By BURC MARUFLU & STEVEN LEE
The Chinese coffee market is booming, both as a consuming market, and increasingly as producing country as well! So much so that China is this year’s SCA Expo Portrait Country partner. Every year, the Portrait Country has the opportunity to introduce attendees to the coffees of their homeland at the Specialty Coffee Expo. Additionally, the selected origin has a significant role to play in other areas of the show including participation in panels, lectures entertainment, and social gatherings. This means that you will have many great opportunities to learn more about the dynamic Chinese coffee market.
A group of roasters, baristas, and coffee aficionados also recently got a chance to get to know China better on the SCA’s first origin trip to the country, which headed to Yunnan February 4-10. To learn more about the experience, we talked to two attendees, Steven Lee, a longtime volunteer and leader in the Roasters Guild, and Burc Maruflu, the CEO of Savaya Coffee Market in Tucson, Arizona. Here they are in their own words:
China was special, and quite different than other coffee growing regions I have been to. The things that stood out to me were the energy, excitement, and remarkable commitment of the people in Yunnan to take the coffee trade to the highest possible level.
The difference is that in many other established coffee growing countries, traditional farmers are having difficulty attracting the new generation to continue the work. In China, I saw a motivated and caring youth willing to get involved. They are actively involved in the Specialty Coffee movement, research the coffee growing practices from around the world, and are open to bring new techniques and technologies to their farms. They combine the new methods they learn with their local resources. Such as using the bamboo drying mats on their patios. They participate in the worldwide coffee events, understand how coffee can be consumed at its best, and employ practices that add value to their product.
I loved observing the remarkable interest in growing organic and sustainable coffee because it is very important to me personally. I tasted many coffees from the Boashan and Pu’er regions. They were mostly Catimor variety, in all kinds of processing methods. I saw that growers are constantly bringing in and planting new varieties. Because of this dedication, I predict the coffee availability will get more exciting in the next 3-5 years.
In general, the coffees had good body, nice texture and sweetness, and good chocolate and fruity flavors. They were lacking some acidity in comparison to, let’s say, Central American coffees in general. However, as they are cultivating the newer varieties, and perhaps with some hybrids derived from them, they may improve the acidity, and therefore achieve untraditional results and lead a change. I liked the beer fermented coffee in the White Tiger Mountain Coffee Plantation. t was interesting to learn that the mountain water, coming through Manlao River, used in the wash process was adding to the quality of the coffee produced, and even gave it a unique ginseng taste note.
This was my first trip to China, and one of the things that stood out to me most was the weather. This was one of the first coffee trips that I’ve been on where I was glad that I packed a jacket, sweater, and a scarf. This was one of the coldest trips that I had been on, but once you got out of the city and onto the farms, the familiarity of the landscape begins to set in. Overall the infrastructure in China is good; roads were above average, processing facilities are clean, well kept, and in some cases very well equipped (one dry mill had two optical sorters running in series—which is not usual, nor very affordable in many cases).
The trees were packed in pretty densely on some of the farms and that was a bit unusual to see as well. They are growing a lot of Catimor, and they were a bit more complex and sweet than other Catimor that I’ve had in the past…they may be benefiting from the colder climate—some studies indicate that there is a relationship between lower temperatures and higher sugar concentrations in some fruits during the second stage maturation period. Overall, with the Catimor, it is performing well and would serve well as a clean and sweet blender.
There were some other varieties that were being planted, and I think those were the coffees that excelled on the cupping table. There were a couple Bourbons from Beaton Coffee Co. in the Baoshan region that were particularly memorable. The Washed Bourbon had good clarity; notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, and a nice tangerine-like juiciness. The Natural Bourbon was interesting; blue fruit, strawberry, milk chocolate and a bit of lactic acid…it was a bit polarizing, for me anyway. Many of the Natural Processed coffees that I had there seemed a bit far over the edge and very punchy and in your face. They were interesting, for sure, but I found them a bit rustic and unrefined in their execution…like I said, a bit polarizing.
There are some very nice refined washed coffees coming out of China, there are some very wild dry processed coffees coming out of China, there are very nice qualities of all levels coming out of China. The potential of the Chinese coffee market is huge. And China is also a growing consumer base–in fact it is its own best customer, so prices are stabilizing for them and farmers can actually get pretty good prices on average for their coffee (the local market is often times higher than the export price).
My two cents, I think that people just need to try it and find out for themselves. In general, what everyone needs to know about coffee from China, is that it is good.