KUNMING－One hundred and thirty years after the first coffee bean arrived in Pu'er city in Southwest China's Yunnan province, the quality of the beans grown there and local livelihoods have both been given a boost.
With the most acreage (about 44,530 hectares last year) and the highest yield of beans in the country (roughly 46,000 metric tons), Pu'er is blessed with one of the best suited climates and geographies for the crop and is known as China's coffee capital.
Despite this, its plantations have had a reputation for inefficiency and low productivity, placing the beans at the lower end of the supply chain.
To reduce the cost of raw materials, Pu'er aims to upgrade by developing specialty coffees.
Hua Runmei, whose parents were among the first to farm coffee in her village, became concerned about decreasing profitability due to fluctuations in prices.
After taking a pour-over coffee class, she realized that in addition to washed coffee, processing beans with honey or sun-drying them affected their flavor and added extra value. This encouraged her to try making specialty coffee.
Encouraging fellow villagers to follow suit, she set up a coffee plant that now oversees nearly 66.67 hectares of coffee grown in the village.
The development of specialty organic coffee has helped raise the price of beans the village produces to around 60 yuan ($9.40) per kilogram. "This changed the fact that 1 kg of coffee beans used to make us less than the price of a cup of coffee," Hua said.
To demonstrate the quality of her beans, Hua has taken them to coffee exhibitions and competitions, venues for planters to showcase their crops.
At the province's 2021 competition for green beans, over 95 percent of the entrants were in the specialty coffee category.
Pu'er is gearing up to build a national production and processing center to produce high-quality coffee to international standards.
There are about 6,700 hectares of coffee in the city certified by world-renowned coffee brands, including Nestle and Starbucks.
As one of the earliest companies to set up in Pu'er, Nestle is now promoting high-quality coffee beans from Yunnan to the broader market and is experiencing increasing demand from Chinese consumers.
"Over 70 percent of our beans used to be exported, but now 70 percent are sold domestically," said Zhang Xiong, deputy director of the city's industrial development center of tea and coffee.
According to data released by the center, by pursuing these new opportunities, the price of arabica beans has increased to over 30 yuan per kg, and individual incomes from planting coffee have risen to over 4,000 yuan, helping rural vitalization.
Paliang village in the city's Menglian county has nearly 1,200 hectares of coffee. Beans harvested there are sold to the 54 nearby processing plants.
In return, the plants offer training in growing and harvesting, helping farmers increase their incomes.
Na Nu, a member of the Lahu ethnic group in Paliang, sells her coffee berries to a nearby plant called Mengliandaya. She has earned over 40,000 yuan from her farm so far this year.
"Na Nu is an exemplary planter in her village," said Dong Yanmei, deputy chief of Mengliandaya. "When I first visited, villagers were barely able to manage their farms, and the yield per hectare was low."
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