Good Chinese Coffee: Does it Exist and What is it?

It’s the Year of the Rooster according to the recently celebrated Chinese New Year. It follows, then, that I have to ask–it’s pun-deniably inevitable if you will: does China have any coffee that’s worth crowing about?

If you’re still reading after that intro, thank you for your patience.

China is an ancient civilization and coffee is a miracle drug that hails from ancient civilizations. Chinese coffee, however, is not something you often hear about, if ever. Is that because of trade conditions, with China’s previous concrete isolation? Or is it because they’ve always preferred leaf water to ground-bean water? Or are we just slow on the uptake with our preferences for Africa and South America?

Does good Chinese coffee exist, what is it and where can it be found (besides China, obviously)?

It turns out the tea theory–one I blindly speculated before starting to research this piece–is probably the closest to the reason you are unfamiliar with Chinese coffee. China has centuries of tea production under its belt but has only really started entering the coffee industry in the past decade or so. Their coffee is coming out of southern China, close to Vietnam (which is a little more famous for its coffee, though more for its iced coffee than for its raw beans). They have become, not surprisingly, one of the most rapidly blooming coffee producers around the world since they started.

If you think this tea-loving country is slow to drink coffee in general, the prospect of finding specialty coffee, freshly roasted, or anything remotely third-wave is an even taller order–tall like really big, not tall like Starbucks. Most of their coffee consumption, we’re talking over 90% by some estimates, have historically been instant.

Like I said, their industry has burst onto the scene (with a slow start, as apparently coffee production really started in the late 1800s there). Some estimate that they now produce more coffee than Kenya, another country synonymous with the brew; in fact, some estimate that the country produces more than both Kenya and Tanzania altogether. The problem is their consistency as a coffee producer is lacking. The region of Yunnan produces mostly Arabica beans but they are reportedly of mediocre quality.

Yunnan is, by most accounts, the birthplace of Chinese tea. It goes without saying, then, that it’s the perfect place for their coffee industry to originate as well. In Yunnan, areas like Puer grow coffee and tea together, with coffee production increasing because of its profitability compared to more traditional crops like sugarcane. Coffee grown in this area is exposed to large amounts of sunlight; part of the issue here is that China has been in and out of drought in recent years, meaning that the budding coffee production has had troubles keeping up with demand.

China is a bit more of an area to pay attention to for coffee production, as it continues to grow; China is also an area where coffee popularity is growing approximately 15% annually, which means that if you export internationally, you could scope out the Chinese coffee industry. Starbucks and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, among others, have been paving the way for coffee popularity in the country. The average Chinese person still only drinks a handful of cups per year, but with their population and the steadily increasing popularity, the industry is definitely worth investing in.

Get into contact with the Specialty Coffee Association for the latest connects to the Chinese coffee industry–whether for importing or exporting. If you are planning on marketing to China, remember that PBFY.com offers some of the best priced customized label printing on their top-of-the-line packaging, most of which is optimal for keeping fresh-roasted coffee as fresh as possible!

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24 Comments

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  1. “…I have to ask–it’s pun-deniably inevitable if you will: does China have any coffee that’s worth crowing about?”-That is some great writing! I had no idea that there was even a Chinese presence in the coffee world. I wonder if the growing techniques that they have practiced for centuries (to grow tea) could be applied to coffee growing? Regardless, I found this post interesting and engaging!

  2. China is a great country and I know quite a bit about Chinese civilization and culture – but, I never heard of Chinese coffee before. I would like to experience a cup of Chinese coffee one day! I hope it tastes as great as tea from China.

  3. Well, anytime there is a business growing fast in an area, there must be a reason for it. Also, the market for coffee keeps expanding, not only in different countries, but in different tastes too. That’s why its no surprise that coffee ingredients can now be found in every corner of the world. Even the Asian countries, which many people don’t look at them as “coffee nations”.

  4. I’d never really thought of Chinese coffee even existing before reading this. I always love learning new things. Like you said, it probably comes from everyone immediately thinking of tea rather than coffee when it comes to China and the surrounding countries. I’ll have to try some if I can get the chance, though I’m not sure that I would enjoy it as much as their tea.

    • I hadn’t thought of it, either…I mean, who ever orders coffee at a Chinese restaurant, right? It’s all about the tea. I love that this blog expands our knowledge and helps us see the world in new ways. Considering the size and scope of a country and culture as huge as China, it’s a wonder that they aren’t famous for coffee. But maybe it’s just a matter of time?

  5. I guess there is a Chinese coffee, but I think that the taste is so horrible. Same with the Chinese herbal medicines. 🙂 But I know for some Chinese they do drink coffees and they love it. They prefer drinking Barako for its strong taste. This article is right, China market is a good way of expanding your business.

  6. Hmmm, I think it just goes to show that majority of the writers and readers of this blog are from the west. Chinese coffee has been around for a while in Asia. Chinese countries such as Taiwan are pretty popular for using coffee jelly with their iced coffee and tea, and some coffee variants even claim to have ginseng with them– an Asian twist perhaps to the caffeinated drink.
    Like all places, I don’t think it’s right to ask the question if good Chinese coffee exists. Coffee flavors vary from the climate of where the beans are produced. So beans that come from Kenya do not have the same flavor of that from Brazil.
    I think it’s more important to take in all the flavors and appreciate them for what they are than to pit them against other familiar coffee beans.
    Every coffee enthusiast knows this: every coffee bean is different, which makes discovering each and every flavor a delight.

    • I’ve never really heard of Chinese specialty coffee either. There’s asian blends, like you mentioned. The closest thing I know of Chinese coffee are those ready to drink ones, or instant ones that have a lot of tea infusions or herbal benefits. (They really love tea) It doesn’t taste that great, in my opinion, but it tends to be healthier than the other coffee blends out there.

  7. This is new, It actually never crossed my mind that Chinese coffee is something to think about, I always thought about tea rather than their coffee. All in all, it would be nice to try it once and see what it`s like. Although, I doubt it that it could be better than their tea, but we will see about that. 😀

  8. Interesting, and like everyone else I too, had never heard of Chinese coffee. I’m curious to know how it taste (and realize the best experience is first hand, in person!) Guess I better start booking my trip to China 😀

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