CQI Expands Work in China

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Until recently, there hasn't been much interest in China as a producer of specialty coffee. Now, moves are being made and organizations are coming together to add China to the list of desired coffee purchasing regions.

Coffee in China? Where?

Most of China’s coffee is grown in the Yunnan province; bordering the coffee-rich countries of Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. Coffee was introduced to this region by french missionary Tian De Neng in 1904 who introduced a few plants to Yunnan in hopes to be able to have a small cup of coffee a day. Coffee was again introduced on a smaller, more experimental scale with plants from Burma. But it wasn’t until 1990, when Nestle's agronomy department planted the rust resistant Catimor varieties throughout Yunnan that coffee was turned into a major cash crop for China. Today, 98% of coffee in China is produced in Yunnan in roughly 90,000 hectares of land, producing around 138,000 metric tons of coffee annually (USDA).

The Catimor varieties introduced by Nestle are a natural hybrid containing arabica and disease-resistant robusta. These Catimor plants are easy to grow but are not typically the most attractive varieties for outstanding cupping profiles; rather they were originally planted for the soluble (instant) coffee supply chain. But there are regions in Yunnan where the same varieties produce much higher quality beans which means that Yunnan contains infinite potential for new varieties to be introduced and even higher quality potential to be unmasked.

What’s being done about it?

IMG_0879Refusing to let their coffee continue as standard-to-low grade, The Yunnan Flower Exchange, in congruence with local government and private investors, have supported the creation of the Yunnan Coffee Exchange (YCE) in 2014. The YCE is now one of the world’s largest coffee exchange centers and is built to enhance the quality and popularity of its coffee and to create new international markets. This impressive USD$9 million facility is just the jumping off point for Yunnan’s thriving future in specialty coffee (not to mention an additional USD$5 million to build an industrial park). In addition, the Coffee Association of Yunnan calculates an investment of over $480 million by various players over the next 10 years.

Where is all the money going?

IMG_0941Enter the Coffee Quality Institute. CQI has joined forces with YCE to help in improving the quality of coffee and the lives of the people who produce it. Working in cooperation with Ted Lingle to integrate international quality standards in the exchange, CQI’s role is to be the brains and action-takers behind the future success of Yunnan’s coffee quality improvement program. The goal of quality improvement in Yunnan is to ultimately increase earnings of coffee farmers and processors, who historically get the short end of the stick. Farmers are even intercropping to make more money out of the same land. Macadamia, mango, and Chinese banana are common intercrops from the field visit with Dr. Osgood earlier this year. CQI's own Chengcheng Su outlined in her master thesis that when coffee sales prices have become lower than the costs, farmers have had to switch to another crop in order to make money. CQI and YCE are working together to make sure this pattern stays in Yunnan’s past and doesn’t continue into the future of China’s coffee production.

That’s certainly not to say that all of this money is going to CQI; in fact most of it will be used to keep farms equipped, hire local leaders, and build necessary facilities. Although it is safe to say that CQI is an asset to the success of the program.

During CQI’s luncheon in April of 2016, YCE was a platinum sponsor. This allowed them to gain attention from the specialty coffee world by giving them a platform from which to spread their excitement and goals for China.

What are CQI’s plans?

-To improve coffee quality from the production level which has an impact on the perception in the market as well as productivity.

-To provide management for YCE promotional activities, establish a desirable origin brand and image and to establish a credible entrance into the international specialty coffee industry.

-To optimize processing practices by region in order to obtain differentiated, high quality cup profiles.

-To fully utilize the impressive YCE facilities and enable YCE to be the main center for coffee education and certification.

-In partnership with World Coffee Research (WCR), eventually introduce new varieties to the Yunnan province.

Although things are in the initial assessment stages at the moment, China is already turning heads after a world-record breaking bean sale of $189.32 per pound at the Specialty Coffee Auction in January 2015. China’s commitment to coffee from government and the private sector is unparalleled.

Look forward to new coffee varieties and flavors coming out of China and into your local specialty coffee shop. 

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