Not long ago, my good friend Max Mooney posted a coffee recommendation on Facebook: an Arcade Coffee that hailed from Yunnan, China. He said it was like a Sumatran coffee, but only the best aspects of a great Sumatran coffee. My interest was immediately piqued. I love great Sumatran coffees, and I’ve never tried coffee grown in China before. To be completely honest, I didn’t even realize China was considered an emerging force in the specialty coffee world.
But upon doing some research, I discovered that the reality is specialty coffees from China – the region of Yunnan, to be more precise – are already beginning to stand up to those from across the traditional growing regions of the Americas and Africa. And they’re getting better year after year. Forward-thinking farmers and producers are making the most of the mature varietals already in place with better and more considered processing techniques. At the same time, they are waiting patiently for the newly planted Typica, Bourbon (Red and Yellow), Pacamara and even Geisha that they’ve planted and carefully nurtured over the past few years to join the crop. Over the next few years, most industry experts predict a significant shift in attitude from the global coffee community to this beautiful and bountiful region of Southeast Asia. The coffee Maxwell recommended was grown in Yunnan, which is actually China’s largest coffee growing province, accounting for over 90 percent of the country’s total output at a time when China is being hailed at the world’s fastest-growing market for specialty coffee.
Welcome to the table. Today we’re cupping the Yunnan China, from Arcade Coffee Roasters in Riverside, California. Feel free to pull up a chair.
This coffee is a really special offering imported by Torch Coffee. It is a partnership between lots of coffee industry players in China and the Sustainable Coffee Institute, with the goal to help poor farmers in China have a better quality of life and stop environmental devastation. Torch trains baristas from major cities, and enables them to come to the mountains of Yunnan and learn about cutting edge processing technology. Then they send them to processing sites to help implement quality control procedures to processing. Torch Coffee invested in an eco-processing site that uses zero water and has zero waste water. These forests are being cut down by farmers facing poverty, so Torch buys cherries at a price that allows farmers a good living without cutting down more forest and also teaches them to grow coffee under shade of indigenous trees.
The processing method for this coffee is called carbonic maceration, which is a pretty fancy couple of words. Carbonic maceration is a term lifted from the wine industry, where whole grapes are fermented without pressing the juice and the wines become fermented inside without crushing them. This tends to produce fresh and fruity wines that may not age well but can be consumed quite soon after their production. The idea is that you have a controlled fermentation process in an anearobic environment, meaning without the use of oxygen. It sits in a airtight container with a valve on top to allow off-gassing.*
region: Pu’er, Yunnan, China
farm: Orchid Forest Project
producer: smallholder farmers
elevation: 1600 meters above sea level
varietal: P-3, P-4
process: carbonic maceration
The aroma of this coffee is rich and fragrant, wafting slowly out of the bag after I open the packaging but soon completely filling my brewing area. It’s a deep aroma, a bit musty, but loaded with scents of dark fruits.
This is a heavy-bodied coffee with a heavy, molasses mouthfeel that has a stick and chewy coating and lingers in the back of the throat. And Maxwell Mooney was right – the flavor profile for this coffee is certainly unique and funky. Up front is the fermented flavor of Cabernet, tobacco, and fig. As it cools, it sweetens with notes of vanilla cream, honey, strawberry, and plum.
Arcade Coffee’s Yunnan China was one of the more unique coffees I’ve had in some time. To say that it it’s like a Sumatra, but only the best elements, is a fairly accurate summation; though I think Sulawesi might be a more fitting comparison.
More than its interesting-ness, though, it’s a damn fine cup of coffee that I thoroughly enjoyed every time I brewed it. It did take a bit of effort and a few tries to get it dialed in just right, but the reward was well worth the effort.
*content courtesy of Arcade Coffee Roasters