The number of coffee drinkers in China is on the rise. Today, coffee has firmly integrated itself into the daily lives of the younger generation across China. With the increasing popularity of coffee culture, local coffee emerges, and one of them is Yunnan coffee. Yunnan produces 98% of the country’s coffee, and when we talk about Chinese coffee we mostly mean Yunnan coffee. Yunnan is a good representation of Chinese coffee development and the position of Chinese coffee in the world.

The Romantic Origin

The aroma of Yunnan coffee has been known for hundreds of years, and it all started from the romantic lands of France when a French priest brought a coffee sprout into what is now Zhu Ku La village, Binchuan District, Dali City, Yunnan. This small sprout rooted itself deep into the Chinese culture, and this century old coffee tree still stands tucked away in the mysterious and peaceful village.

Long History Created By Nature

Yunnan grows a variety of coffees, including Arabica Catimor, Typica, and Bourbon. The unique geography high above sea level and the differences between the temperature during the night and day creates the original character of Yunnan coffee – “Fruity fragrance, rich but not bitter, and aromatic but not overwhelming”, reflecting the beauty of the Yunnan.

Yunnan covers a huge 98% of the coffee farms in China, so it is clear that most coffee in China is Yunnan coffee. Although it is not widely recognised throughout the world, it does rely heavily on export. But with the geographical advantage and the increasing quality, it is slowly putting itself on the world map as the representative of Chinese coffee. The statistic from Yunnan’s Department of Agriculture in 2012 show the total coffee growing area is 89,333 hectares, with the total production of 82,000 tons. This is an increase of 45.6% in coffee growing area and an increase of 26.1% in production, making Yunnan the biggest coffee growing, producing, and exporting province in China.

The predominant coffee growing areas in Yunnan are Baoshan, Dehong and Pu’er. The combined production of these areas is exported to countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan and several countries in Europe.

Baoshan: Xiaoli Coffee is a well-known Chinese coffee that originated in Baoshan. Coffee took its first steps here in the late 1950s and quickly received positive feedback from London. In December 2010, Baoshan Xiaoli Coffee received A grade certification and was honoured as the product that reflects the geography of China after passing the processes conducted by China’s National Standard Authority.

Dehong prefecture: the place where Chinese coffee was born. The area is 1,000 -1600 metres above sea level and covers a huge 2,000 hectares of coffee plantation. More importantly, most coffees are organically grown here, making it one of the best quality coffee in the world.

Pu’er – The Coffee Capital:

In 2012, Pu’er had a total of 43,333 hectares of planting  area and 18,000 hectares of coffee harvesting area, producing 36,500 tons of coffee of which 24,700 tons were exported. There are 70 registered businesses, 30,000 households, and around 1 million people in Pu’er’s coffee industry. Apart from being known as “City of Millennium Tea”, Pu’er is an important coffee producing region in China with the most plantation area, highest production and best quality. It is also an important distributing centre for international coffee businesses.

In 2013, China Fruit Marketing Association (CFMA) officially announced Pu’er as “The Coffee Capital of China”. A local barista competition was organised to select the representative for national competition leading on to the World Barista Championships. This announcement marks a new era of Pu’er’s coffee history.

Tracing Yunnan Coffee Culture

Although Yunnan is China’s largest coffee producing region, we barely hear about its coffee culture compared to deeply rooted “Lao Ba Cha” or the tradition of “having coffee” in Hainan.

Tracing back to some of the coffee shop pioneers in Yunnan, we have to go back to 1887, when the war between China and France had just ended. The Qing Dynasty’s government signed an agreement which forced China to open the commercial port in Mengzi. This opened the door for foreign trade, and foreigners soon flocked into China. Vietnamese started to settle, and soon some of the oldest coffee shops like Nanmei Coffee Shop and Xin Yue Restaurant (now called Nanlaisheng) were born. In addition to coffee shops, Xin Yue Baker was also another western culture brought into China by Vietnamese immigrants.

Unfortunately, apart from Zhu Ku La Village in Dali district, most districts in Yunnan are still committed to the century-old tea culture, even in the district where coffee started.

If we explore deeper into Kunming – the prefectural city of Yunnan, we see a more modern coffee culture. To name a few: Salvador’s Coffee House settled on Kunming’s main cultural street for nearly a decade; the French Café, a French coffee shop on Wenlin Street; Chicago Coffee, a charming café and roaster; Coffee Break, a cozy café with a new taste of Korean style coffee; Kawana Café at Zhengyi Fashion Shopping Mall; and Full Cup Coffee at Wangfujing Shopping Mall. These cafés bring new coffee concepts to Kunming.

Starbucks first appeared in Kunming in 2011, quickly branching out with 3 more stores in the heart of Kunming and 2 more stores in Changshui Airport and Tropical Garden Plaza in 2012. While everything was happening in Kunming, Pu’er began to push out its own specialty coffee and the future seems bright for the Yunnan coffee industry.

Statistics show an increase of 20% in coffee consumption, fresh coffee consumption increased 30%, and there’s a 150% growth in coffee consumption in some provinces. In 2015, the estimated domestic coffee consumption in China should reach 200,000 tons and 500,000 tons in 2020. China is becoming one of the largest coffee consumers, and this rapid growth will encourage a more diverse development of coffee culture and cafés in China.

Rapid Coffee Development in Yunnan

In March 2011, institutions such as the Development and Reform Commission of Yunnan and the Yunnan Department of Agriculture established the Yunnan Coffee Industry Development Plan (2010-2020). The plan aims to lift Yunnan up to be the capital of quality coffee and the centre of the Chinese coffee industry, including coffee producing, manufacturing, and trading. By 2015, Yunnan will have 66,667 hectares of coffee farms, and the number will increase to 100,000 hectares by 2020.

One could say that China is the only country with a huge coffee farming area and an enormous market to supply it to. This reflects how far Chinese coffee has come and the importance of coffee industry in Yunnan. However, Yunnan coffee farmers are just doing it for the sake of survival. This raises problems such as incomplete production chain, careless processing, and lack of coffee variety. This non-skilled manufacturing and the lack of competitiveness is hurting the Yunnan coffee industry. We see great development in terms of farming area, but this rapid development also triggers new problems.

Yunnan coffee development was very limited until 1995, when Yunnan’s government officially listed coffee as one of 18 bio-engineering projects. It was a critical change in the coffee industry, and it was further stimulated with Yunnan’s quick coffee industry development scheme in 1998.

Aini, a corporation that has always been promoting Yunnan coffee to the world, set up a joint venture with Starbucks to improve Yunnan coffee quality and developed a complete quality management and control system. With its success, Yunnan coffee began to make a mark on the world stage.

In December 2012, the first Starbucks Coffee Grower Center in Asia was established in Pu’er, Yunnan, with the cooperation from Aini in terms of resources and technical support. The center promotes environmentally friendly coffee farming and processing to increase production and develop the quality of Yunnan coffee. At the same time, Starbucks – Aini’s coffee processing plant was officially opened, with 20,000 tons of processing capacity. Starbucks-Aini has been experimenting with 4 varieties of coffee on 650 hectares of Aini’s land across 8 different farms for the past 3 years, and if the project is a success, they plan to introduce these coffees to Yunnan.

Yunnan is integrating its resources and advantages to build its own unique identity with more sophisticated and advanced techniques. But this development must make room for quality to develop simultaneously. Otherwise, this “rapid development” would be just an illusion.

Story provided by:

coffee t&i Magazine, Asia

Author: Teresa Van, Coffee Lover

Shanghai Walton Concepts Co. Ltd


Previous articleCafe Technology
Next articleWhy choose the wood roasting process?