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China's coffee region upgrades bean quality, livelihoods

Updated:2022-04-08 10:33:27   XinHua

Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2022 shows coffee beans at a coffee factory in Pu'er City, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Chen Xinbo)

One hundred and thirty years after the first coffee seed arrived in Pu'er City in southwest China's Yunnan Province, the city is seeing upgrades in the beans' quality and local livelihoods.

With the most acreage of coffee plantations -- 668,000 mu (around 44,530 hectares) in 2021 -- and the highest yield of coffee beans of 46,000 tonnes in China, Pu'er boasts one of the most suitable climates and geographies for planting coffee and is known as China's "coffee capital."

However, Pu'er's coffee plantation has long been regarded as inefficient with low productivity, situated at the lower end of the supply chain.

To reduce the price effect of raw materials, Pu'er is eyeing upgrading bean quality by developing specialty coffees.

Hua Runmei, whose parents were one of the earliest coffee farmers in her village, was concerned about the profitability decrease resulting from the price volatility.

After taking the pour-over coffee class, Hua realized that besides the washed coffee, coffee processed with honey or sun-dried would affect the bean's flavor and add extra value to the bean. This has encouraged her to take a step forward and make specialty coffee.

Hua then incentivized her fellow villagers to follow suit. She established her coffee plant and now operates nearly 1,000 mu of the coffee farm with other coffee farmers.

The development of organic specialty coffee has helped her village increase the coffee price to around 60 yuan (about 9.4 U.S. dollars) per kilogram.

"This price helped change the history that one kilogram of coffee beans was less valuable than a cup of coffee," said Hua.

To prove the quality of her beans, Hua has brought her beans to multiple coffee exhibitions and competitions ever since. They provide a venue for coffee planters to compete and showcase their high-quality coffee beans.

At the province's 2021 competition for green beans, over 95 percent of beans in the contest were graded as specialty coffee.

Photo taken on Feb. 22, 2022 shows workers baking coffee beans at a coffee factory in Pu'er City, southwest China's Yunnan Province. (Xinhua/Chen Xinbo)

Pu'er is gearing up for building a national production and processing center for high-quality coffee by international standards.

The city now has about 26,700 hectares of coffee fields certified by world-renowned coffee brands, such as Nestle and Starbucks.

As one of the earliest companies to set up its coffee farm in Pu'er, Nestle is now promoting high-quality coffee beans from Yunnan to the broader market with the increasing demand of Chinese consumers.

"Over 70 percent of our beans were exported overseas, but now 70 percent of them are sold domestically," said Zhang Xiong, deputy director of Pu'er's industrial development center of tea and coffee.

Following up with the new market opportunities, the price of coffee arabica in the province has increased to over 30 yuan per kilogram. Individual farmers' income from planting coffee rose to over 4,000 yuan in 2021, said data released by the industrial development center.

The price elevation also helped local farmers to improve their livelihoods amid the country's rural revitalization drive.

Paliang village in Pu'er's Menglian county has nearly 1,200 hectares of coffee farms. Coffee beans harvested here are sold to the nearby 54 coffee processing plants.

In return, those coffee plants would provide training for local farmers in coffee farming and harvesting, making every effort to increase farmers' income.

Na Nu, an ethnic Lahu descent in Paliang, sells her coffee fruits to a nearby coffee plant called Mengliandaya. She has earned over 40,000 yuan from her coffee farm so far this year.

"Na Nu is an exemplary coffee planter in her village," said Dong Yanmei, the vice chief of Mengliandaya. "When I first came to the village, villagers barely managed their coffee farms, and the yield per mu was low."

With training and improvement in coffee farming, Menglian county has now transitioned its coffee plantation from low-quality to specialty coffee. Every year, the company would pay over 5 million yuan to villagers for the coffee fruit. ■

Keywords:   Yunnan Coffee