We’re a small, independent Australian partnership (John Mc Beath and Mary Flint) formed in 1994 to import coffee from Laos. We’re still importing from there, but we now also stock a range of coffees from elsewhere in the world, and recently we’ve devised special blends aimed at people on the net. We figured that our product and the internet should go perfectly together.
Initially we were based in Alice Springs (population 26,000) in the Northern Territory, but as the coffee business grew it became evident that we would need to relocate to a capital city. Since Mary came from Adelaide, South Australia, and it was also the closest capital outside the NT (1700kms from Alice) Adelaide got the nod. We made the move to historic Port Adelaide in June 1997.
Our operation is to store our coffee beans raw, roasting them only as required. We then immediately deepfreeze the whole roasted beans, and grind them to order, usually the same day they’re despatched. This way the crucial element of maximum freshness of the coffee is maintained.
Both partners of Cyber Coffee are confirmed coffee addicts, (strong black with no sugar frequently) and at least one is a part time nethead.
Who are we?
A short answer might be: Mary Flint and I are a pair of middle-aged caffeine cravers, willing to risk our money, with a great interest in Asia. That’s all true, but to flesh it out: I’ve been going to Asia since the early seventies, and lived in India for 4 years in the eighties, but I didn’t get to Laos until about 1994.
A coffee tree
My background has been in the computing industry and media, (Mary was an adult educator) and it was travel writing that first took me to Laos, the tiny land-locked country between Thailand and Vietnam. Having been addicted to the roasted bean since teenage days, I soon noticed that the delicious coffee I was served in Laos was a variety I’d never tasted before, and had never seen on sale in Australia. The locals usually brew their very darkly roasted coffee using a muslin bag, and add condensed milk and lots of sugar. Being a “no additives” drinker I had to quickly learn my first few Lao words: “black coffee with no sugar.” But when this order produced half a tumbler of thick, coal black caffeine syrup guaranteed to induce spasms of hyperactivity, I was obliged to learn my next Lao words: “hot water.” Diluting the heavy concentrate then made a very enjoyable cup (or more often tumbler) of flavoursome black coffee.
Harvesting beansI discovered that French colonials had planted coffee on the Bolaven Plateau in the south of the country around 100 years ago, and local farmers had kept the plantations going since independence in 1975. The germ of an idea began: why not try to export a trial quantity of green coffee beans to Australia? Mary and I went back to Laos the following year to organise it.
Anyone who’s imported produce from anywhere in the third world will understand the sorts of difficulties we ran into: establishing trustworthy contacts, dealing with corrupt bureaucrats, trying to shorten inevitable delays, learning our way through mountains of paperwork and coming to terms with different business styles and cultures. We had some great times, as well as some very frustrating ones, going right up into the plantations out from a remote village named Paksong in southern Laos, speaking with growers and coffee dealers, usually through an interpreter. One woman asked if we were Americans, saying if we had been she would refuse to deal with us: she could not forget six months of her childhood living in a cave to escape the American bombers who dumped enormous tonnages on Laos during the Vietnam war.
Villagers sorting beans in Laos
That was five years ago, and because of the interest and good response to the coffee, we’ve been back to Laos each year since, during the harvest in January and arranged further, larger shipments. We’ve been able to establish more reliable sources and no longer have to pay bribes. In fact the importation has become so streamlined that we can now get a coffee shipment from Laos to Australia in 6 to 8 weeks.