Located in the mountainous reaches of western China, the province of Yunnan is most well-known as the birthplace of the fermented Pu’er tea. The practice of fermenting tea leaves post-harvest originated in the Ming and Qing Dynasty as a method of keeping the leaves from spoiling on long journeys to market – it didn’t take long after for them to realize it also created some incredibly complex and delicious flavours that improved with age. Many centuries later, Pu’er is still a prized product of Yunnan and is one of the province’s most famous gastronomic expressions of origin.
Not far from the town of Pu’er, for which the famous tea was named, Jane Luo and her husband began growing coffee on Yirong Farm in 1987. At the time, they were the only farm in their county to plant coffee trees alongside their rows of tea and corn, but this would later prove to be the early stages of Yunnan’s rapidly growing coffee industry. Thirty-five years later, coffee agriculture in Yunnan has exploded and is largely driven by commodity-grade beans grown for the massive international coffee chains and instant coffee mega-corporations (you can guess who we’re talking about). In recent years, however, Yunnan has emerged as a noteworthy origin for specialty coffee as well, with farms and exporters focusing on smaller, quality-driven producers like the Luo Family. The Yirong Farm is still managed by Jane Luo, who is now joined by her daughter Jean, and they are working towards expand their business into exporting coffee from their plantation and from other farms in the region. The farm is also certified Organic, utilizing compost to fertilize their trees and watering the farm using a mountain stream. Like most farms in China, Yirong grows the Catimor variety – a cross between the Timor Hybrid and Caturra. Catimor can be controversial, with many claiming that the Robusta parentage contributes to a poor cup quality – we disagree. If grown at low altitudes and properly processed, Catimor can produce sweet and clean cups like this one. We found this lot to express a nutty undertone akin to almond butter or hazelnut cream. This rich base is complimented by a dense sweetness and slightly tropical acidity which reminds us of dates and tamarind.