When I was still unfamiliar with coffee, on one chance day, a can of instant coffee from Yunnan appeared in my home. I had heard much about Nestlé’s three-in-one so when I saw this fashionable domestic product, I felt a vague yearning in my heart.
Later, by pure coincidence, I entered the coffee industry as a barista. A force continuously guided me up the river of the coffee industry.
In November of 2017, I came to Pu’er in Yunnan to study coffee tasting of which I was lucky to join the Mountain Man Project.
After two seasons of experience in roasting and processing dried bean shells as well as processing the raw coffee fruit, I participated in virtually every link in the coffee industry chain aside from the actual planting.
The more you experience, the more you realize how little you really know.
Every year, from November to March is Yunnan’s coffee production season. Sunny weather makes for the best weather during production season. In October of 2018, the production site was baptized in continual rainfall, a fairly catastrophic event for the ripening coffee fruit.
Coffee fruit that absorbs too much rainfall will burst on the tree. Because of the wet weather and montane planting environment, farmers are hard-pressed to pick all of the coffee fruit in time. Consequently, after the sun comes back out the coffee fruit is often scorched by the sun and becomes dried fruit after the water evaporates.
Dry coffee fruit is prone to mold and have defects which will be rejected by premium coffee buyers.
Because of this, there was little news about the production season of the 2018/2019 Mountain Man project everyone was looking forward to.
When I thought that the Mountain Man Project might have stalled, I was appointed to be responsible for the preparations, recruitment and technical guidance for the new production season of the Mountain Man Project.
I was pleasantly surprised by the news but at the same time, I was also a little worried.
I was happy for the opportunity to do something in the land of Yunnan coffee but on the other hand after experiencing the burning sun, dust, mechanical clatter, endless heavy bags full of coffee fruit, burlap sacks filled of raw beans, and the grizzled images of the local workers with whom I could not clearly communicate the state of affairs, I was a little apprehensive. A voice from the bottom of my heart told me that I “must go!”
What I learned in the last season was that in this upcoming new season the coffee must score at least 83 points to be suitable for sale.
What touched me the most while doing work for the Mountain Man Project was that good coffee is not easy to come by thus drinking it must be cherished.
Every 6 kg of coffee fruit can produce 1 kg of coffee beans and at most a coffee farmer can pick 40 to 50 kg of completely red coffee fruit in one day.
In the beginning, there were few farmers willing to pick high-quality fruit even if we paid 3 RMB per kilogram.
Then in January around the beginning of the New Year, we experienced massive rainfall leading to a large amount of coffee fruit drying out afterwards and flowering early. Many farmers have been forced to start cutting down trees and plucking all the fruit off the limbs. This means that the entire region has no fruit ready for harvest.
Without raw materials even the most able farmer cannot harvest his crop. Without fresh fruit the mountain people has no opportunity to make use of their true value. At the same time, we were facing the issue of our Mountain Men partnership breaking up.
I still believed however, in a strong conviction can overcome many difficulties.
I am grateful for my partners and their attitude and tenacity to continually pursue coffee. Even in the face of poor odds, they were willing to go door-to-door to encourage farmers.
I also admire their selfless and loving spirits.
When the farmers of Pu’er had lost confidence and began cutting down trees, our boss Martin decided that
“even if it doesn’t make money, we must continue conducting the Mountain Man Project. Even if the farmers are unwilling to invest their time and energy in the cultivation of coffee, our task of helping Yunnan coffee find ways to update its quality and let its true value shine before more and more people is even more urgent.”
After the Spring Festival the Mountain Man Project began to invest heavily in a large number of treatment experiments which look at varying thickness, fermentation degree, coffee fruit quality, different yeast fermentation techniques, differences in amount of carbon dioxide, etc., totaling over 60 experimental treatment samples.
What excites me the most is that out of these samples, four have been selected and sold as Mountain Men coffee products.
In terms of quality, they all reach 83 points. When we share our coffee with others from different Chinese cities, we only hope that more domestic consumers can begin to understand Yunnan coffee.
I think I am very lucky to have realized my own self-worth on this precious plot of land called Yunnan.
I hope that Yunnan coffee can find a fitting direction that suits it.
The birth of Yunnan coffee may resemble that of an unruly child—maybe it cannot match the 90+ points scored by beans in the Americas but it’s also different from American beans and while its course of development has been fairly bumpy, it is difficult to say whether or not it’s the next “miracle boy.”
Perhaps if we felt toward Yunnan coffee similar to how we feel toward football, just a little bit more hopeful, then perhaps this tiny bit of support could allow us to keep one coffee tree.
If you have already started paying attention to this “small boy,” please feel free to share your story with Yunnan coffee in the comments below.
We will select the most interesting one and provide the author with one 250g bag of this season’s processed and roasted beans from the Mountain Man Project.