and human traffickers. In 1959, Richard and Marlene Mann traveled to Thailand with this goal, and their work has continued through the efforts of their son Mike Mann who started the organization that eventually evolved into ITDP in the mid-1990s. In 2010, the ITDP established the Lanna Coffee Company as its U.S.-based nonprofit importer and roaster of Thai hill tribe coffees.
Feil has since stepped in to help reposition Lanna Coffee onto the specialty coffee scene in Fresno, which will reshape its brand identity in its dealings with wholesale clients and green coffee buyers regionally and throughout the United States.
“Fresno and the central valley are typically about ten years behind what’s happening in San Francisco and what’s happening in L.A., so it gives us a really fun opportunity to be innovative in the valley,” said Feil.
Shortly after joining the company in 2015, Feil traveled to Thailand to learn about coffee, coffee farming and the villagers’ way of life for several weeks. Upon his return, he then immersed himself in the stateside culture of specialty coffee.
Said Feil, “It probably took me about six months to understand, what is this specialty coffee world that I keep hearing about, how is that different from other spaces, and what is Lanna’s specific role in this industry?”
Lanna’s retail and wholesale coffees are roasted in their facility in Fresno on a 5-kilo-capacity Ambex roaster by Greg Amend, who also owns Visalia, Calif.-based Slow Train Coffee Company. This past May, Lanna rolled out their bottled RTD cold brew product, which is now stocked on market shelves regionally and around Fresno and won third place in the Best Product contest at the most recent Fresno Food Expo.
“Here in the valley we’re kind of leading that charge,” Feil said of the local cold brew market. “So we’re trying to scale up.”
The company has no intention of opening a café, a move Feil thinks might distract from the overall vision of supporting the hill tribes, importing the greens and catering to whole-bean retail and wholesale markets. Next steps for Lanna are simply to ramp up their cold brew program, continue their outreach and especially to continue offering educational opportunities to the public oriented more around green processing methods than on specific farmer identities or locations.
Feil said that Lanna needs to be careful about revealing too much about their farmers. “We’ve had some farmers be poached by middlemen that take them out of the coop, promise them a certain price on their beans, not deliver, and then they’re hung out to dry,” said Feil.
The Fresno Brewers Cup will take place at the Lanna Coffee Company warehouse at 617 Broadway Street in Fresno on Saturday, September 24 at 1PM.