Love brews a pas­sion for ex­cel­lent taste

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PEOPLE -

Every morn­ing, the aroma of brew­ing cof­fee drifts across Xin­g­long, a small town in south­east­ern Hainan that boasts more than 180 cof­fee bars. This means the town, with its 30,000 pop­u­la­tion, has the high­est den­sity, per head, of cof­fee bars in China.

“Long be­fore Star­bucks swept the world, peo­ple in Hainan, China’s only trop­i­cal prov­ince, were start­ing the day with a cup of cof­fee, pop­u­larly nick­named “old daddy’s tea,” said Chen Peng. Chen knows the sub­ject, is a spe­cial­ist in trop­i­cal plants and has worked for more than 20 years at the Spices and Bev­er­ages Re­search In­sti­tute un­der the China Trop­i­cal Agri­cul­tural Plants Re­search In­sti­tute based in Xin­g­long, the home of the coun­try’s first State-run cof­fee farm.

Xin­g­long cof­fee, once graded as “world-class” by cof­fee lover and for­mer pre­mier Zhou En­lai, has been des­ig­nated as the of­fi­cial cof­fee bev­er­age for the Boao Fo­rum for Asia, an an­nual event held in Boao, east­ern Hainan, every March since 2002.

Since the 1950s more than 13,000 over­seas Chi­nese from 21 dif­fer­ent coun­tries and re­gions, es­pe­cially from In­done­sia and Malaysia, have re­lo­cated to the re­gion, in­tro­duc­ing cof­fee cus­toms and farm­ing in Xin­g­long and other parts of the is­land.

“Xin­g­long cof­fee is full-bod­ied, with a soft and sweet fin­ish. You don’t even need milk,” said Chen.

Like som­me­liers con­sid­er­ing the mer­its of a pre­cious wine, Chen’s taste buds can work won­ders on cof­fee of var­i­ous brands and va­ri­eties.

Chen, 52, has a col­or­ful vo­cab­u­lary to de­scribe tastes, fla­vor and the “mouth­feel” of cof­fee. It can be mel­low, light, soft, harsh, fruity, flow­ery and “un­tamed”. The last is a par­tic­u­lar fla­vor that only trained spe­cial­ists like Chen, the only cof­fee barista with two top in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized cer­tifi­cates in Hainan prov­ince, can iden­tify.

De­ci­pher­ing the taste of cof­fee and pass­ing the ex­ams re­quired ded­i­ca­tion and hard work, said Chen whose ex­per­tise was of­fi­cially rec­og­nized with Q-Ro­busta-Grader and Q-Ara­bica-grader cer­tifi­cates from the Spe­cialty Cof­fee As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica and the Spe­cialty Cof­fee As­so­ci­a­tion of Europe in Hainan. There are about 50 peo­ple with the world’s top two pro­fes­sional cer­tifi­cates in China.

“Once I agree to do any­thing, I will do my best. So start­ing from scratch, I taught my­self through ex­ten­sive read­ing, lec­tures and train­ing cour­ses at my own ex­penses to be­come an ex­pert in cof­fee as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Chen. In 2012 Chen was put in charge of the in­sti­tute’s 4-hectare cof­fee plant demon­stra­tion base.

In five years, he has be­come an ex­pert in cof­fee plant­ing, har­vest­ing, roast­ing, boil­ing and brew­ing and has a com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge of the the­o­ries and skills in pro­cess­ing ro­busta, the lo­cal cof­fee bean.

This ex­per­tise is deep-rooted and cov­ers ge­net­ics, the ad­van­tages of quality ro­busta and how to make up any flaws and im­prove taste through af­ter-har­vest treat­ment and brew­ing.

Cof­fee drink­ing has rid­den a wave of pop­u­lar­ity re­cently in China, as eco­nomic glob­al­iza­tion deep­ens and cul­tural ex­changes grow. China’s cof­fee im­ports surged from 13,900 tons in 1998 to 59,200 tons in 2015. Tea is still more pop­u­lar but cof­fee is mak­ing in­roads.

“I would like to help cre­ate more added value to the cof­fee busi­ness, in­clud­ing cof­fee plant­ing, har­vest­ing, pro­cess­ing and cof­fee-mak­ing and to help cul­ti­vate a cof­fee cul­ture with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics,” said Chen.

Chen es­tab­lished the Hainan Xin­g­long Sun­shine Cof­fee Stu­dio this year, a plat­form for cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als and lovers to ex­change their knowl­edge and skills on roast­ing, boil­ing and brew­ing.

Chen has con­ducted sev­eral train­ing cour­ses for cof­fee farm­ers this year. “Win­ners of var­i­ous barista con­tests around the coun­try used all the 26 quo­tas for a barista com­pe­ti­tion in late De­cem­ber on the first day of our an­nounce­ment of the event, which was judged by top level in­struc­tors from home and aboard,’’ said Chen.

He has in­vited Dr Manuel Diaz Pineda to train peo­ple in Hainan on how to treat and roast green ro­busta beans.

Pineda is an ex­pert on green cof­fee bean treat­ment, roast­ing and ro­busta (made from the Cof­fea canephora plant, a species of bean with low acid­ity and bit­ter), as well as be­ing an in­ter­na­tional ad­vi­sor to the Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion, and a Q Grader in­struc­tor of the Cof­fee Quality As­so­ci­a­tion.

Chen roasted ro­busta beans for a whole day re­cently. “The roasted beans, af­ter about 10 days’ brew­ing, will gen­er­ate ideal tastes,” he ex­plained.

“Ro­busta can make spe­cialty cof­fee. The com­pe­ti­tion helped change the old con­cepts about ro­busta as a low va­ri­ety among cof­fee planters and con­sumers.”

Through lec­tures, com­pe­ti­tions and demon­stra­tions at his stu­dio, Chen plans to help pro­mote Hainan brands and de­velop spe­cialty cof­fee for Hainan. Though it pro­duces a small amount of cof­fee beans, it is home to sev­eral Chi­nese cof­fee brands, in­clud­ing Xin­g­long, Fushan and Chun­guang.

David Mino, a mem­ber of Spe­cialty Cof­fee As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, vis­ited Hainan and was amazed at how cof­fee had be­come a lo­cal bev­er­age in a coun­try fa­mous for tea.

“Hainan cof­fee is like the clas­sic es­presso, but stronger. Every true cof­fee lover should taste it,” said Mino.

Chen said: “I hope to cre­ate more added-value to cof­fee at my stu­dio, to of­fer cus­tomers spe­cial warmth, spe­cial ro­mance and a dif­fer­ent un­der­stand­ing of cof­fee.”

“There is no ‘best cof­fee’ in the world, there are only bet­ter ones,” said Chen.

I taught my­self through ex­ten­sive read­ing, lec­tures and train­ing cour­ses at my own ex­penses to be­come an ex­pert in cof­fee as soon as pos­si­ble.” Chen Peng a spe­cial­ist in cof­fee.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chen Peng, a spe­cial­ist in trop­i­cal plants from Xin­g­long, Hainan prov­ince, sam­ples cof­fee to ar­rive at a bet­ter taste.

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