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Here’s Why Coffee Is Taking Over China’s Tea Heartland

In terms of hot beverages, when you think of China, you think of tea.

It could be green, white or the well-loved China black, which is often the base for many blends. Located in one of China’s most refined tea producing regions, the town of Pu’er has dared to break the mold and branch out into the world of coffee farming.

Breaking Tradition

Even though Pu’er is surrounded by a patchwork of tea plantations throughout their beautiful green mountains, producing a variety of China’s beloved tea close to the border of Laos, the climate is deemed to be perfect for growing Arabica beans.

The Evolution of Coffee in China

French missionaries crossed the border from Myanmar in the early 1900’s, bringing coffee with them for personal consumption, but it wasn’t until 1988 when Nestlé was approached by the Chinese government to assist with alleviating poverty by cultivating coffee in remote rural regions.

The first commercial plots emerged by 1994, with Nestlé working closely with local farmers, offering advice and incorporating guiding principles for economic, social and environmental responsibility.

Representatives of farmers and 25 ethnic minority groups like the Lahu and Wa now bring their crops to Nestlé’s Pu’er headquarters.

Farmers can monitor the process of sampling and grading via smartphone, ensuring transparency and eliminating the dark shadows of greedy middle-men.

One farmer advised that he used to grow tangerines, but he was tired of battling crop diseases, so he turned to coffee growing, which has a stable yield and no major disease. Millennials in China are moving away from tea and reaching for the buzz of coffee, which is feeding the demand.

The Ups and Downs of Coffee Production

China is now the 13th largest coffee producer in the world, with over 110,000 tons sold annually.

Although many industry experts are enamored with coffee produced in Yunnan, thanks to the elegant flavors and clean acidity, coffee prices are at a record low, creating a ripple effect of fluctuations while production costs are high.

Some farmers have veered away from commercial coffee and are focusing on special varieties and blends. Bespoke processes that create distinct flavors, such as the inclusion of cherries and other botanicals help farmers keep their heads above water, so innovation is key.

The fastest and most effective way to impact the production of quality coffee includes these post-harvesting processes, which paves the way for the evolution of Chinese coffee.

Facts and Figures

Considered to be a country of contradictions, China has booming populations and sparse rural communities in the South, with rich traditions and a cultural history that spans thousands of years.

To put that in perspective, the coffee growing industry is still in its infancy, although new processes allow for continued growth.

  • Coffee production increased in China by 21% between 1994 and 2004
  • Between 2004 and 2014 production grew another 21%
  • The main growing regions are Yunnan, Fukian and Hainan Island
  • 95% of Arabica coffee production in China is grown in Yunnan
  • The Pu’er Province produces nearly half of the country’s coffee beans
  • Germany is the main buyer of Chinese coffee

Although Chinese coffee is considered to be a relatively new industry, aficionados are raving about the unique flavors produced there. With more specialties and infusions on offer, China is well on the way to become a top source of premium blends as well as commercial grades for discerning coffee drinkers.

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