Q&A with Dustin Joseph on Community-Driven Thai Coffee
His Left Hand Coffee Roasters advocates sustainable growing practices and helps local farmers in northern Thailand.
US-born chef and entrepreneur Dustin Joseph never thought he would be professionally involved in coffee roasting, let alone making a positive social impact with it. His Left Hand Coffee Roasters brand helps local farmers in northern Thailand find distribution channels and bring awareness to their unique methods of roasting coffee beans.
Left Hand Coffee Roasters beans are sold to upscale restaurants and hotels around Thailand, including Eat Me Restaurant in Bangkok and the two-Michelin star French fine-dining restaurant Le Normandie at Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, among others.
Joseph brings a culinary background to the initiative. He is also the chef and owner of Cafecito, a popular Mexican brunch and coffee spot in Pai, and he was formerly the executive chef at Silhouette at Reverie Siam in Pai. His experiences over the years brought him into frequent contact with local coffee growers.
“It was a little sad to realise that they were growing all of this coffee, but didn’t really know what to do with it,” he said. “They didn’t have an outlet, distribution channels, or the full picture to go into processing and adding value to it.”
Dustin founded Left Hand Coffee Roasters with an aim to educate family-run farms on sustainability and to provide them with direct distribution in the market. We recently caught up with Dustin to discuss the importance of supporting local Thai coffee blends, as well as those who roast the beans—especially during this tumultuous time for the industry.
Impact-wise, how and why is it so important to recognise the significance of this coffee?
It’s not about the coffee, it’s more about the story for me. Coffee is just the opening point to open up a dialogue about all these issues that we face in the world. It’s a means to their livelihoods. A lot of this goes back to why Thailand is growing coffee in the first place. Because it’s an alternative cash crop to opium. It’s been around 40 or 50 years now that communities have been producing coffee, and they still haven’t elevated themselves, and it shows because a lot of the youth are in trouble due to drugs or prostitution. People had to survive and make ends meet.
What are some issues that your company faces in terms of production or distribution?
As a company, we are kind of visionaries in a sense, as we are thinking forward. We are trying to do something unique, so that’s always a hurdle. The issues really lie in education, but then the issues of logistics and working with these rural communities is hard. We need patience, we need to have a little empathy because a lot of these places don’t have traditional education systems, electricity or running water. They are people just wanting to day-by-day make enough money to survive, so we are trying to implement some longevity into it. And we need to make sure there is redistribution of wealth so that they can see where the money is going in the future for them to sustain.
Are there any steps you have taken to help those who are impacted by COVID-19?
Yes, we are lacking support from the government. A lot of people who won the best coffee [recognition] in Thailand, and put Thai coffee on the map, have been waiting for support and funds from various groups for a while now. I think all of that has kind of been cut. In general, we did a lot of givebacks. We’ve been working on projects with Sati Foundation, the Na Café group. Sati is working with underprivileged kids and refugee communities. So we’ve been doing projects with them. We’ve done our best to support people in need. We’ve rolled out a lot of specialty blends, or helped people curate products that they could sell when they’re not open for business. We’re giving back as much as we can feeding the people who need it the most right now.
What do you hope to achieve with LHCR later this year?
We are trying to do 100% compostable drip bags with handwoven fabric inside so it’s actually sustainable. The goal is to get back on our feet because the whole F&B industry is crumbling right now. Most restaurants have opened and closed several times in the last year and a half. Locally, it’s going to be tough. We all have to keep pushing and hope that we can get some people back in this country to set up companies here, and continue to grow Thailand’s industries. We need to start building a foundation that’s going to continue to put Thailand on the map for these kinds of things. We are looking at some collaborations or conscious retailers that would want to get on board with us—form some tighter collaborations and get some allies in this whole game.
For more information, visit Left Hand Coffee Roasters.