Saffron Coffee Shoot

From Mountain to Cup – The Journey of Saffron Coffee from Matt Brandon on Vimeo.

This last week I traveled to Luang Prabang, Laos. There’s a small but very significant social enterprise based there called, Saffron Coffee, that benefits both Laotian and tourist alike. Saffron Coffee is Lao-owned, Western managed and Lao staffed. The team that runs Saffron Coffee is a mix of Lao, American and Australian (I don’t think I left anyone out.)

Flying my borrowed DJI Inspire drone to shoot the footage for the video above.

Flying my borrowed DJI Inspire drone to shoot the footage for the video above.

Saffron Coffee contacted me a couple of months back and asked me to bid on a photo job. The company needed some new photos for an upcoming promotional campaign. I made a passing comment how I think that I might have a drone by the time they wanted to shoot in November. Apparently, the thought of drone footage sealed the deal; I got the job. The only problem was I didn’t have a drone yet. I wanted a small drone that was easy to fly and had a good camera. DJI just announced their new Mavic Pro and compact portable drone just days before. As it’s only the size of a water bottle, it fits perfectly in a backpack! Two weeks before I was to arrive in Laos, I received an email informing me the drone I ordered was back ordered for 6 to 8 weeks! What was I going to do? Penang is not like the U.S.; we don’t have places to rent drones or even camera gear. Luckily, Max, the guy I ordered the drone from was reluctantly (I don’t blame him) willing to rent me his personal DJI Inspire. The Inspire is massive and costly! He requested I not check it in the hold of the aircraft, so I schlepped this beast all the way from Penang to Luang Prabang as an unauthorized second-hand carry.

Here I am shooting video of a long black. I was very pleased with the focus of the 35 mm f/1,4 lens.

Here I am shooting video of a long black. I was very pleased with the focus of the 35 mm f/1,4 lens.

I was also shooting the new Fuji X-T2 as both a still camera and a video camera. Frankly, I was just as scared of using the X-T2 as a video camera as I was this borrowed drone. I knew the X-T2 would perform flawlessly as a still camera. I had just used it in Europe, and it was incredible. In the past, Fuji x-series cameras have never had a good reputation for their video, but everyone was telling me how the X-T2 can now shoot 4K video and was far more intuitive.

Well, they were right. The video function of the Fujifilm X-T2 was very impressive. It handled low light and high ISO like a champ. The manual focusing was easy and swift. Everything about it was close to perfect. I do need to clarify; I am NOT a videographer. So I can not speak to this as a pro, but as a newbie videographer it was easy to use, and I was very pleased with the results.

One of the many hill tribes farmers partnering with Saffron Coffee.

One of the many hill tribes farmers partnering with Saffron Coffee.

The coffee cherry is high in sugars and thus becomes quite sticky and will often cause the picker's hands to become covered in whatever it touches.

The coffee cherry is high in sugars and thus becomes quite sticky and will often cause the picker’s hands to become covered in whatever it touches.

The camera performed unbelievable as a still camera, though I never had any doubts about this. The focusing is faster than the X-T1, and the high ISO is very usable. My only issue was remembering that there is now a “un”-lock on the ISO and shutter speed dials. I would keep forgetting to relock it after changing the ISO or shutter speed, and the dial moves quite easily when not locked. So I found myself shooting at 800 ISO when I needed to be shooting more like 200 or 400. But since the X-T2 handles high ISO so well, it wasn’t really a problem. But I have yet developed that muscle memory to remember to relock the dials after I unlock them.

Som Phet inspecting the freshly pluped coffee beans.

Saffron Coffee employee Som Phet, inspecting the freshly pulped coffee beans.

 

Thongsai, shoveling the cherry husk. This will be dried and sold to make cascara tea.

Thongsai, shoveling the cherry husk. These husks will be dried and sold to make cascara tea.

 

I love my job. I get to work with amazing people from all around the world. The staff at Saffron Coffee are an amazing work for and with the Lao hill tribe farmers. A few years back the cash crop of Laos was poppies for opium. The Lao government shut down all the poppy farms and the farmers were left without any income. Illegal logging filled the income void for some farmers. The farmers can cut down trees and make some good money. They also grow rice as a cash crop, but that is seasonal. In the southern part of Laos people have been growing robusta and sub-standard Arabica coffee for years. The folks at Saffron Coffee saw all this as both an opportunity to help the farmers.

Som Phet, is a master roaster for Saffron Coffee.

Som Phet, is a master roaster for Saffron Coffee.

They knew that shade grown highland Arabica coffee could provide a constant income for Northern Lao hill tribes. The altitude and climate around Luang Prabang was perfect, and the people needed a new crop. Today Saffron Coffee is partnering with 784 farming families in 18 villages in growing their coffee. They make specialty coffees with the highest quality Arabica beans.

Coffee and it's lovely crema being extracted through a bottomless or naked portafilter.

Coffee and it’s lovely crema being extracted through a bottomless or naked portafilter.

The traditional Lao brew has been an important part of the country’s coffee culture for years – but Saffron Coffee doesn’t see why specialty coffee can’t find a home in Northern Laos as well.

Wallpaper: September 2010

Wallpaper: September 2010

 

 

This month’s wallpaper is for all you coffee lovers out there. A nice close up of some Sumatran Arabic coffee beans being roasted over an open fire. The smoke of the dark roast rising to through the beans. I hope you enjoy it and that the caffeine doesn’t keep you up at night. This month I am taking a suggestion from a knowledge management buddy and not over producing. So you get a one size fits all wallpaper. Enjoy and tell all your coffee buddies to drop by for a drink.

 

Multimedia: Lintang Coffee Millers of Sumatra

Hanging out a 2nd story window to get the shot.

Over the past week I have been up to my chest in tea plants and knee deep in coffee beans. I have slid muddy slopes on my butt down too many times to count and dug dirt out of my camera more than I care to think about. But I gotta say, it has been a great time. I have been able to get plenty of creative images for my client and I feel I have stretched my creativity and that is always a good thing.

Most of the trip has gone as planned. All but yesterday, when 10 minutes turned into the scariest part of the trip, on our way back to Palembang. We were only a few hours into our 10 hour trip back to the big city when we came around a bend in the road and found four large bamboo trees placed across the highway. Having lived in some pretty rough areas for most of my adult life, the first thing I thought was: bandits! Our driver gets out of the car just as I was telling him to continue to drive on over the trees, but he didn’t hear me and jumped out and started moving them off the road. About the same time a small van pulls up close behind us and four men jump out. They walk up to the bamboo and then look around. At first I thought they were just like us, travelers stopped by the road block. But then I see one of them has a pistol stuck in his pants behind his back. I suppose he might have been a plain clothed security officer of some sort. But the chances of a security officer appearing just at that moment is about like winning the lottery. About this time our driver finishes moving the large bamboo poles and and the man with the gun seems to show no interest in us. My heart is pounding as we drive off. Apparently, we were either not who they was looking for, or we were too much of a risk for them. Anyway I look at it I thank the Lord for watching over us.

The multimedia slide show below is on the Lintang Coffee Millers of Sumatra. The coffee millers hull the cherry, thus leaving the familiar much loved coffee bean. These millers spend all day hauling 220 lbs (100 kg) sacks of dried coffee cherries from trucks into their shop, up a ramp, dump them into a hopper, where they get sucked down through the hulling machine that removes the skin and fruit, and leaves the raw bean. This is just one step in the process of how we end up with rich dark Sumatran coffee. I hope you enjoy this peak at the Lintang Coffee Millers of Sumatra.