I’m feeling pretty old right now. Turns out I’m older than commercial coffee production in China.  2018 marks only the 30th anniversary of large scale coffee cultivation there. Unlike top coffee producing countries like Colombia and Vietnam, who have been mass producing coffee for over a hundred years, China is the new kid on the block. Despite this late start, China’s production skyrocketed to 13th in the world in 2017 thanks to the investment of international coffee giants like Nestle and Starbucks.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything to us at the roastery in Philadelphia. That scale of those purchases generally puts it into the commodity coffee. Often, the quality of commodity coffee is far below what we would find acceptable for production in any of our blends and it’s especially below expectations for single origin coffees.

The price paid for commodity coffee is based on how coffee stocks are being traded on the New York Stock Exchange. That means that when speculators are trading coffee related stocks, it determines  the price that is paid to producers all over the world regardless of the actual value of the producer’s coffee. This often creates a price that is lower than what it actually costs in most countries to grow coffee. This method of pricing leaves millions of people around the world struggling to survive when they’re producing coffee that we consume and enjoy every day.

Although this system exemplifies the exploitative nature of the current global economy, there may be something that we can take away as a positive result. Since producers are seeking to be fairly compensated and avoid market volatility they may bypass the commodity market by producing higher quality coffee. Coffee that meets higher standards of quality can be classified as Specialty coffee. Specialty coffee is priced well above the commodity market and the amount paid to the producer is based on the quality score that their coffee receives when evaluated by certified professionals. So, as the commodity market leaves behind many producers unable to make ends meet it may push some into producing better tasting coffee for which they will be well compensated.

This is all the more reason why I’m so excited to be offering a single origin Chinese coffee. After 30 years of producing primarily commodity coffee, some producers there have moved towards specialty grade partly as a reaction to these market conditions. This specialty lot from Yunnan was produced by Li Guangyun and his wife Li Nanuo who have worked tirelessly to produce coffee that would meet strict specialty grade criteria. It’s unlike any I’ve had from China before. We’re lucky to be able to witness the emergence of a new origin in specialty coffee that displays a unique flavor profile that can only be the result of that specific time and place. Delicate, soft, sweet, and clean with notes of honey, tea, and fruit, China Yunnan is an incredible coffee for its taste and also for its significance.

Written by our head Workshop Roaster, Hugh Morretta.

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