Despatch from Yunnan International

The land of tea, transformed by coffee

Deep in the green interiors of Yunnan, better known for the origins of tea, it is now the turn of a coffee company to turn heads and raise eyebrows. The strong aroma of coffee is pervasive in the demonstration zone of Hogood Coffee, located in Yunnan’s Dehong prefecture, not far from the border with Myanmar. In the white building, kept spotlessly clean by a legion of workers, there are chambers where Arabica beans are roasted to perfection. In adjacent rooms, instant coffee is freeze dried.

Finally, a large cafeteria style hall, suitably painted in shades of brown and chocolate, opens out for visitors to taste the subtle flavours of the beverage. From the glass windows of the enclosure, the relaxed view of a water body, surrounded by tall trees, adds to the aromatic experience of savouring freshly ground coffee. But the question remains: why dabble in coffee, better known as a produce of Colombia, Brazil or Jamaica, and not tea, whose natural home is China?

Cao You Wang, a senior official from Hogood enterprise, has a few answers. “Coffee-growers look at height, sunlight, temperature variation and soil condition in deciding where to start cultivation. In all four aspects, Yunnan, in general, and our farms, in particular, are perfectly suitable.” Mr. Cao pointed out that the company grows coffee at a height of 1,600 metres, which is ideal for the plants to thrive. Volcanic soil of the area is another plus. Besides, Yunnan’s three coffee growing areas have an average daily temperature difference of 15-20 degree Celsius — a crucial factor that enables Hogood Coffee to outperform competitors, said Mr. Cao.

Like many other Chinese companies, Hogood has benefited from globalisation. Company officials say they sell their product to Starbucks and UCC. The tie-up with global brands has helped the enterprise to expand its sales footprint. Yet, the association also has had its flip side. “Because of the tie-ups, we are unable to establish Hogood as an independent international brand. We are making progress, acquiring necessary certification, but are still far away from our ultimate goal,” said Mr. Cao.

Anti-poverty drive

Nevertheless, the international brands have been, perhaps inadvertently, roped into Yunnan’s anti-poverty drive, which is focussing on bringing poor farmers and workers into market-driven, global supply chains. “Nearly 30,000 coffee farmers and 60,000 households have benefited from Hogood’s operations that cover more than 2,90,000 acres,” said Huang Xining, another official.

Yunnan is not unfamiliar with international coffee brands. Nestle, the Swiss food giant, is known to have established a presence in Yunnan’s coffee business since 1988. It has bought coffee beans from remote locations such as Puer and Xishuangbanna, not far from China’s border with Laos. The emergence of new transportation networks is also helping Yunnan to export coffee, especially to Europe. The Chongqing-Xinjiang-Europe international railway has now become the logistical lifeline for coffee exports to Europe.

Starting in Chongqing, a city on the upper Yangtze River, the 11,179-km railway line passes through Lanzhou in Gansu province. From there, it enters Xinjiang. The journey across the Alataw Pass brings the trains into Kazakhstan, before they head to Russia, Belarus and Poland, with Duisburg in Germany being the final destination. Before switching to cross-border trains, Hogood Coffee had to export its products by sea from Guangzhou. The journey by sea used to take 45 to 50 days. But the train has enabled the company to deliver goods to Europe in 14 days flat.

Atul Aneja works for The Hindu and is based in Beijing.

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 7:32:46 AM |

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