TRADITIONAL COFFEE MAKING: A CASE STUDY OF BAN RAE, THAN TO DISTRICT, YALA PROVINCE
As mentioned at the beginning of the previous story, a modern and a traditional method of coffee making both exist in Yala. One of the few communities, where I collected the data, that still practice the traditional method is Ban Rae Community, Than To District. Traditionally processed coffee is called “Boran Coffee” (ancient coffee). For this type of coffee, the coffee grounds are not filtered out and sugar is always added. After stirring the coffee and sugar, let it rest until the coffee grounds settle, and then drink it like Turkish coffee. Some people like to enjoy the coffee grounds as well. “If the coffee grounds are filtered out like what they do in modern coffee, the taste will be different. It’s just not tasty,” said one participant who expressed his view and intention to preserve this ancient coffee tradition that spans from the processing to drinking methods that are unique to the Ban Rae area all the way to the Betong area. In the past, we could experience this coffee drinking tradition in every local’s home because every home had to prepare “kopi” for their visitors and give coffee powder as they bid farewell. Nowadays, this drinking tradition can be experienced in tea shops in the Ban Rae community and the surrounding areas. After long forgotten, this traditional local coffee making was revived by the government in 1957 for its uniqueness and was promoted along with the establishment of the Than To self-building settlement.
Before coffee beans are processed: Challenges and solutions
The coffee making process, the Robusta varieties in this context, is the traditional home-made process. It has been passed on from generation to generation. In the past, the local would grow coffee plants between longkong trees but when the price of the longkong slumped, they changes to another crop and cut down the longkong and coffee trees. Without coffee beans from the coffee plants, the local were forced to buy coffee beans from plantations in nearby provinces, such as Phatthalung, Trang, Ranong and Chumphon. Until a few years ago, the government started to encourage the local to grow coffee plants again in between rubber and durian plantations.
“There are not many original coffee plants left, but we have recovered quite a lot of them.” “If we can produce enough, we don’t need to buy the beans from outside,” said the participants. However, by sourcing coffee beans from outside, the local was able to expand the ancient coffee production chain and bring the Ban Rae community into contact with coffee bean suppliers in many other areas in the south. Ban Rae has since become a market for Robusta coffee beans from the southern region. One participant said, “Some of the coffee beans we buy will be made into traditional coffee and the remaining will be sold to coffee shops to make fresh coffee.” This shows that the entrepreneurs in Ban Rae act as both producers and middlemen in Yala’s coffee supply chain. On the other hand, this new economic relationship results in higher costs of production, raw materials and transportation. Another participant said, “If we buy 100 kilograms of coffee beans from Ranong and Chumphon, we will have to pay 500 THB for shipping.”
But the situation seems to be changing because a few years ago the government encouraged the local farmers to return to grow coffee as intercrop and gave out seedlings of Robusta Chumphon 4 and 5 coffee, as well as those of Arabica coffee, to the farmers. To date, the farmers have seen some yields from the 3-5 hectares of coffee plantations in Yala. A network of coffee farmers in Bannang Sata, which has around 20-30 members, is an important workforce in the coffee bean business.
Traditional coffee making method of Ban Rae
After having procured the coffee beans, the next step is to prepare the coffee roasting equipment and firewood as a source of fuel. Roast the coffee beans evenly over medium heat. Once the beans are roasted, let them cool down. The last step is for each operator to add their secret ingredient or technique. One participant kindly revealed the secret of her group to me. She said that her secret recipe was to immediately mix freshly roasted coffee with sugar and set it aside to cool.
Next, pound the beans with a mortar and pestle. Hand-pound coffee beans is a unique recipe of the Ban Rae community and this neighborhood. Some participants said, “Machine-ground coffee is not as oily nor as fine as doing it by hand, and it will have a metallic smell.” Today, there are only few senior people who know how to grind coffee by hand. Unfortunately, there will only be fewer and fewer of them over time. Most of the new generations are not interested in learning these skills because it is a process that requires a lot of energy and time. The question is how long this local coffee making technique will last. However, there are some members of the new generations who are interested in the coffee business, not exactly in the coffee beans, but in the marketing aspects, such as packaging, branding and image building, or transforming the ancient coffee into drip coffee, etc.
After the beans are roasted and pounded, wait until the “ancient hand pounded coffee” cools down, and then put the coffee powder into packages, ready for distribution. The market for this type of coffee is usually retail shops in nearby communities, especially in traditional teahouses in the sub-districts and the mountainous areas of Yala, Bannang Sata, Khiri Khet, Than To and Betong. Travellers can find the coffee at almost every traditional tea shop in the area. Some of the coffee is sold to Pattani and Narathiwat, as well as Bangkok if there are orders or invitations to participate in trade expositions sponsored by the government. Apart from that, the coffee is advertised and sold on online platforms, such as a Facebook page called “Traditional Hand-Ground Black Coffee of Ban Rae” of which the main customer base is in the southern border provinces.
The old are dying, but the new is not born: Opportunities and challenges of Ban Rae traditional coffee
The traditional coffee processing as an economic activity is carried out by several community enterprises. There are 4-5 groups of women who come together to make coffee as a supplementary occupation. One of the groups I spoke with was relatively large in comparison with others, i.e. around 20 members in the age range of 30 to 58. Some of the groups registered as provincial OTOP operators are “Handground Coffee by the Ladies of Village 1,” “Sue Bue Rang Ancient Coffee of Ms. Maekuesong,” “Kadae of Village 4,” and “Kopi of Ban Bua Thong by Ms. Bukhari Daumae from Village 2,” including one community enterprise “Gopimas Farmers’ Housewives Community Enterprise of Village 2 by Ms. Muye Sama.”
These occupation groups are the driving force of the traditional coffee business, and most of the leaders are women. This traditional coffee bean business generates a small amount of annual income for individual entrepreneur/group, averaging in the thousands of baht and not exceeding ten thousand baht. The price of traditional roast coffee is 300-400 THB per kilogram and one person is capable of producing ten kilograms of coffee per year. Each member’s income will depend on the amount of coffee they can make. In one day, a person can make around 2-3 kilogram of coffee. Despite a modest sum of money, this ancient coffee making is a popular practice among the local after the harvest season and is a good source of extra income. The unique production techniques, especially the firewood roasting and the hand pounding with a wood mortar, are unique and can increase the value of the product with a potential to make coffee making a main and stable source of income. Villagers can develop products in many ways, build brands, and increase sales through storytelling or give out traditional roasting demonstrations as part of cultural and eco-tourism activities.
One of the groups I spoke with said that during the 15 years of their traditional coffee enterprise, they have been facing with 3 main concerns.
The first concern is the high price of raw materials. The government’s cash crop policy is always changing depending on the prices of world produce in each era. The local had to cut down coffee trees and change the types of crops they grow to follow the government’s policies and development plans. Without the coffee plants, they have to buy coffee beans from outside and bear higher costs. However, thanks to the government’s coffee-growing promotion policy, community enterprises are looking forward to new batches of coffee beans cultivated locally.
The second concern is the old-fashioned way of communication and marketing techniques that the community enterprises are familiar with, such as selling at Red Cross events or government-hosted trade expositions. They do sell the products on Facebook pages, but they are still lacking in terms of tricks/strategies and continuity in communication, and they have not assigned page administrators, unlike the Sri Baru group which makes salted threadfin fish in Bangtawa, which makes sure that the page administrator is always standing by and their Facebook Live is fun and engaging. But for the enterprises in Ban Rae, “We used to do Facebook Live once to sell our coffee on Facebook but we gave up because we were embarrassed,” said one of the participants from a women’s group. The communication ability is another interesting factor that really sets each community enterprise apart.
The third concern is the lack of successors. This is a common challenge faced by many local businesses in this research. Young people have different dreams and paths of life, especially since most of them work outside their hometown. “The younger generation is not interested in making traditional coffee because it is tiring and slow,” said one participant. It is unlikely that anyone will preserve this coffee business and 15 years is long enough for the group to lose some of its members.
Still, there are a number of young people who recognize the opportunities of this fundamental economic activity and are determined to build on the legacy and the cultural capital of their home communities. This will be discussed in the next section.
Focus group discussions
Mae-kue-song Kader. Ban Rae Subdistrict, Than To District, Yala Province, February 20, 2021.
Ali Yiman. Ban Rae Subdistrict, Than To District, Yala Province, February 20, 2021.
Romue-la Yumor. Ban Rae Subdistrict, Than To District, Yala Province, February 20, 2021.
Patiroh Mee. Ban Rae Subdistrict, Than To District, Yala Province, February 20, 2021.
“Institute for Peace Studies, Prince of Songkhla University with the United Nations Development Program…,” Institute for Peace Studies, Prince of Songkhla University. Accessed on June 26, 2021 on http://www.peacestudies.psu.ac.th/en/article/activity-ips/58-sdgs-2.html.
This story is the seventh of mini series on “Food Dialogue for Social Cohesion” written by Mr. Arthit Thongin as a part of the independent research under the Southern Thailand Social Innovation Platform initiated by UNDP
Disclaimer: “The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or the UN Member States.”