Q&A: Megan Armstrong and Kyle Ducharme of Kao Jai Coffee

Batch:  To the land of make-believe we go.  Let’s say you’re stranded on an island (with survival essentials), but can have a single batch delivered to your new home.  What would be inside?  We won’t hold you to our “local” and “artisanal” commitments.  Literally anything goes here.

Meg & Kyle:  WiFi, computer & iPod.  Just kidding, but this was an answer a student of ours gave when we used a similar question as an icebreaker while teaching in Thailand. When we asked why, she looked at us as if we were stupid and said, “so I can send an SOS and listen to music while I wait.”

On a more serious note, we’d love bourbon, bonfire materials, and some good friends (if you can fit them in a box).

Batch:  People in boxes?  That is serious.  Interesting that you think the people you put in the box wouldn’t drink your bourbon en route.

So we did some extensive research (i.e. Google) and found no evidence of a decaffeinated Kao Jai blend or bean (not even a single bean).  So would you say that decaffeinated coffee is the worst innovation ever or merely in the top 5 of all-time terrible ideas?

Meg & Kyle:  Haha. Definitely. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Batch:  Okay.  This one’s sincere.  Tell us a bit about the Thai phrase “Kao Jai.”

Meg & Kyle:  “Kao Jai” is Thai for “understanding” or literally translated it means “to enter the heart.” It’s one of the first phrases we learned while living in Thailand.  It helped us gauge whether or not our students were following our lesson, and if they didn’t understand we’d be able to use games or in-class exercises to break it down for them.

Batch:  How do you envision this practice of relating to people playing out in Nashville?

Meg & Kyle:  We chose to name our business Kao Jai Coffee because we want to use coffee as a bridge to connect people, places, and products.  We want to encourage people to look beyond initial interactions and understand the “why” behind everything.  As embarrassing as it may sound, we didn’t know anything early on about the intricate process of growing and making coffee.  But because of our curiosity we were able to understand.  We want to bring this same mindset to Nashville and encourage people to use curiosity as fuel along the journey to understanding.

Batch:  Thanks to a lot of passionate folks (the two of you included) the local culinary scene and ways Nashvillians experience food and drink is undergoing a rapid change.  Imagine a world where Meg and Kyle run a restaurant or cafe. What are you serving?  

Meg & Kyle:  Our dream is to own a Thai-style cafe/restaurant where we’re able to showcase select healthy dishes from northern Thailand that we fell in love with abroad.  Spicy dishes like Khao Soi Gai (rice noodle soup), Som Tam (papaya salad), and Pad Kra Pao (basil chicken) would be featured alongside other authentic dishes found in the village where we lived.

Batch:  What are Megan and Kyle listening to?  What are you reading?  You have the morning (or evening) to yourself. It’s just you and your coffee.  Any particular music or books?

Meg & Kyle:  Anything Gregory Alan Isakov.  Kyle’s been binge listening to him for like 2 years.  So if he’s listening to it, the whole house is listening to it.  We both love reading books highlighting entrepreneur’s journeys.  Most recently we’ve read The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau and Start Something that Matters by TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie.

Batch:  Hop back into the Batch make-believe teleportation time machine again for a moment.  You can sip your favorite cup anywhere in the observable universe at anytime.  Where and when are you going?

Meg & Kyle:  Recently we’ve been learning about the history of Thai coffee and how the king introduced the first coffee plant in the late 70s to combat the opium trade in northern Thailand.  It would be super cool to go back in time to that exact moment with a cup of Kao Jai Coffee and be like, “this is what your future tastes like.”

Batch:  Last one.  Be honest.  You hate Starbucks, don’t you?

Meg & Kyle:  Haha...no hate from us.  Of course the pumpkin spice latte has no trace of actual pumpkin, so…

Batch:  It seems you are really taking a "Kao Jai" approach to this question.

Meg & Kyle:  We're extremely grateful for Starbucks being able to help support so many farmers around the world because of their size, but we'll definitely stick with supporting local shops.

Batch:  Haha.  That's very diplomatic of you.  Thanks for taking the time to chat and put up with our strange questions.

Meg & Kyle:  Our pleasure!  We love to partner with like-minded businesses that are passionate about buying local and supporting small business, so we're glad to be able to share our story through Batch.