Vientiane, Laos – Coffee in Laos

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Vientiane is the capital of Laos.  To me it felt like a laid back and smaller version of Chiang Mia with a small city vibe.  It is definitely the kind of place where one could be an expat. It is comfortable, small, and seems to have all the must have amenities one could need except for maybe high speed internet. I liked this place and maybe perhaps it was one of my favs in Laos.  Most travelers get a little bored here but I liked being able to walk down the street and get a great cup of coffee.  I don’t have to be zip-lining or going on some sort of tour every moment of the day.  I think as I get older, I get more comfortable with just enjoying life and observing things in more detail.  I like feeling the vibe of a place and really appreciating the ambiance of a location.

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The highlight for me in Vientiane was definitely finding Le Trio Coffee Roasting Company.  If you have been reading my blog, you know that I have a little obsession, okay maybe a big obsession with coffee.  I @#$ love it!  Now when I get into any town, I always research to see if there is a coffee shop in town? Actually I look for a coffee roaster.  One that pays particular attention to the minute details of perfection.  One that puts love and passion into each cup…okay this is getting weird…but you get the idea.  I really am particular about my cup of joe.  I will drink crap coffee too just like a beer connoisseur will drink not-so-great beer but there is something that emotionally excites me about drinking a blooming cup of coffee.  Finding excellent coffee on the road has been somewhat a difficult task.  Unfortunately, someone who I will say is the worst person in the world, invented instant coffee for the military way back when, and it caught on in Asia.  Thus far on my travels, instant coffee seems to be the major type of coffee that is available in Asia. My constant quest for finding my caffeine fix in each town leads me to places with an espresso machine. Often times the operators of these machines have little or no training how to use it and blast out the most nauseating over extracted bitter tasting espresso.  If you are covering up the taste with milk and sugar, then maybe it is tolerable.  For me, who likes my coffee pure and black, it is stomach churning.  Given that, many times that is the best that is available, so I do my best to choke down the cup.  Traveling, I have been drinking Americanos which is espresso and water.  It gives the feeling of a cup of coffee and is typically my best option but it is not my preferred brewing method.  I drink the Americano because I know they will or I hope will grind the beans.  The coffee beans go stale within 30 seconds of grinding.  If I order black coffee in Asia, many times they serve me instant coffee if I don’t order the Americano.

So when I searched for a coffee roaster in Vientiane, Laos, I found Le Trio Coffee Roasting Company.  Finding the name of the place and then finding the place is always a challenge.  It is not as easy in Asia where GPS and addresses don’t always match.  After knowing the name, I typically have to go on a mission to find it.  So when I finally found Le Trio, it was closed.  Another thing is that many coffee places in Asia don’t always open in the morning time so you have to wait later in the day. Rough for a morning person like me who prefers coffee early.  On this particular day, it was closed due to being sunday.  So I had to wait for another day and get my caffeine fix elsewhere.  Nevertheless, I came back the next day, and when I walked into the door, I saw some of my favorite Japanese coffee devices sitting on the counter.  Now the reason I look for coffee from roasters is that there is a better chance that they are obsessive about perfection like me.  They pay attention to every detail of a fine cup just as winemaker does in producing the finest bottle possible.  Every step of the way has a drastic influence and can alter the cup significantly.  How the coffee is grown? The soil? Shade grown or not? The type of bean?  How it is processed?  How it is shipped?  How it is stored? All these things affect the coffee! Coffee is complex!  And it is very easy to ruin a cup.  After the process stage, the brewing stage is equally complex and there are many factors.  Grind size? Water temp? Water to coffee ratio?  The pour?  Bean to water contact time? Method? The actual bean? and most importantly the love! A lot of things have to come together harmoniously to create a truly excellent cup of coffee. It is a science and art.  Getting back to the story, as I walked into Le Trio, and after I noticed the Hario devices, I looked up and saw a Probat roaster which is a favorite in the coffee world and much more expensive that most roasters.  I could go into detail of why it is a fav but let’s just make it simple, it makes an even roast.  The wall had a sign that stated the optimal temperature/humidity range with a thermometer and hygrometer.  Yes, this is what I am talking about!  Attention to detail!  Eyes childlike and wide open, I immediately screamed, “I want that!” and pointed to the Hario V-60 pour over device.  Now, I have numerous coffee devices at my home and love experimenting with new coffee devices.  Each one tastes different.  One makes the coffee more bold, one makes more crisp, one makes more clean, one makes more oily.  Each one brings different characteristics to the cup. I hate to hear I don’t like strong coffee or I like strong coffee.  Coffee measurements should be meticulously measured. Adding another scoop is a sign of not knowing proper coffee techniques.  Many do that and I use to do it to before I become a coffee-fanatic but it is wrong.  Over extracted, bitter, and strong should not be the goal. You want to bring out the correct coffee flavors of the beans.  The caramel, the nuttiness, the chocolate, the cherries, the fruitiness…like I said coffee is complex and you want to be able to taste these flavors.  Then using a particular device, you can adjust the style of the coffee but these measurements, temperature, gind size, and timing must be carefully balanced.  It takes a lot practice to master and one must know the taste of a correctly brewed cup to be able to replicate it. It really is an art and science, that must be carefully brewed with feeling and love, all the while paying attention to the science behind it. So one my favorites brewing methods, is a pour over coffee brewed on the Hario V60.  I have a few favorites.  This pour-over device takes a little more to master than some.  The cyclone funnel has grooves to keep the paper from the edge causing a vortex and that allows the water to permeate through the entire surface area of the paper by trickling down the sides.  The paper filter itself is unique and imported from Japan.  It feels almost clothlike to the touch and allows the oils to seep through into the cup creating a bold complex cup of coffee.  The bottom of the funnel is a larger hole to allow the paper and the bean to be the governor of speed of the pour.  That is why it takes a little more to master than most.  The pourer needs to have a feeling where they are at on the pour and keep the correct water to coffee contact to complete the brewing process at the correct time.

When I finally got my cup of coffee, it was everything that I was hoping for.  Halfway through the first cup, I immediately ordered another.  I would have kept ordering but my body physically can’t handle that much caffeine.

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The Hario V60 is the glass cone on the righthand side.

As I kept revisiting the place, the girl asked me what I thought of her cup and to be honest.  She said she is still trying to perfect her cup. I told her I could show her how I brew a cup and she said, “that would be great.” After nearly 4 months of travel and missing brewing beans, I got to brew a cup. It was really fun to show them my technique and it was even more fun to brew a cup again!! People ask me what I miss when traveling. I say friends, family, and coffee.

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The Laos and Communist flags flying over the boardwalk of the city.

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The nightly market here was a lot of fun.  This was the Laos shopping mall.  You could everything from shoes, underwear, phone accessories, and the lastest Lao fashion.  It wasn’t setup for tourist as there really weren’t too many walking around.  I find it so interesting and it really gives a feeling of what the styles are cool in the country.

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I love the tuk tuk.  As I travel, I meet interesting people.  In Myanmar, I met a guy who bought a tuk tuk in Laos, sooped it up with speakers and neon lights, and was driving around the country.  He said he would roll up to a small rural Laos villages blasting the latest Lao pop music with neon lights on.  The locals would all come out to check out what the heck was going on and then as you could imagine it turned into a wild party with the locals.  This is not his tuk tuk but I thought I would share his story.  3L3A2909

A view of one of the main streets in Vientiane.

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3L3A2987Everyone was exercising here.  Here’s a bunch of people doing some group fitness outside.  There were actually multiple groups working out. There is actually a lot of gyms as well in town.

 

Okay, so goodbye Laos.  Next stop to Vietnam where I will try to buy a motorbike and cruise around the country.

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