Spend a summer in Thailand!

Coffee, Chocolate, and Cannabis: Ecology, Production, and Ethnobotany

Spend your summer studying coffee, Chocolate, and Cannabis  in Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai, Thailand, is emerging as a global center for specialty coffee, artisanal chocolate, and medicinal cannabis. This course is a hands-on study of these three important crops, learning directly from farmers and local producers.

Coffee, chocolate, and cannabis are three significant crops traded and consumed worldwide.  While a lot of the course focuses on coffee, we also learn about  chocolate and cannabis to better understand the links between sustainable agricultural practices and cash crops for small holder farmers.

  • Coffee is both global and intensely local. This course examines coffee at both levels — from the local production in smallholder agriculture to production, trade, and consumption.
  • Chocolate production can be either sustainable or exploitative of both people and ecosystems. We will also look at how cacao is grown, processed, and the final production of artisanal chocolate.
  • Finally, Thailand is the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize cannabis for medicinal use, recognizing its longstanding role in traditional medicine. We will examine the challenges to production, including the role of small farmers, research institutions, clinical use, and the legal issues surrounding the emergent cannabis industry.

We will trace how coffee moves from “bean to cup” — examining the ecology, economics, production, and consumption of coffee. Building on 20 years of teaching about smallholder agriculture in Thailand, this course will experientially study coffee growing in the small farms of Northern Thailand, and then move into the production of coffee beans, roasting, and brewing. We will also examine the social and economic context of coffee production, and the business of coffee and cafes. The course is in partnership with Rx Cafe Chiang Mai.

The course will be based in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is emerging as an important center for coffee, artisanal chocolate, and medicinal cannabis  in Southeast Asia. Northern Thailand, in particular, has a long history of coffee production, including crop substitution projects as well as Royal Projects to assist the hill tribes to move out of opium production and into alternative and sustainable crop production. While initially coffee grown in Thailand was of low grade, over the last few years the quality of the coffee is increasing alongside an explosion of cafes in Chiang Mai and the region.

As a small but cosmopolitan city, the 700 year old city of Chiang Mai brings together ancient history with diverse cultures and traditions, with long term residents from around Asia and the rest of the world. The course will be based at ISDSI’s Chiang Mai campus, with excursions into the surrounding hills and farms, as well as the numerous cafes and business involved in coffee, cacao, and cannabis growing, production, and consumption.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the agroecology of coffee production in upland agroforests
  • Understand the key issues surrounding sustainability and coffee, especially in regards to the impact of climate change on coffee production
  • Understand the specific social and economic constraints and opportunities with small holder farmers in upland Southeast Asia
  • Have a working knowledge of the biology and ecology of coffee trees and beans
  • Be able to identify and explain each stage of coffee production, from harvest to drying to consumption
  • Understand the requirements for certification as “organic” and “fair trade” coffee and agricultural production more generally
  • Have a working knowledge of how cafes work as a business, and their role in coffee promotion and consumption
  • Understand the economics of coffee from farm purchase through to retail sales of beans
  • Have a practical understanding and skills in coffee roasting, cupping, brewing, and espresso preparation
  • Understand the process of chocolate production, from cacao pods, through fermentation to final production
  • Understand the legal and agroecological challenges of sustainable cannabis production, and its place in small holder agriculture in Thailand

Course Details

  • 4 credits
  • 4 weeks long
  • Based in Chiang Mai city with visits to villages and farms
  • Hands-on experiential learning
  • Focus on coffee, cacao, and cannabis production


  • $5,000 per student
  • Fees cover all food, lodging, excursions, and activities.
  • Fees do not include airfare and related expenses.

Selected Field Studies

  • Visits to artisanal roasters
  • Case studies of world class cafes
  • Field studies of coffee farms, cacao farms, and medicinal cannabis production farms
  • Farm visits and farm stays

Semester Deadlines

Fall Semester Deadline: March 15 / Spring Semester Deadline: October 15

After the deadline we will accept students on a space available basis, so contact us at [email protected]!

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