May 31, 2023

When it comes to single origin specialty coffee, most people fix their gaze towards coffee-exporting giants such as Brazil, Colombia, or Kenya as the major players in the industry.

However, there is a hidden gem that is slowly but surely brewing a stellar reputation among coffee enthusiasts worldwide – Yunnan, China. We are incredibly lucky to be able to witness the emergence of a new origin within specialty coffee that offers such a unique flavour profile specific to the region- delicate, mild, sweet, and clean, Yunnan, China is the hidden gem we’ve all been waiting for!

Nestled in the southwestern region of China, Yunnan's lush tea-growing mountains, ideal coffee-growing climate, and rich cultural heritage have given rise to a flourishing but relatively young coffee industry.

So what exactly is it about 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?




The Basics:

Yunnan as a coffee-growing destination deserves all the recognition it can get. It is the birthplace of coffee cultivation in China, with historical records dating the first exportation of coffee plants into the region back to the late 19th century via French missionaries. The province of Yunnan is located in the southwest of China and hosts a population of approximately 48,000 people. Bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, this mountainous region is rich in natural resources and has the largest diversity of plant life in China, in particular tea which the region is famous for growing.

Yunnan produces most of the coffee grown in China, a whopping 95% to be precise! Large-scale coffee cultivation started in Yunnan in 1988, although its journey into specialty coffee production did not begin until around six years ago. 

With its high altitude, fertile soil, and optimal climate, Yunnan is an ideal environment for coffee cultivation. You’ll find Arabica varietals only in this single-origin hotspot! The temperature climate of Yunnan has historically been a hub for Pu’er tea  (a popular microbially fermented tea enjoyed all over China) cultivation due to the colder climates and high altitude. Now farmers are turning to coffee thanks to its high profitability, strong disease resistance and supply chain demand. 


A Flavour Profile Like No Other:

Yunnan's distinct mountainous geography in combination with the meticulous cultivation and processing techniques practiced by local farmers contributes to a truly unique flavour profile of its coffee. This is a coffee whose taste really reflects its terroir. A rich history of tea cultivation has impacted the soil of Yunnan farms, resulting in a distinctively sweet, mild and tea-like mouthfeel.

Yunnan coffee often exhibits a well-balanced cup with a medium body. Coffee lovers often describe Yunnan coffee as incredibly elegant with a clean acidity. The flavour notes can range from floral, fruity, nutty and hints of chocolate. Think black tea, baking chocolate, strawberries, cherries, nuts, and jasmine.

Yunnan coffee will often be on the sweeter side, complemented by a complex acidity (both malic and phosphoric). Phosphoric acid provides the unique bright acidic taste signatory to coffee while coffee with higher levels of Malic acid commonly tastes like apples and pear.

We’ve mentioned that Yunnan is a famous tea-growing destination in China. To be specific, the earthy, highly celebrated Pu’er tea. What gives Pu’er tea its exceptional and distinctive taste is the microbial fermentation process. Recently, the coffee world has been going wild over the abundance of scientific innovation on the coffee processing front out of Yunnan, China! Think funky fermented anaerobic processes, plus the anticipation for exciting new processing methods within the specialty coffee sector as we witness a crossover of tea-to-coffee cultivators.


Sustainability, Culture and Growth:

Coffee cultivation has massive potential in China. Today, China is the 13th biggest coffee producer in the world, jumping from 30th in 2006 and rising from zero output 30 years ago to over 110,000 tons annually today.

One of the key vantage points of Yunnan's coffee industry is its rigorous commitment to organic and sustainable practices. Many coffee farmers in the region have embraced environmentally friendly cultivation methods, such as shade-grown coffee and organic fertilizers. Prioritising sustainability means that Yunnan's coffee farmers not only preserve the fertile natural ecosystem but also produce beans that are free from harsh chemicals, resulting in a cleaner cup.

Yunnan's burgeoning coffee industry goes well beyond the beans themselves. This region is a melting pot of diverse ethnic cultures, with communities like the Bai, Yi, and Wa people contributing to the colourful tapestry of Yunnan's agricultural heritage. 

While Yunnan coffee is still relatively unknown compared to more established coffee regions, it is steadily gaining recognition on the global stage. We can thank a top-tier combination of excellent coffee quality, sustainable agricultural growth, lush climate, and innovative coffee processing practices. Yunnan, China has done well to capture the attention of international coffee buyers and roasters. As a result, Yunnan coffee is slowly but surely finding its footing on the shelves of specialty coffee shops and gaining a solid reputation in the industry. 




Yunnan, China might not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about specialty coffee single-origin destinations,  but it is, without a doubt, a rising star to be reckoned with, thanks to its extraordinary flavour profile, unique terroir, commitment to sustainability, and rich agricultural heritage. We are lucky enough to proudly present some amazing Yunnan coffee in this month’s espresso coffee feature. So broaden your coffee horizons because this single-origin newcomer will not disappoint!