Banka Honey - Field Notes from Coptic Light's Green Coffee Buyer, Esther Shaw

For all of you coffee geeks out there, I put together a summary of my field notes about coffee growing in Pu'er, Yunnan, China and the Banka Cooperative's current endeavors and projects.  I started developing this relationship with the amazing team at Banka about 3-4 years ago and it has blossomed wonderfully over the years.  I feel so lucky to be able to witness its growth, work with some awesomely knowledgeable and generous people, and am eager to continue see its amazing development

Coffee Name: Banka Honey
Producer Name: Banka Village Cooperative - Represents 40 homes (3-4 people per home) who are all of the Aini minority group (subgroup of Hani minority group)
City, Province, Country:  Pu’er, Yunnan, China
Elevation: 1300-1350 masl
Variety: Catimor
Process: Honey
Coffee Farming Details: Organic fertilizers and coffee cherry skins are used. Macadamia nut trees, fruit trees, and leguminous trees are planted intermittently for shade. Cherries for the honey process are selectively hand-picked, pulped separately and dried on raised beds.  At the dry mill, a wide range of machinery is utilized for quality assurance including a destoner, huller, grade sorter (sorting and storing in three different sizes), oliver table, and color sorter. Grain Pro bags are used which is very rare in the area. In addition to coffee, the cooperative also produces its own black tea, sugar cane and other miscellaneous fruits and vegetables.

    Historically famous as a tea producing region, Pu’er’s climate and elevation make for ideal conditions for coffee growing as well.  Coffee has been growing commercially in the region for 25 years now and as a result coffee production is approached in a fairly standardized way.   Due to its high productivity and resistance to disease, Catimor is the most available variety for purchase in the Pu’er region with heavy promotion by commercial coffee companies. Also, there is one prevalent approach towards wet processing which most farmers throughout the region tend to practice, a mechanical washed method which utilizes high water pressure and scrubbing to remove mucilage from the surface of the coffee seed. 
    It is only until more recently that producers are venturing into the specialty coffee market, and there is much potential for high quality coffee to be produced in Pu’er. However, a main obstacle is that China is a country supremely more rich in tea culture than coffee culture.  As a result, the growing and processing practices which may come naturally to historically coffee-producing areas require a steep learning curve for producers in the Pu’er area.  Additionally, specialty coffee is not conducive to the high yield coffees which make venturing into the specialty market a high-risk situation. The majority of producers do not know any other way of growing and processing coffee than what the commercial coffee companies have taught them and are wary of experimentation.

    This is why the Banka Cooperative shines among other coffee producers in the Pu’er region. Not only are they supported by an incredible team of experts who are working hard to improve their coffee quality via investment in better infrastructure and quality control systems. But they are pushing the boundaries and taking risks by experimenting with new varieties, including Typica, Red Bourbon, and Pacamara, as well as exploring new processing methods unfamiliar to most Chinese farmers. The Banka Honey we are offering is their first attempt at the honey process which has met with delicious success. And with this upcoming harvest, they have already charged ahead onto the fully washed processing method. They are approaching this endeavor with the support and expertise of Scott Laboratories, who have supplied them with two different types of yeast strains.
    The benefits reaped from the Banka Village Cooperative’s amazing drive and progressive spirit are reflected directly in the cup. The Banka Honey shines amongst other Chinese coffees with it sweetness and complexity – specifically we find a creamy body, champagne-like effervescence, and hints of kumquat and meyer lemon in the finish.

Photos courtesy of B. Lippincott & E. Shaw