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!