The coffee scene in Bhutan has come a long way from the days when instant coffee was the only option. In fact, a number of cafés and coffee shops has mushroomed in the capital, Thimphu and neighboring towns, Paro and Punakha, over the years. And these businesses are redefining the coffee culture in the country, with a fine blend of modern and local – making it possible for coffee lovers to explore a wide range of authentic homegrown coffee.
At the forefront of this new wave coffee is forty-five-year old Karma Chime, a tour operator turned entrepreneur – arguably Bhutan’s only coffeeprenuer and certified and trained roaster for now.
Surprisingly, Karma Chime’s passion for coffee was born in the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands during a trip in Europe. “I was amazed by how people in Utrecht had converted their traditional structures into coffee shops, offering high-quality coffee in a friendly, relaxing environment,” reminisces Karma.
He came back yearning to replicate the Utrecht model in Bhutan. In September 2016, he started Mountain Café in Paro. Located in the heart of Paro town, about 10 minutes drive from Paro International Airport, this multi-cuisine café is best known for its pure vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and Jain cuisines, and of course, a wide selection of freshly brewed coffee. He also owns a chain of cafés – Mountain Café & Roastery in Paro, Mountain Café at the arrival terminal of Paro International Airport, and Mountain Café Thimphu.
“Back then, we had to import coffee and the quality wasn’t that good. And tourists and guests who came to my café often complained,” says Karma Chime.
That’s when he started to toy with the idea of starting a local coffee farm and roastery to provide fresh, locally made coffee to his customers. He started researching about coffee roasting machines, which then took him to Bangalore, India, where he trained in coffee roasting for several months. He returned with coffee roasting skills and a roasting machine that costs him more than Nu 3 million (roughly US$ 35,300). In fact, Karma is the first and only trained and certified roast master in Bhutan. And that’s how Bhutan Mountain Coffee was born.
(Fun fact: The massive coffee roastery machine sits proudly at the Mountain Café & Roastery in Paro, just so you believe!)
Bhutan Mountain Coffee started a pilot project on a two-acre land in Nyimaling in Samtse at the peak of the pandemic. “It was unnerving to start something like this during the pandemic but this project really benefited the communities,” he says.
Bhutan Mountain Coffee sources coffee beans from farming communities spread across the southern foothills of Bhutan, primarily in Samtse Dzongkhag, creating a ready market for a produce that had no buyers until recently.
Karma Chime is developing a socially conscious, environment friendly community-based sustainable business model through establishment of community farmers’ groups of coffee growers. Today, more than 600 households in Samtse are part of this community group. Bhutan Mountain Coffee provides free seedlings and technical support to these groups.
Bhutan Mountain Coffee has a processing factory at Damdum Industrial Estate in Samtse where raw green beans are manually processed while the roasting and packaging are done in Paro. Its commercial product range includes House Blend Coffee, Premium Blend Coffee, Drip Coffee and Coffee brew bag suitable for trekking and camping. It also supplies in-flight coffee (brew bag) to Drukair, Bhutan’s national flag carrier.
As a producer of locally made premium coffee, Bhutan Mountain Coffee is struggling to meet the demand. Karma Chime hopes to expand coffee plantation to other parts of the country, increasing coffee beans production, and thus, increasing supply.
“We are also working towards organic certification for export. Ultimately, we want to produce and supply mountain coffee with special characteristics in terms of flavor and taste, and in the near future, start the fifth generation coffee trend in Bhutan,” says Karma Chime.
This may sound ambitious, but given his passion, it may just be possible!
To support this sustainable local business initiative, you can buy Bhutan Mountain Coffee products and gift bags from Mountain Café Paro, Mountain Café and Roastery in Paro, Mountain Café Thimphu, Mountain Café at Paro International Airport, and other stores around the country.