The Future of organic certified coffee in China: challenges & opportunities
China: A booming new market
Demand for coffee in China has grown exponentially over the last decade. The country has gone from being a minor consumer to being the most attractive and profitable market for coffee sellers from across the globe. We can also see this evolution with the expansion of coffee production within China. Historically coffee cultivation in China was rare, but recent years have seen the country become a major coffee producer. Coffee production has rapidly increased in not only volume but also in quality. China is now taking its place as a major coffee exporter in the world market. Yunnan province, with its mountainous, humid environment is the centre of this growing business, with ideal conditions for coffee cultivation.
Organic vs industrial coffee production: The benefits
Most coffee production in China is currently undertaken using industrial mass production methods. The use of synthetic fertilizers, excessive use of toxic pesticides, and environmentally unsustainable farming methods are the norm. Organic coffees, by contrast, are produced without the use of harsh chemicals. Production quantity may not be as high, but the result is a higher quality, healthier product with a far superior taste. Additionally, coffee is produced in a way that does not damage the environment, making coffee production more sustainable in the long term. In short, it’s a product that benefits both consumers and producers.
For coffee to be considered 'organic' it must be certified by an independent quality control body. This body assesses whether coffee production conforms to strict regulations. Plantation soil samples are made to verify that the crop is free from chemicals and toxic pesticides and that no genetically modified (GMO) plants are used. It’s a guarantee that you are drinking a product that protects the planet and provides the customer with a superior taste experience.
Pezo Imports: High quality, high standards
Here at Pezo Imports are primary interest and passion is in the sourcing and supply of organic coffees of the highest quality. We hold an EU organic certification, RFA certification & Fairtrade certification. We buy coffee from organic certified coffee cooperatives and sell coffee to organic roasters. In Europe and the US, it’s common for buyers to require a Fairtrade certification, in addition to the organic standards. The Fairtrade certification guarantees that coffee is traded without exploitation and that growers are treated well and paid a good living wage for their efforts. We pride ourselves on this. Supporting the development of local communities, along with the environment.
Chinese Organic certification
In April 2023, our sister company in China, Guangzhou Pezo Coffee Trading Ltd, acquired its Chinese organic certification: The China Organic Standard GB/T 19630-2019. This, in practice, means we are now allowed to import certified organic coffee into China. This means buyers are also supporting coffee farmers around the world, improving their living conditions. Organic Certified Coffee commands a higher price: $0.30 per pound (0.46kg) , and this benefit is passed on to growers. We are also keen to explore the potential of working with Chinese organic coffee producers, particularly with a view to facilitating the export to high-quality coffee markets in Europe and globally. With this in mind me and my team set to explore ‘The Coffee Capital of China’, the growing region around the city of Pu’er in Yunnan Province. The region hosts 70 major growers, and the industry employs around 1 million people here!
Coffee production in Yunnan
China is unique in the coffee world, in the sense that it has quickly become both a major producer and consumer of the product. That said, this rapid development has come at a price, with low production values and a lack of coffee variety. We are keen to work with companies that promote high-quality organic products. While in the region we met with a few local coffee companies. One example was Yunnan Xire Trading Co. Ltd. This company received its EU and American organic coffee certifications (USDA) back in 2015, and it was the first company, in 2022, to obtain the Chinese Organic Certification.
During a fascinating meeting, Jean Luo, the owner of Xire, explained more about the company's work to me: “The process of qualifying for a certified organic seal is rigorous and can take a farmer up to three years to acquire it. China National Organic Product Certification Program is a government project that aims to protect the ecological environment and enhance the quality of organic products. The organic product certification is governed and supervised by the national authority Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA).”
Yunnan Xire Trading Co.Ltd is a shining light and a pioneer in the newly emerging business of organic coffee production in China. Obtaining the certification is costly and time-consuming process, and organic certification needs to be renewed on a yearly basis. Not many coffee producers in China can currently afford this expense. Domestic demand for organic coffee is fairly low, but here we have the opportunity to promote and sell Chinese organic coffee to customers outside the country. Worldwide demand for organic coffee is only increasing, and this will bring significant benefits to producers like Jean Luo. Exporting Chinese coffee is still a complex business, with significant hurdles in regulation and paperwork to overcome, but we at Pezo Import believe it has a bright future.
As is always the case, quality, and value are key market drivers, here in China and elsewhere. Organic coffees are more costly to produce, but what the customer receives is a far better, healthier product in return for the 20% premium. In the domestic market, demand may be low, but year by year we see this market increasing and diversifying. There is great opportunity for expansion here in the Chinese market and Pezo Import will be at the forefront of this development. We aim to work with organic coffee producers in Yunnan, to aid them in accessing the organic coffee market, both domestically and overseas. This will have positive benefits for all in the business, with more workers employed in high-quality, well-paid roles. The environment will benefit, with less toxic pollutants leaching out of soils and into waterways and the foods we consume. Also, with better methods, degradation of agricultural land can be kept in check. Ultimately, organic coffee is the way forward for both people and the planet we call home.
The owner and manager of Pezo Import AB,