A cup of coffee is not just a welcome pick-me-up — there’s a whole
culture based around the bean that plays a huge part in many people’s
lives. This Shanghai Daily column offers an introduction to coffee
culture: from bean varieties to famous producing areas; from brewing to
tasting to terminology; from the drink’s history to up-to-the-moment
city café choices. So make yourself a cup, relax and read on.
Casual coffee drinkers may be surprised to learn Yunnan Province is
becoming a major growing region of beans for their caffeine beverage of
Yunnan is no longer famous for its exquisite Pu’er tea, the Stone
Forest and other gorgeous landscapes. Media agencies such as Forbes, The
Economist, and the Financial Times have run features about the coffee
in Yunnan. The name Yunnan is now printed on the menu of single origin
coffee at hundreds of coffee shops across the country and is among the
most popular coffee beans sold online in China.
European missionaries planted the first coffee plant ever grown in
Yunnan more than 100 years. But the coffee didn’t earn much attention
until Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, started teaching farmers
in the province to grow coffee in 1988. Under the ongoing program,
Nestle provides training, scholarships and other support to farmers,
including purchasing coffee directly from them.
Meanwhile, Starbucks has partnered with the local government and set
up a joint venture with local companies in Yunnan. It also established a
farmer support center in 2012 to offer technical assistance to growers
and improve the quality of coffee beans. The coffee chain also sells
“South of Clouds Blend,” a Yunnan coffee.
Look for the term “Manlao” when perusing single origin coffee menus.
It refers to the Manlao River in Pu’er City. In 1997, project Manlao
River, a non-profit poverty alleviation program, was initiated by the
Yunnan government and a food company. The project aims to help poor
farmers find a new way to making a living. Under the project, thousands
of farmers have been relocated to a 10,000 hectare rainforest and
started working on organic farming, from which they earn more than
before. Manlao River Coffee is the first Chinese coffee to be used in
the World Barista Competition and features in many domestic and
It is said that around 98 percent of coffee produced in China is
grown in Yunnan. Most of the beans are exported. Many cafés around the
world have started using the beans in their espresso blends. Yunnan
coffee is gaining popularity in both domestic and overseas markets with
annual production equaling that of Costa Rica and totaling about one
tenth of Colombia’s output. The mild taste of Yunnan beans is
reminiscent of the beans from Honduras or Guatemala but the strong
chocolate aftertaste makes them distinct.
In major coffee growing areas such as Pu’er, Baoshan and Lincang,
October to February is the busiest season for farmers as they have to
handpick coffee cherries.
On the market you can now get both dry and wet processed beans. As
more and more international coffee companies have sought joint ventures
with local farms and cooperatives, the coffee industry in Yunnan is
booming on all front — growing, processing, roasting and distribution.
Yunnan coffee has also smashed the stereotype that the bulk of coffee
produced in Asia is Robusta — the variety used to make instant coffee.
World Barista Competition
Every year, champions representing more than 50 nations and regions
participate in the World Barista Competition, a pre-eminent
international coffee competition held in Seattle. Each competitor has to
prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four original signature
drinks to exacting standards in a 15-minute performance set to music.
The 2015 champion is Sasa Sestic from Australia while Chan Kwun Ho from
Hong Kong finished fourth.