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Testing Grounds: Is Chinese Coffee Ready for the Big Leagues?

After 30 years in the making, Yunnan province wants to take its brews to the world

I can smell the freshly ground beans that will go in my morning cup of coffee. Intertwined within it are recognizable aromas like nuts and chocolate, but some of the scents are new to me: Notes of honey, flowers, and berries swirl with the smell of books and wooden furnishings in this small coffee shop in Old Town Dali, the well-known tourist hub and hipster haven of China’s southwestern Yunnan province.

A barista approaches with my order in a round, transparent glass cup, much like a cup of tea. The coffee, too, is a pale, translucent red, looking more like black tea than the expected espresso. Abu, as the barista introduces herself, explains to me it’s a local brew from Baoshan city, the second most productive coffee-growing region in Yunnan. “The beans are very lightly roasted, which preserves this very strong floral scent and pale color,” she says.

It’s not this coffee snob’s idea of inky Italian espresso, but the local brew isn’t without its own pedigree. Coffee first came to Yunnan during the late 19th century, when a caffeine-loving French missionary, Father Alfred Lietard, also known as Tian Deneng (田德能), planted coffee trees outside of his church from a seedling he’d brought from France, and taught locals how to brew and make the drink. Today, in the village of Zhukula outside Dali, 24 century-old coffee trees still stand.

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Testing Grounds: Is Chinese Coffee Ready for the Big Leagues? is a story from our issue, “Sports for All.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Dragos C. Cacio

Dragos is the marketing director at The World of Chinese as well as a contributing author, documentary director/producer and coffee enthusiast. He is well versed digital economy, tech industry and paid media.

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