By Thomas Schmid
It may seem that the “Yunnan coffee pie” has been pretty much gobbled up by global traders and huge multinational corporations but this is not the case.
In fact, the region accommodates a growing community of smaller, independent companies engaged in providing agricultural education services to local farmers, sourcing their coffees there for later export; or both. Founded in 2010 by US-American entrepreneur, philanthropist and coffee aficionado Samuel Gurel, Torch Coffee Company relocated its headquarters to Pu’er in 2015, where it is now developing its green and roasted bean business and trains farmers in the art of green bean processing, a topic that is very close to the heart of the company’s founder and c.e.o.
During the courses participants learn proper processing techniques from theoretical lectures covering the science and technology involved, but also hands-on practice after class. “They try out several main processing types, including variations of washed, natural and honey processes, as well as a few types of ‘winy process’ and yeast fermentation. It all requires the participants to be very detail-oriented and attentive, because some of the techniques may go against what they have traditionally practiced,” explains Gurel.
The ultimate goal of the classes is to raise quality and achieve a better price. Yunnan’s smallholder farmers – who make up the majority of growers - have restricted access to investment and work with very tight budgets. Whatever they invest in their farms must lead to a reasonable return, otherwise they will not be able to sustain themselves. “For example, with low coffee prices governing the world market this year, they will lose money if they only manage to produce normal [standard] coffee,” Gurel says. Some farmers understand how to produce a premium product with as little input as possible. ”The majority of them grow Catimor, which is a hardy and pest-resistant plant, but also has a low sugar content. That makes it harder to get the higher price from specialty buyers. To be part of the coffee market’s exponential growth, farmers will have to do two things. First, they must improve the processing to get a better price, and second they must invest [some of] the money earned in better varietals and farm renovation,” Gurel explains. The tireless efforts of Gurel and his Torch Coffee team indeed seem to pay off. This year, the company was able to develop its very first 100% Yunnan espresso blend using all three main processing methods of washed, honey and natural processing.
“It is an amazing espresso blend and it encourages us to keep working hard to improve the quality of coffee not only in Yunnan but also elsewhere in Asia,” Gurel enthuses, adding that green bean coffee under the Torch Coffee brand is currently sold online and offline, both domestically in China as well as in overseas markets including the US, North Asia, and Europe.