Oh my beautiful Yunnan. You are a land full of surprises.
Clear blue skies, crispy clean air and snow capped mountains. Every turn is a breath taking view waiting for my eyes to feast upon.
I have landed in China once again! This time, I took a tour around the more remote parts of Yunnan. Our plane landed in 丽江 (Li Jiang) a prefecture-level city in the northwest of Yunnan province. Approximately 2,400 meters above the sea, this land of Eden is Spring all year round. The temperature is so perfect, flowers bloom eternally.
Yunnan is well known to produce the best Pu-er Tea. They also produce some of the most delicious flower pastries where the fillings of each cookie is filled with fragrant floral petals.
Little known to the hippy coffee community until recently, Yunnan has been producing coffee for less than a century. It is still a very young producer that supplies mainly commercial grade beans. Huge initiatives has been implemented by the Chinese government in partnership with MNC giants such as Nestle and Starbucks to increase their coffee productions.
In recent years, the farming processes had improved dramatically. The Chinese are quick learners and headstrong in competition. Farmers have been able to produce specialty grade beans of high quality. In fact, they have improved so drastically that Q-graders have cupped coffee that achieved 90 plus standards.
I came to Yunnan with very low expectations. Those who has ventured into China frequently will know that the community is made up of non-coffee drinkers. They consume vast amount of tea and I can totally understand why.
Firstly, tea is not only delicious and easy to brew, the act of inviting family, friends or business partners for a cup of tea is a cultural act of ice breaking and bonding. In fact, every family or office that I have visited throughout China have an area specially designed for guests to brew tea. They call it a 茶台 or Tea Counter.
A gold ingot made up from compressed tea leafs
Compressed Tea with intricate designs are often given as gifts to business partners or friends. These can cost up to hundred of thousands of dollars!
Furthermore, the community is still populated by aboriginals. The younger generation have mostly moved to larger cities within China for better opportunities. I had the perception that Yunnan is a place filled with old cities and backward technologies. How right and so very wrong I was!
A dwindling population of aboriginals who makes a living from farming and performing to tourists.
Follow me as I bring you through some of the more interesting places I have visited during my week there.
Yunnan, Li Jiang 丽江
Alright! Now that we have gotten the introduction out of the way, I can fully focus on my coffee journey in this mountainous region.
The first thing that I experience when I disembark from the plane is the pristine mountains surrounding our airport. Our journey from the airport to our hotel is a short one. I recommend staying in the Gucheng District. Directly translated as an "Old Town", this place charms you in every brick and stone. The floors are paved centuries ago and survived to present times.
Our hotel is run by a young couple and cost us approximately $70sgd a night. During the quieter seasons, the rates can be as low as $40sgd per night. We were greeted by two overly excited dogs when we arrived.
The quality of the rooms and the decor is comparable to the most beautiful 名宿 from Taiwan.
The view from our hotel room's window.
Our room is fully furnished with a 50inch TV, high speed internet and a hot tub.
When I stepped into the lobby, you can guess my surprise when i spotted these in the corner of the hall.
A hostel that serves Single Origins? I must have acquired some good karma!
The lady boss is a young coffee enthusiast and these are simply her personal toys. As mentioned earlier, the community is made up of tea drinkers and she is the only barista in the hotel. Furthermore, most of the guests are local tourists from other parts of china and coffee sales is very low.
We had a very fun time exchanging skills and knowledge. I bought 1 cup of coffee but end up drinking at least 5. She is generous and most excited to share her passion with me. One thing I noted in China, is that they appreciate pourovers more as compared to other brewing methods. Perhaps they find the taste and texture more similar to tea.
A Taiwanese imitation of the Japanese Fuji Royal. At a tiny fraction of the price ($90+sgd), I am intrigued by the quality of the grind.
Turns out surprisingly well. Though a little inconsistent, it produced amazing results with its tiny price tag.
Though I have not tasted the local produce, she brewed me a cup of amazing single origin Mandheling. All the coffee she served are gifts from friends or relatives who came from afar. So if you happen to pop by, do bring her a little gift! I am sure she will be most happy to share her stash with you in return.
Lijiang Shuhe Ancient Town 束河古镇
There are 3 main ancient town in Li Jiang. The main one is filled with taverns and tourists. Shuhe Gucheng is a tad quieter with more locals and couples taking wedding shoots.
The river flows throughout the town as the snow from the mountains melt in the rainier season. At ground level (which is approx 2,400m above sea level), the temperature ranges around 10-20 degree Celsius all year round. A 45 minutes ride up a cable car into the snow mountains and the temperature drops below zero. You can literally experience spring and winter in a couple of hours.
Over here, you can taste exquisite cuisine that are grown organic from the mountains, or fish for fresh water lobsters and fishes.
Wild mushrooms that the locals called 松茸 (Pronounced: Song Rong). These are eaten raw or boiled in a broth. The mushrooms are fragrant and is said to contain a lot of anti cancerous properties. We are lucky that they are in season when we are there. They only grow once a year and die out in less than 2 weeks.
These mushrooms are also known as the Japanese Matsutake. The highest grade can go up to $2000 per kilogram! Most of these are now exported to Japan due to the high demand and price command. On the other hand, we are lucky to have them at around $40.
We ate them in slices, dipped in soy sauce, stir fried, cooked in soup and paired with wine.
A variety of vegetables harvested from the mountains, flower buds stir fried with eggs, and glutenous rice stuffed in pig intestines.
Braised pork belly that is raised by the local farmers in their backyard.
While exploring the streets, I caught a familiar scent that got my senses tingling. Like a dog on a prowl, I followed my nose and started my hunt.
It is the smell of a coffee roastery! Finally, I found a place that serve up the local Yunnan coffee.
Yunnan Typica is their specialty grade and I simply have to get a cup. I tasted their peaberry as an espresso based because it is of a darker roast.
The beans are known for its tiny seed. They locals called it 云南小粒咖啡. (Yunnan Tiny Coffee Beans).
In my humble opinion, the Typica is of good quality. It is not amazing but the flavour and aroma reminds me of the Ethiopian variants. Floral and earthly with bright acidity. I bought a small bag home immediately to share with my coffee clique.
The peaberry on the other hand, lacks characteristics. The roast profile is a tad too dark and it has a sharp mouth-feel. A little metalic in taste and I didn't enjoy my cappuccino much. The milk in China is very rich and easily over power the coffee after the beverage cools.
I have mixed feelings about my first experience with Yunnan coffee beans. After all, there are too many functions at play in my cup to draw a conclusion. The skills of the roaster to that of the barista. I want to experience more before I decide if I like Yunnan's coffee.
(end of part one)
Look out for my next post where we explored other parts of Li Jiang and drove 5 hours through mountainous terrains to an even more remote part of Yunnan, Luge Lake where I discovered one of the most exotic place to open a cafe.
>>Read Part 2 of Yunnan Travel Log Here>>
>>Read Part 3 of Yunnan Travel Log Here>>