Lina Kamson didn’t always dream of starting a cafe. Heck, she didn’t even used to drink coffee. For the last few years, however, she’s been doing a lot of both. Kamson Coffee in San Rafael opened this spring.
Ever since its doors opened and its espresso machines turned on for the first time, Kamson Coffee has been winning customers over from other small-batch roasteries in the area. Its claim to fame? It only uses coffee grown in Thailand, and it’s the sole purveyor of Thai-grown coffee in the North Bay.
According to Kamson, northern Thailand grows fine, 100 percent-arabica coffee. Kamson Coffee serves it, and customers, Kamson says, are excited by both a new cafe in San Rafael and its niche, single-source product.
For Kamson, the story is more personal than just making coffee that tastes great. She was born and raised in a small village in northern Thailand. “Ever since I was young,” Kamson says, “I always wanted to do something in the hopes [of] help[ing] out people from the villages back home.”
Kamson Coffee is her chance to do it.
In rural, northern Thailand, it’s difficult to sustain a living because there’s a lack of economic opportunity, she says. “Originally,” Kamson says, “the hill tribes would grow opium. Eventually, the previous king, Rama 9, introduced coffee plants to reduce drug addiction and human trafficking.”
“I wasn’t a coffee drinker until I witnessed how hard the hill tribes work in order for us to hold a good cup of coffee,” she says. The workers, she says, handpick every coffee bean “at three in the morning, on uneven ground infested with mosquitoes and ants.”
Four years ago, after visiting the coffee farms in that region, Kamson—then a manager of an IT business—started dreaming about opening a cafe that only sold this coffee. She started the project in earnest a year later, taking classes about managing coffee bars and roasting beans.
Kamson then built a direct relationship with northern Thai micro coffee farms, which are supported by the agricultural department of Chiang Mai University.
“We are heavily involved with the university to engage with the farmers in hopes that it will serve as a sustainable alternative to the opium trade and human trafficking,” she says. “The results of our efforts create a fascinating experience in the cup, as well as healthy and prosperous communities at the origin.”
At first she was worried it would be difficult to break into the San Rafael coffee scene. But, she says, “we are serving a premium product with great customer service.”
Kamson hopes more people learn about, and learn to love, the taste of Thai coffee through drinking Kamson Coffee. The more people in the North Bay who drink Thai coffee, Kamson says, “the more support we will all receive.”
Kamson keeps the people who pick the coffee—and who inspired her to start the cafe—at the forefront of her mind. “Every time I drink my coffee, I make sure to appreciate it even more.”