A look into China coffee industry

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The Chinese country is mainly known for its production of tea which has quite a history. But despite its tea-drinking culture, China is in effect a coffee-producing country, now more than ever. Let’s have a look at its coffee history and the current situation of its coffee industry.

China coffee history

It may sound odd, but coffee in China was already introduced in the late 1800s when it was imported by a French missionary to Yunnan province. China Coffee didn’t get that far until the end of the second millennium when the country decided to invest in the coffee industry. Until that time, coffee was consumed at home, with mainly instant coffee bought from the groceries.

china coffeeCoffee was usually imported from abroad or at least grown from other countries.

Then, in the third millennial, the country started to follow the trend (third wave coffee): coffee businesses started to grow coffee within the country.

Chinese were encouraged to grow coffee so many roasteries came along by the necessity to get roasted beans from the green ones and to make them available not only for the export but also to consume within the country.

It was then in the third millennial that things started to change and China became a real coffee producing country.

China Coffee shops started to grow thanks to Starbucks, which is now said to build up a coffee shop every 15 minutes!

Then coffee shops increased in number so the demand too. Roasteries started to avoid the cost of transportation and duty as well by roasted their coffee thanks to the increase of the demand for speciality coffee.

The coffee industry is now raising in consumption thanks to the youngers and middle class that are willing to follow the western trend for a healthier lifestyle and not only for the economic growth. People are getting used to going to a coffee shop over a cup of coffee and not only anymore with any tea-based drink.

And although the demand seems much lower compared to Western countries, it’s just a matter of time (a few years) in where we are going to talk in greater number.

Coffee shops are riding the third wave, eliminating the automatic machine and brewing fresh coffee. China coffee industry is now having a lot of eyes on it.

Main challenges of the country

Farmers are now dealing with the global climate change which is the worst problem to tackle. Most of the farmers are using intensive farming techniques and the sun-growing coffee technique which is known to trigger several causes.

  • Firstly, global climate change has a severe impact on the prediction of when rains arrive. In the last couple of years, there haven’t been enough rains causing harsh condition. The cherries seem ripe from the outside but they look smaller and crispy (coffee plants can survive up to 3 weeks without water but then many of those risk to die);
  • Consequentially, a sun-growing coffee technique doesn’t help at all: coffee plants need shelter from the sunlight which is not only threatening the plants themselves but also the soil too. We know that drought affects soil preservation but a non-shade grown farm has a soil lacking nutrients, it’s much exposed to soil erosion so that it produces lower quality which is then sold for instant coffee. Unlike the shade-grown technique, a non-shade grown technique involves feeling the trees as it needs more room to grow to increase the production and to harvest and sell more coffees for the commodity market. Here’s to the point. It’s not always possible for a farmer to make his farm a shade-grown one as unpredictable weather can cause seasons with no harvest at all, making this technique too risky because even if it is of more quality it yields lower. The worrying consequence is that deforestation is the first thing that farmers do to increase their harvest and to expand even more their lands. But it’s just a matter of time (years) that these lands are going to have a bad ending. According to CIAT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, climate change will have made about half of the world’s coffee-producing land unsuitable by 2050 (that’s a pretty positive prediction). “Different studies show that the size of the areas suitable for coffee production will decrease significantly in the next 20 to 30 years because of climatic change,” said Annegret Brauss, project manager at the International Trade Centre in Geneva, where she is working on the climate resilience of international value chains in Africa. “The industry faces challenges from extreme weathers, such as the interruption of transport routes due to heavy rains or challenges in the coffee drying process due to increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.”
  • Deforestation causes the need to use pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides which contribute to soil depletion: in this condition, the exhausted soil cannot anymore absorb carbons and need to use chemical pesticides again. Fortunately, in the Yunnan Region, there is an increment of speciality coffee farms which are now growing their farm organically and are pushing the others to do the same.
    By diverging from the others, the Yunnan region is now benefiting from the shade-grown farming technique to create an ecosystem. This brings them to produce lower yields but with a focus on high-quality China coffee that can give them the power to set the price.

Coffee consumption in China is said to grow at a rate of 20 per cent per year.

As I said before, there’s plenty of room for the China coffee industry to grow, even because tea-farmers are now focussing in diversify the production by growing coffee plantations. Also, both cultivation can benefit from the shade-grown technique.

I’ll leave you here below with some related articles about shade-grown and sun-grown techniques, about soil preservation, the difference between the use of pesticides and bio-pesticides and the global climate change.

The Chinese coffee industry is becoming bigger and can no longer be ignored by the major players.

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1 thought on “A look into China coffee industry”

  1. You opened up China to me from the new “grain” side. Always ask friends to bring a new tea package. I’m a tea ceremony enthusiast. Chinese pu’er has long been my favourite, but Chinese coffee… this is something new. I immediately wanted to try a cup. Would you recommend which type to start with? I would be so thankful if you could share several options, and completely different. Thx.

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