The quality of China’s coffee beans has made marked improvements in the last decade and may soon come into its own in the specialty coffee market.
Coffee production as well as coffee consumption have been increasing rapidly in China which is traditionally a tea drinking country. Meanwhile China may be eventually become the world’s largest coffee consumer.
China Coffee Facts
It was about one century ago when a French priest began cultivating coffee in the Yunnan valley region of China bordering Vietnam as well as Myanmar and Laos. The Yunnan region has elevations and a climate suitable for coffee production.
However the first significant coffee production in China began in 1998 when the Chinese government partnered with the World Bank and United Nations and coffee cultivation grew to 4,000 hectares.
Today more than 23,000 hectares of coffee are being grown in China and more than eighty percent China’s coffee harvest comes from Yunnan whose climate and geography has been compared to Indonesia and Colombia.
China Coffee Growing Regions
Current coffee production in Yunnan is more than 30,000 tons of green coffee beans (unroasted coffee beans) annually and increasing rapidly. In particular there is a significant increase cultivation of the higher grade Arabica coffee plant varietal.
Much of the Yunnan coffee is exported to Germany and Japan, but several years ago Starbucks began offering coffee drinks in its China shops that used coffee beans from Yunnan. In 2009 Starbucks collaborated with the Yunnan province and introduced a new Arabica coffee bean blend called South of the Clouds Blend.
Nestle has an instant coffee factory in Dongguan and much of the coffee processed there comes from Yunnan. Nestle opened a demonstration and experiment farm in the region in 1997 and has been training Yunnan coffee farmers in best practice methods.
While the Arabica coffee beans coming from Yunnan still suffer from quality concerns compared to some of Asia’s finer coffees (e.g. Sumatra Mandheling), continued improvements with a focus on quality will likely continue to improve overall quality as well as growth to China’s coffee industry.
China Coffee Market
Meanwhile China is a thriving emerging market with an estimated 150 million people that have an income considered from medium to high. This growing middle class includes many up-and-coming young professionals as well as well-educated people who now have more disposable income and are using it to sample the world’s gourmet coffees.
Some say the rapid rise in coffee consumption in China in recent years – estimated at up to 20% annually – is in part due to the wish to emulate Europeans and Americans. To many people in China Starbucks seems to be representative of China’s urban development and an authentic coffee culture that is symbolic of a new kind of modern living.
China is a large market for the best coffee beans in the world, with Chinese companies bidding above-and-beyond what North American, European and Australia companies will bid on some of the finest coffees on the market.
China Coffee Plant Varietals – Chinese Coffee
Previously much of China’s coffee harvest came from Bourbon and Typica varietal coffee plants that had been brought from Myanmar (Burma) in the 1950s.
Today about 70% of China’s coffee comes from a newer coffee plant hybrid varietal known as Catimor which is more resistant to the dreaded coffee rust that has plagued the plants.
This increase in the Catimor varietal was largely driven my coffee companies (e.g., Nestle) which provided coffee farmers with the plants as well as incentives and training. However the Catimor variety is not well-accepted in the specialty coffee market and increasing Arabica production is being undertaken in an effort to bring China to the gourmet coffee market.
Chinese Coffee Industry
China has numerous large, state-run coffee farms as well as many small farms and privately-owned large farms (up to 5,000 acres) that have contracts with large companies. Most China coffee is wet-processed and currently there is very little Certified Organic Coffee being grown.
Starbucks Coffee China
Starbucks increasing number of cafes in Beijing and elsewhere in China is helping to create a whole new breed of China coffee lovers who enjoy not only a cup of fresh-roasted and fresh-brewed Arabica coffee but also specialty coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.
China also recently announced plans to open 1,000 new stores in China in the next decade.
Starbucks opened its first store in China on January 11, 1999 at Beijing’s China World Trade Center. There are now more than 400 Starbucks stores in more than 30 cities in mainland China and more than 800 in Greater China.
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