In the last several years, China has made extraordinary strides in the specialty-coffee realm. The country's coffee-related efforts have been focused on the Yunnan...Read the Whole Stories from the Field Post
Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) has a global staff that enables us to further our mission of improving the quality of coffee and the lives of people who produce it. Today we profile one of our staff members, Chengcheng Su, who serves as the manager of CQI’s operations in China.
Chengcheng Su knew early in her professional life that she wanted to work in the food industry, but it took her a while to narrow that focus to coffee. After earning her bachelor’s degree from China’s Zhejiang Gongshang University, Chengcheng (who goes by CC) received a scholarship from the European Union’s Erasmus Mundus program to study food innovation and product design for two years across Europe.
At the end of that program, she received offers from a couple of companies to do her master’s thesis—one involved experimenting on popsicles, while the other focused on sensory analysis on the Illycrema product with illycaffe. She opted for the latter option, despite not being much of a coffee drinker at the time. The rest, as they say, is history. “The four and a half months at illycaffe truly turned me into a coffee lover and made me want to work with coffee,” CC says today. “I loved the people there, I loved having my morning macchiato, and I loved how everything smelled like coffee.” From there she continued her coffee pursuits—and stayed in the Illy family—by attending Economics and Science of Coffee, a master program initiated by the Ernesto Illy Foundation.
While CC was earning her coffee education, China—the nation where she was born—was undergoing its own growth and transformation in the coffee realm. The nation focused its efforts in particular on developing coffee production in the Yunnan region, which now accounts for more than 98 percent of the coffee produced in China. Through these efforts, China has become a global coffee player: A USDA report released in December 2018 shows that China is the world’s ninth-largest arabica coffee producer, with 2 million bags (60kg) produced per year.
After finishing up at Illy, CC returned to China and soon took a job as the manager of the international communications department with Yunnan International Coffee Exchange (YCE), an organization that aims to facilitate the trade of coffee from Yunnan and elsewhere in Asia, and which now works closely with CQI. Following her experience at YCE, CC joined CQI three years ago, and currently serves as CQI’s China manager.
In her current job, CC plays a key role in managing CQI’s projects in China, which include tailored training and workshops for Yunnan producers on plant nutrition, post-harvest processing, cupping, cost of production, and more, helping farmers produce high-quality coffee in a consistent, cost-efficient way. CQI has also been providing comprehensive marketing and branding support to Yunnan since August of 2016 to raise people’s awareness and recognition of coffee from China, and to enhance the value and reputation of Yunnan coffee. A production and processing manual specifically for the Yunnan region has been developed by CQI consultants and staff and will be published later this year.
While CC has been managing CQI’s projects in China, the Q Program has seen an immense amount of growth in the country: There are currently over 1,000 Q Arabica Graders in China, and China will soon become the country with the most Q Graders in the world. CC has served as the translator for 13 Q Courses in China for 7 different Q Instructors. CC also helps support the development of the Q Processing program in Asia, which is attracting increased attention from coffee stakeholders across the supply chain there.
For CC, supporting CQI’s growth in China means she’s constantly on the move. “It’s a job that involves lots of travel—I have about 60 flights and 180 days outside of my home office per year on average,” she says, “and for half of those 180 days I am either in the coffee field with CQI consultants doing trainings and evaluations, in a meeting room with our partners in China discussing work plans, or at coffee trade shows, forums, or competitions.”
By working with CQI to improve quality in China’s coffee, CC is playing a key role in the country’s growth as a coffee sector, which she says is one of her favorite things about her role. The quality improvement in China’s coffee can be seen in the Best of Yunnan green coffee competition, where the average score of competing coffees has improved from 79.95 in 2015 to 82.13 in 2018, according to information from YCE. CC says she has observed many changes in Yunnan coffee that may have helped lead to this quality improvement. “During my dozens of visits to different farms in Yunnan over the past several years, I have seen an increase in raised beds being used, more natural and honey coffees being produced, and cleaner fermentation tanks and machines on farms,” she says. “I also see more producers attending our trainings, not only on agriculture and processing, but on cupping, and they are more familiar with specialty coffee than before.”
While all of this forward momentum for coffee in China keeps CC busy, she says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Life is short, and I believe we should work on things that interest and excite us,” she says. “That’s why I chose coffee.”
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