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As a roaster you are always on the lookout for two types of coffee; a new varietal or origin that will differentiate you from the next guy, or a new supply of stable coffee for a blend. You can find both of these things in the Yunnan province of China. You can also buy directly from the Yunnan Coffee Exchange and get “Farmer Identified”, traceable coffee.

Coffee Production in China

rocky picIn 1893 Ola Hanson, a Swedish Missionary brought coffee seeds to Yunnan. This did not result in a big boom of coffee. It wasn’t until the mid-1950’s that large scale planting started to happen. By 2013 over 120,000 hectares of coffee were planted. Yunnan is the largest growing region with smaller regional locations within it like Pu’er. The majority of coffee grown in Yunnan is Catimor7693.

Coffee produced in China has, until recently, tended to stay in China. The country consumes almost 1 million bags of coffee per year, making it the largest Asian consumer. With all of the recent planting and some investment in infrastructure, coffee output nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013. Export of that coffee, which generally fetches a higher price, has been steadily growing over several years at an average rate of 15.8%.

Even with the steady growth of exports, China faces the same issues that most producing countries have; an ability to link quality with higher prices. It starts with education at the farm level to improve practices. But if there is no buyer willing to pay higher prices for that coffee then there is no incentive, or financial ability to invest in those practices. Therefore, the farmer is locked into a cycle of accepting whatever the local buyer is willing to pay.

Just recently things have started to change for China’s coffee growers.

A new Buying Platform – The Yunnan Coffee Exchange (YCE)

Pu’er in China is a major flower growing center of the world. So what does that have to do with coffee you ask? A LOT! It seems that if you trade flowers on an open-market online trading system, you will get the best prices for the flowers, and the system provides for one of the purest forms of price discovery. The same folks that came up with the flower market turned their focus to coffee. They hired Ted Lingle from CQI as a senior consultant on the project with special focus on objective quality grading for the lots coming to the exchange.

Now YOU or anyone in the world can register on the YCE (for free) and look at the lots of coffee being offered. You will see a couple of things you may not be expecting. The first is a Q score and cupping notes for the coffee. Each lot will go through two blind cuppings and quality inspections. If the coffee is considered ‘specialty’ with a score higher than 80 it will reach the auction. It will be given a quality grade of G1 to G5 where G5 is above 86 points.

The second thing you will notice is that all of the lots are small lots, traceable to a farm in what YCE calls “Farmer Identified” coffee. Each lot will come with a QR code you can use to get more information about the farmer, farm, and growing conditions. With all this information you get a cupping report, micro-lot, traceability, AND a story about the coffee you can tell your customers.

But YCE is not stopping there. By 2018 they will have a gigantic campus that will include all of the services a small farmer might need. This starts with a training center, but is much more. They offer financing, equity investment, equipment leases and financing. In addition, they will have a cultivar farm for research, processing plants, and warehousing available.

The last thing you will find surprising is the ability of YCE to package your lots into small, shippable vacuum sealed bags of 10 kilo or even smaller. They will also load containers of 60 Kilo jute bags. If you are really looking to show off your coffee it can come in wooden gift / presentation boxes!

Yunnan Green Coffee Competition

YCE is hosting a best of the best competition for Yunnan. It is seating a panel of local and international judges to grade and find the top 6 coffees of the region. Over 100 samples have been submitted and the judges are working through them at the time of the writing of this article. This work will be completed by the end of March where the top 12 coffees will be featured at Hotelex in Shanghai in a live coffee auction March 29th.

If you found out about this too late to bid, don’t worry! You can have your chance to taste the coffees at the SCAA conference in Atlanta. You can even register to bid for the next 24 lots of coffee by signing up for the YCE auction system at or stopping by the YCE booth in Atlanta.


For a great opportunity to learn more about this new trading system, get a ticket for the Coffee Quality Institute Luncheon on Saturday of the show. YCE is the key sponsor and the head of the exchange will give a presentation on what is happening with the exchange, as well as talk about the Yunnan Green Coffee Competition. But you don’t need to take his word for the quality of the coffee; it will be served with lunch!

Rocky Rhodes is an 18 year coffee veteran, roaster, and Q-Grader Instructor, and his mission now is to transform the coffee supply chain and make sweeping differences in the lives of those that produce the green coffee. Rocky can be reached at

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