A Slice of Chiang Mai

A Slice of Chiang Mai

I traveled to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand in late March for my first Mission Co-Worker visiting trip.  I was met by Becky Mann, a good friend of my family, but whom I had never before met.  Becky took me to the Lanna Café, the coffee house on the grounds where she and her husband, Mike, work.  They treated me to khao pad (fried rice) and an orange fruit shake, since I avoid caffeine and there’s no Lanna decaf – yet.  Lanna Coffee is produced by a co-op of Thai ethnic groups that live in the mountains and grow and sell coffee with the help of Mission Co-Workers who are connected to the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT).  Several groups participate in this project:  Hmong, Lahu, Lisu, and Karen (pronounced Kuh-RENN).  Many Christians in the United States may know people from these backgrounds.  A number of Hmong folks settled in the U.S. after the Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia War, and many are in the Des Moines area where I lived and ministered for some years, as well as in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area.

The co-op that produces Lanna Coffee is the very first fair trade co-op to be developed in Thailand, and Mike and Becky Mann have been instrumental in its development.  Mike and Becky are following in the footsteps of Mike’s father, Dick Mann, an agricultural missionary of my parents’ generation, and one of the first people to introduce coffee-growing to the mountains of Thailand, 40-some years ago.

Traditionally, the indigenous tribal groups, like minorities around the world, have been among the poorest economically, and have found themselves living on land almost unsuitable to grow rice – Thailand’s premier crop.  Some were reduced to growing opium.  But in recent years, many have learned that they live on just the right soil to grow the best Arabica coffee beans.  This has meant a good number of villages gaining running water, sanitation, and better health care and education.

So, what does the name “Lanna” mean?  It refers to the name of the kingdom that was the northern part of Thailand some centuries ago.  It means “Land of a Million Rice Fields,” I’m told.  Lanna is the same coffee that Starbucks sells in its Muan Jai (that is, “wholehearted happiness”) blend, which can be bought at the Starbucks Store online.

I was able to see some of the coffee processing equipment and learn about “honey” coffee.  Only some of the coffee gets to be “honey” coffee.  These are beans that are dry-processed—which take longer, but results in a richer flavor and a lovely toasted brown color.  No actual honey is involved. 

It was a joy to visit with the Manns, not least because Mike spent 2 years living with my parents and bunking with my younger brother and another MK (missionary kid) when all three were finishing high school in Bangkok.

My second Mission Co-Worker visit was on my second day, when I met with Rev. Matt Mann in the lobby.  Matt is the younger brother of Mike and, along with his wife, Lori, and their kids, has been working in Thailand for 25 years. Of course, this doesn’t count all of their growing-up years in Thailand.  Matt works with indigenous groups, as well—both in agriculture development and in training evangelists.  Some of Matt and Lori’s work is very delicate, involving oppressed and exploited people, so I’m not able to go into detail, other than to ask for prayer and support.

Matt and I walked down Rattanakosin Rd., to a coffee shop at the InSpire Hotel.  Toward the end of our conversation, the heavens opened up, and we had a downpour.

The thing is, the rainy season doesn’t come until June, and Chiang Mai hadn’t seen more than a couple of rains since Christmas.  At the same time, it was burning season—a time when the slash-and-burn farmers throughout southeast Asia are setting fire to their fields.  It’s not totally legal, but the law is not strongly enforced either.  The papers had been saying that it was the worst burning season on record for particulate pollution in the air.  No one had seen the mountain next to Chiang Mai (a rather tall hill, actually), for a couple of weeks.  The rain was desperately needed.

I could certainly testify to the need for rain, since my throat was already sore from the pollution.  At any rate, while Matt and I were talking, the coffee shop roof began to leak.  We kept right on visiting while the proprietors set buckets out all over the shop.  I had to move the chair next to me so its cushion wouldn’t be dripped on.  But neither one of us was in any mood to complain.  It just felt great. 

That night, after the rain had quit, I was able to look up and see the moon and even some stars.  The air had cooled from the 90s to the mid-70s.  I can see why there are people who prefer Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

I was grateful that my current work sometimes consists of family reunions!

Anne Gregory serves with the Church of Christ in Thailand. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.