Coffee Culture In China: A Rise Of The Caffeinated Renaissance

Chinese Coffee Culture

The Evolution of Coffee Culture in China

China’s affair with coffee started in the late 19th century when French missionaries planted the first coffee trees in Yunnan Province. Over time, coffee has evolved from being a luxury commodity to an integral part of contemporary Chinese culture. The story of coffee’s integration into Chinese society is as rich and captivating as the tales of the Silk Road.

Yunnan: The Coffee Production Hub

Yunnan Province, a picturesque region in southwestern China, is the heartland of the nation’s coffee production. This area is blessed with the ideal climate, altitude, and soil conditions for growing high-quality Arabica beans. Coffee production in Yunnan has changed significantly over the years. Over the last two decades, coffee production in Yunnan has increased by more than 1,000%, reaching 131 metric tons in 2021.

However, demand has outstripped supply, and coffee bean prices have doubled, rising from 16 yuan a kilogram to 302. The government has encouraged a focus on higher quality coffee production in Yunnan. Chinese beans have started to cultivate a reputation for distinct characteristics on the international market. In the first half of 2022, Yunnan Province witnessed historic expansion of its coffee industry, and the average price of raw coffee beans has increased.

Coffee Culture In China
Coffee Plantation Yunnan Province

Sustainability in Chinese Coffee Farming

At the core of China’s coffee farming practices is the emphasis on sustainable development. Many coffee farms are certified by international organizations, such as Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance, ensuring that the coffee industry adheres to environmentally friendly practices and supports the livelihood of local farmers. Yunnan planed to have more than 4,600 hectares of organic coffee farms using only organic fertiliser and bio-pesticides, and with more shade trees to promote biodiversity by 2020. Starbucks China is joining with others to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product.

As China’s middle class expands and urbanization continues, the demand for coffee has surged. The younger generation, in particular, has embraced coffee culture, leading to a caffeinated renaissance across the nation. While instant coffee still dominates the market, the specialty coffee segment has experienced rapid growth, offering consumers a diverse range of flavours and experiences.

Coffee consumption in China is more about status than taste, and the most popular style of coffee for home use is instant coffee.

Export Prices of Chines Coffee
Export Prices of Chines Coffee

The Diverse Spectrum of Coffee Culture in China

China’s adoption of coffee and coffee culture has been a slow process, but it is now considered one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Coffee culture in China ranges from high-tech, top-tier cities that demand novelty and excitement to small farming communities where people may even grow the beans but have never consumed a single cup of Chinese coffee. Cafés in China are far more experimental, and it is all about the experience rather than a high-quality cup of coffee.

Blending Traditions: Chinese Ingredients in Coffee

A unique aspect of Chinese coffee culture is the incorporation of local ingredients. Cafés across the nation experiment with flavours such as wolfberries, osmanthus flowers, and even Sichuan peppercorns. A traditional Chinese coffee drink such as Yuanyang is a mixture of coffee and Hong Kong-style milk tea. Also The Green Tea Latte is a popular fusion of Western-style coffee and traditional Chinese tea, combining espresso with frothy green tea-infused milk. The rise of China’s new coffee culture has led to the introduction of local snacks to match the coffee, such as mung bean pastry and Mahua, a kind of fried dough food.

Urban Coffee Scenes: Beijing and Shanghai

Coffee culture in Beijing and Shanghai fits the fast-paced cosmopolitan character of those cities, with coffee shops lined up across these cities. China’s coffee culture is quite young, but it’s catching up fast, and the country has jumped in the past two decades. Starbucks and Costa Coffee have established a strong presence in major cities, while independent cafés and boutique roasteries continue to thrive, catering to a diverse range of tastes and preferences. The consumption of coffee in China is experiential, and the major cities speckled with coffee shops prove it every day

Mung Bean Pastry
Mung Bean Pastry

China’s Position in the Global Coffee Scene

China’s coffee production is rising, and Yunnan Province shares some of the same characteristics that enable producers in South America and Africa. In 2016 and 2017, China was among the top 20 worldwide producers of coffee, and 98% of the coffee grown in China comes from Yunnan province. The modern Chinese coffee cultivation industry began in 1988 when the Chinese government, World Bank, and the United Nations Development Programme jointly initiated a dedicated specialty coffee exporter. As domestic demand for coffee increases, China has also emerged as a major player in the global coffee market.

Economic and Cultural Impacts of Coffee in China

The coffee industry has become a significant contributor to China’s economy, and as domestic demand for coffee increases, China has also emerged as a major player in the global coffee market. The emergence of coffee in China represents the new dominance of a previously uniquely Western influence, and coffee itself serves as an exhibition of social status and cosmopolitanism. The coffee industry has also led to the rise of independent cafes that have emerged in recent years, which are represented by various projects.

Environmental Concerns and Sustainable Practices

There are questions about the sustainability of Yunnan’s coffee boom, and most of the coffee grown in Yunnan is sun-grown, which can put pressure on the environment, particularly water sources. A study done by Conservation International China indicates that coffee consumption in China has increased from 1 cup/person/year in 1990 to 13 cups/person/year in 2019, which can lead to environmental impacts. Starbucks is working with farmers to expand their ethical sourcing effort and investing in coffee communities to increase the prosperity and resiliency of 1 million farmers and workers who grow their coffee in coffee communities around the world.

Projects and Initiatives for Coffee Sustainability

The Environmental Impact Scoping on Coffee Production in Yunnan, China project, aims to achieve sustainability of coffee production in Pu’er, Yunnan Province, China, by overviewing the status quo of coffee plantation and processing, the local supply chain, and environmental challenges, to inform and incentivise stakeholders for concerted efforts to achieve sustainable coffee production in Pu’er, Yunnan Province, China.

Production in Volume in Thousand Bags
Production in Volume in Thousand Bags

Major Coffee Events in China

Some leading coffee events in China include Shanghai HOTELEX and the Shanghai Food and Hospitality China (FHC) festival. The Shanghai Coffee Festival is a heaven for foodies and a great place to discover new cafes. The annual coffee festival in Lujiazui has returned to a green oasis nestled among the skyscrapers near the Huangpu River. The Coffee and Foodie Festival is a four-day event that will be held at the National Convention & Exhibition Center, Shanghai, starting on May 29, 20231. Shanghai’s upcoming coffee festival will feature free tastings, specialty shops, a night market, and World Barista Championship qualifying events.

Anticipating the Future of Coffee in China

With the rise of specialty coffee, consumers are becoming more discerning and knowledgeable about the various aspects of coffee production and preparation. This heightened interest in quality and sustainability is expected to drive innovations in coffee farming, brewing techniques, and café experiences.

From its historical beginnings to its potential future innovations, coffee remains an integral part of Chinese culture. As the nation continues to evolve and adapt to global influences, coffee will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping