by Evelyn Shi
Tea or coffee? It's a classic question of preference, but it also describes a rivalry brewing in Yunnan province, China.
Pu'er, a city in Yunnan, is long-famed for producing its namesake pu-erh tea drunk all over the world. Ironically, though, Pu'er's location in lush, tropical southern China makes it the perfect climate for growing coffee. Although Pu'er's farmers have only cultivated tea for thousands of years, coffee plantations are quickly cropping up in the region today.
China's relationship with coffee began with Nestlé in 1988, when the Swiss company partnered with Pu'er's farmers to cultivate coffee and alleviate poverty in the area. Today, with globalization, coffee is quickly gaining ground in China. You can barely turn a street corner without spotting a Starbucks or local café. Or if you prefer not to venture out, it only takes a few taps on your phone and a short wait to order a steaming latte to your doorstep. Pu'er's coffee farmers support this new demand: 95% of China's coffee harvests come from Yunnan, and half of it from Pu'er specifically.
The rise in coffee cultivation is unsurprising: coffee is easier to grow than tea, and also more profitable. The coffee plant is stronger than the tea tree, and thus requires less constant care. Coffee beans are often sold to well-known foreign brands such as Starbucks and Nestle, lessening the power of manipulative middlemen.
"The first time I visited Yunnan, I stayed in the city Pu’er, and instead of learning about the tea for which the city was named after, all people talked about was the growing coffee industry," says Dana Huston-Chen, a member of our team. "Growing up in a family with a typical practice of drinking tea during gatherings, it was disappointing for me to find such an essential culture fading.
"That's why we see our social enterprise, Xiaohusai Tea, not only as a model to break the poverty cycle, but also an avenue to preserve the beautiful culture of tea," says Dana. Read more about us, and our work with tea, here.