Better farming practices are being employed in some cases, and coffee is being planted at higher elevations than before. The cup is still quite basic in some ways, as the varieties planted, environment and altitudes do not culminate in creating a Central America type flavor profile, or other established origins. But it has a soft coffee quality, balanced, good body, and a modicum of acidity.
While there is China coffee production of robusta on the island of Hainan and in Fujian Province, most organized arabica coffee production is from 4 zones in the Yunnan province. So our experience has been entirely with Yunnan coffee.
Starting 10 years ago, we began receiving some interesting emails about Chinese Yunnan Arabica coffee. I had only cupped various types of commercial grade Yunnan coffees grown under 1000 meters.
The emails would read “You can order this coffee in whatever style you want : Central American wet-processed style , Brazilian semi washed or dry-processed style, Sumatran semi wet hull style. It is unique”. The fact is, until recently I have not found much of any flavor in these commercial coffees. It is suited toward the mass “industrial coffee market” meaning the R & G (roasted and ground) coffee market and institutional roasting.
I know that every origin that is newly introduced to the market piques the interest, but that doesn’t always make it good! Variety without quality is not really sustainable.
But more recently I received a sample of Yunnan coffee that was markedly better, a specialty-level coffee judging by the cupping results. It was from the ManLao River Plantation, that ranges from 3500-4500 feet, with the coffee coming from smallholder farms as well as a large estate. In fact the main focus of the project is to assist the adjacent farming communities.
The cup was clean, bright and had good sweetness, and was well processed. It was not a fresh new crop sample so it scored 84, but it could be an 85-86 point in the future.
Yunnan can produce good coffee, and sometimes it’s simply a matter of what you are exposed to that colors those perceptions about specific coffee origins.
Sadly for us, the program we were connected to ended, and since then we haven’t seen coffee with the same taste profile, or the same intention to provide a market to small scale producers. We hope to learn more about the quality potential of arabica coffee in China, and see what other zones might be able to produce good coffee!
Images in our gallery are courtesy of ManLao River Plantation, supplied when we last stocked their coffee. Sadly availability has been slim, and the local market is buying most of the production.