Chinese Coffee Overview
It sounds strange that a tea-oriented country like China is becoming more known for growing outstanding specialty coffee. But it's true, although China entered the speciality coffee industry fairly recently. Coffee was first introduced to China in the late 19th century. The French setttlers brought coffee to Yunnan province, but the production was sitting on the sidelines for the better part of the century. In 1988 when the Chinese Government initiated a project to boost the coffee industry and with the support of larger companies like Nestlé, the production soared.
And while the Chinese tea tradition isn't going anywhere soon, coffee is slowly gaining popularity in China and all thanks to a surge in coffee consumptions among the younger generations of local people. Nowadays, Shanghai alone is home to over 6,500 coffee shops, with Starbucks and Costa Coffee taking the lead. For younger generations, coffee is more than just a beverage. It represents a status symbol, given that medium latte costs £3.17, while in London the same drink costs £2.60. And if you know that the average monthly wage in Shanghai is less then a third of average wage in London, you can understand why in China coffee is a luxury a lot of people just can't afford.
China almost exclusively grows Arabica coffee, which is predominantly grown in Yunnan province. Small amounts of Robusta are grown on the island of Hainan, south of China, and in Fujian province, southeast China.
Although Yunnan is known as a tea-growing region, a birthplace of the renowned 'Pu'er' tea, its mountainous landscape with altitudes around 2,000 meters and mild climate are perfect for growing exceptional coffee. Right in the middle of the coffee belt, this province borders Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos and stretches over 394,000 square kilometers.
We have been fortunate to have had some exceptions coffees from Yunna via our friends at Indochina Coffee.
China Lafu Coffee farm, picture by Indochina Coffee
Speciality coffee producers in China are focusing on a range of processing methods including washed, natural and honey processed coffees.
- Washed process - The fruit of the cherries is removed by water and machines, leaving only the seed (bean). Typically the coffee is then fermented either with or without water to remove any remaining mucilage.
- Natural process - The cherries are left to dry on patios or raised beds in the sun. It can take severl weeks for coffee to dry depending on layer thickness and weather conditions.
- Honey process - the outer layer of the cherry is removed, leaving only the mucilage which feels sticky and as it dries feels like honey. There are many variations of this method used.
The Yunnan province coffee can vary significantly depending on the varietal, altitude and processing method. We've tasted great coffees processed from Catimor trees as washed coffees but therea are also some really great natural and honey processed coffees. We've found the coffees typically showcase well balanced flavours with juicy fruit notes and really good sweetness. The washed coffees often taste very similar to coffees from central and south america.