When it comes to single-origin specialty coffee, most people look to coffee-exporting giants such as Brazil, Colombia, or Kenya.
However, coffee beans from Yunnan, China are becoming more and more popular among coffee lovers. We have been very fortunate to witness the emergence of new origins in specialty coffee that offer such unique flavors to the region – delicate, mild, sweet, and clean.
Nestled in southwestern China, Yunnan’s lush tea-growing mountains, ideal coffee-growing climate, and rich cultural heritage have spawned a thriving but relatively young coffee industry.
So, what exactly is Yunnan coffee that is currently making waves in the specialty coffee scene, and why is this single origin a must-try for all coffee lovers?
Yunnan deserves recognition as a coffee-growing destination. It is the birthplace of coffee cultivation in China, with historical records dating back to the first export of coffee plants to the region by French missionaries in the late 19th century. Yunnan Province is located in Southwest China. Bordered by Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, the mountainous region is rich in natural resources and has the greatest biodiversity of plants in China, especially the tea that the region is famous for growing.
Yunnan produces most of the coffee grown in China, up to 95% to be exact! Large-scale coffee cultivation began in Yunnan in 1988, although its specialty coffee production journey did not begin until about six years ago.
Yunnan’s high altitude, fertile soil, and pleasant climate make it an ideal environment for growing coffee. Suitable for the Arabica variety, Yunnan’s temperate climate has historically been central to the cultivation of Pu’er (a popular microbiologically fermented tea enjoyed throughout China) due to its cold climate and high altitude. Now, farmers are turning to coffee because of its high profitability, strong disease resistance, and supply chain needs.
Distinctive Flavor Profile:
Yunnan’s unique mountainous geography combined with the careful cultivation and processing techniques of local farmers give its coffee a truly unique flavor profile. This is a coffee whose taste truly reflects its terroir. A rich history of tea growing has influenced the soils of Yunnan farms, resulting in a unique sweet, mild, and tea-like mouthfeel.
Coffee lovers often describe Yunnan coffee as incredibly elegant and with clean acidity. Flavors include floral, fruity, nutty, and chocolatey.
Yunnan coffees are generally sweeter, complemented by complex acidity (apple and phosphorus). Phosphoric acid gives coffee its distinctive bright acidic taste, and coffees with higher levels of maltic acid often taste like apples and pears.
Yunnan is a famous tea plantation area in China. Specifically, earthy, award-winning Pu-erh tea. It is the microbial fermentation process that gives Pu-erh tea its unique taste.
Sustainability, Culture, and Growth:
Coffee cultivation has huge potential in China. Today, China is the 13th largest coffee producer in the world, jumping from the 30th in 2006, from zero production 30 years ago to today’s annual production of more than 110,000 tons.
One of the key strengths of the Yunnan coffee industry is its rigorous commitment to organic and sustainable practices. Many coffee farmers in the region employ environmentally friendly growing methods such as shade-grown coffee and organic fertilizers. Prioritizing sustainability means Yunnan’s coffee farmers not only preserve a fertile natural ecosystem but also produce beans free of harsh chemicals, resulting in cleaner cups.
Yunnan’s booming coffee industry extends far beyond the beans themselves. The region is a melting pot of different ethnic cultures, with communities like the Bai, Yi, and Wa contributing to the colorful tapestry of Yunnan’s agricultural heritage.
While still relatively unknown compared to more established coffee regions, Yunnan coffee is steadily gaining recognition on the global stage. Yunnan, China is gradually attracting the attention of international coffee buyers and roasters and has gained a strong reputation in the industry.
Yunnan, China may not be the first place that comes to mind when considering a specialty coffee single-origin destination, but there is no doubt that it is unique due to its extraordinary flavors, unique terroir, commitment to sustainability, and rich agricultural heritage. Definitely a rising star.