by Evelyn Shi, CitizenC Contributor
Tea or coffee? It's a pretty divisive question of preference, but it also describes a transformative rivalry brewing in Yunnan province.
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.
Does coffee's sudden rise signal the end of tea's reign in Pu'er? We'll have to wait and see. Although coffee has huge potential in China, Pu'er is still known for its tea, and China's coffee beans have yet to make a major break internationally. Still, this "coffee uprising" raises some questions about the preservation of ancient Chinese culture. Coffee can be seen as a symbol of globalization, but is this at the expense of Yunnan's ancient tea culture?
"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.
Evelyn S. was a student of Concordia Applied Journalism and integral to the management of Xiaohusai.
Xiaohusai is a student-run social enterprise led by a small group of high school students at Concordia. We sell tea to raise funds for our scholarship, which we provide to the struggling families of Xiaohusai, a village in Yunnan. We're currently sponsoring the education of 5 children, as well as the development of the village's elementary school. If you want to read more about us, come see our website! We also write weekly articles on the topic of tea and Yunnan on our blog, Spill the Tea.