A villager picks coffee beans in Lisuo Village of Wa Autonomous County of Ximeng, southwest China's Yunnan Province, Dec. 21, 2020. (Xinhua/Wang Guansen)
by Xinhua writers Zhao Jiasong, Chen Qianci, Shu Meng
KUNMING, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Dong Laicheng's encounter with Martin Pollack, an American coffee enthusiast, has completely altered the trajectory of Dong's life.
"This cup of coffee made from honey processed beans is called 'honeydew beauty.' It contains flavors of avalanche rose, honeydew and ginseng fruit," said Dong, a coffee grower from southwest China, introducing the specialty to customers at Pollack's cafe.
Pollack came to China in 2008 and has since been engaged in the coffee industry. The American expat is married to a Chinese woman and can speak fluent Chinese. He set up the Torch Coffee Company in 2015 in the city of Pu'er in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Yunnan is the largest coffee plantation region in China, with its yield accounting for more than 98 percent of the country's total for years. According to the Yunnan provincial department of agriculture and rural affairs, 131,000 tonnes of coffee beans were produced in the province last year.
Pollack's company mainly deals in coffee bean sales and offers training related to the coffee industry. He and his coworkers have forged cooperation with local coffee planters in Yunnan and are committed to helping them promote quality coffee beans.
"The quantity of coffee beans I sold to Torch Coffee has increased from less than two tonnes last year to more than 10 tonnes this year," said Dong, adding that the price of fresh coffee cherries he bought from neighboring coffee farmers has also seen an increase from over 2 yuan (about 31 U.S. cents) per kg last year to 4 yuan this year.
The Xiaowazi Coffee Manor sees close collaboration with Torch Coffee. The estate was founded in 1997 by Liao Xiugui, an experienced coffee grower from Pu'er. Today, the 20-hectare estate offers a slew of coffee-related activities such as educational tours, sightseeing trips and coffee tasting events.
Torch Coffee also rents the manor premises for conducting training sessions and purchases raw beans from the estate as raw materials for training classes, while the manor sends workers and farmers to Torch Coffee in a bid to share coffee production skills.
"The chemical herbicide glyphosate has never been used in our estate in the past 24 years, and we always stick to manual deinsectization. The quality of our common commercial beans is very close to that of the specialty beans," said Liao Hongwen, son of Xiaowazi Coffee Manor's founder.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association, coffee that scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale is graded as "specialty."
"Coffee cupping certificates are crucial for most starters who have a consistent goal in the industry," said Pollack. In cupping, coffees are scored for aspects such as cleanness, sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel and aftertaste.
Torch Coffee has been providing training to those who aspire to become a "CQI (Coffee Quality Institute) Q-Arabica grader." It refers to an individual who is accredited by the CQI to grade and score coffees utilizing standards developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).
"When I have the cupping classes, my tongue is always numb, but I need to rinse my mouth repeatedly and continue practicing cupping," said a girl surnamed Li who was taking Pollack's class. She aspires to become a "cupper" and open her own cafe someday.
Li hails from rural Pu'er and grew up in a family that grew coffee plants for ornamental purposes. They did not know any other uses of coffee.
Pollack's company is not the only one in Pu'er that provides such training classes. The Yunnan International Coffee Exchange (YCE) also offers classes under the CQI Q grade system.
It was established in 2014 as a service platform for Yunnan coffee. YCE has changed the original sales mode of coffee beans as a primary agricultural product, while establishing a management mode focusing on specialty coffee auction and bulk transactions for commercial orders.
Liu Haifeng, manager of YCE's marketing department, said that coffee farmers in Yunnan could be easily influenced by the futures prices announced by the exchange based in New York, since the Chinese coffee yield is no more than two percent of the world's total. This indicates that the Chinese coffee industry has a weak voice when it comes to pricing.
In 2019, Pu'er city started to pilot an insurance program for the pricing of green coffee beans in the city, so as to reduce the burden on coffee producers, operators and growers, lessen the losses for coffee growers and merchants, consolidate the foundation of the local coffee industry, and promote the sustained and healthy development of the industry.
Ted Lingle, former executive director of the SCAA, who has been a senior consultant with the YCE since 2015, said Pu'er coffee is one of the best varieties of coffee in the world, coming with a strong taste and fine aroma.
Enchanted by the coffee varieties from Pu'er and Yunnan, Pollack launched a program to elaborate the features of different coffees in 12 regions of Yunnan. With more than 80 Q grader cuppers who are studying on over 300 samples, Pollack completed a "Yunnan Coffee Flavor Map" this year.
"I love Yunnan coffee, and I hope to tell farmers here that they have one of the best coffees in the world," said Pollack. "If their coffee beans have better quality and are recognized by more people, their income will increase as well." ■