Coffee in Laos is cultivated almost exclusively in the Bolaven Plateau, located in the southern part of the Country. This Plateau is of volcanic origin and covers approximately 1.000 km2 at a height of between 300 and 1.500 meters above the sea level. Coffee is grown by about 20.000 families who live in 250 villages. Each family cultivate between 0,5 and 3 hectares of coffee plants thus making it an important source of income for many people in the area.
The first coffee plants were introduced into Laos between 1913 and 1916 but the experiment failed very quickly. In 1917, coffee plants (Arabica and Robusta), selected from Saigon’s botanical garden, were planted by the French at Thateng, a small village situated in the northern part of the Bolaven Plateau. These plants adapted well to the climate of the south Laotian province but, mainly due to lack of care, most of them did not survive.
Coffee production did not really develop until 1930 when an annual production of 5.000 tons of Arabica coffee was harvested. Twenty years later, in 1950, most of the coffee plants were destroyed by a combination of orange rust disease and severe frost. Production fell to less than 1.500 tons and farmers gradually replaced the Arabica plants with Robusta, by nature a more resistant variety to disease and low temperature.
In 1970, Laos had produced about 7.000 tons of coffee but production dropped sharply again during the war to 3.000 tons a year.
During the early 1980’s, farmers’ interest in coffee production had renewed and nowadays about 15.000 tons of coffee is produced in Laos, 95% of which is Robusta.
In 1993, a new variety of Arabica, resistant to the rust, was introduced on the Bolaven Plateau and more specifically into Champasak’s province. The experiment was very successful.