Text and photographs by He Yihong
For centuries, China has been known globally as the home of tea, which has overwhelmingly become the favorite drink of Chinese people. Yunnan Province in southwestern China is a famous tea producer, but fewer people know the province as China’s cradle of the rest of the world’s favorite beverage: coffee. Last spring, during the coffee harvest season, several friends and I drove to Lujiangba, a world-renowned Arabica coffee producer hidden in mountains near Yunnan’s Baoshan City.
Lujiangba is nicknamed “a place where the sun kisses the earth.” In fact, it is a massive basin flush with lofty Gaoligong Mountain to the south. The mountain blocks chilly wind blowing across the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, so the basin enjoys a warm climate year-round, with an average annual temperature of 21.5 degrees Celsius. A rare semi-tropical region of western Yunnan, Lujiangba never sees frost, making it suitable to grow coffee beans. Local Arabica beans result in strong, but not bitter coffee, with a moderate fragrance. So, Lujiangba is widely recognized as one of the best Arabica bean producers. After a field survey of the coffee plantation and processing bases in Yunnan, specialists from the International Coffee Organization deemed Yunnan wet processed Arabica one of the best coffees in the world.
In 1892, a French missionary first introduced coffee to Yunnan, and the province still retains 24 coffee trees aged more than 90 years. A coffee enthusiast, the missionary planted a coffee tree outside his church. Later, more coffee trees were planted in surrounding areas. From that point, coffee began to spread throughout Yunnan. Nowadays, many villages in Lujiangba are surrounded by coffee trees. Along with growing coffee, locals have developed a tradition of drinking it as well. Almost all local residents - men and women, young and old - are devout coffee drinkers. They plant the trees, roast the beans, and brew the beverage themselves. For this reason, local villagers have a special affection for coffee plants.