Thursday, March 11, 2010

Coffee cultivation gains popularity

With the growing popularity of Gukeng Coffee (Yunlin County) and Dongshan Coffee (Tainan County) in southern Taiwan, more local farmers are beginning to tap into the market for this fashionable beverage. This move among farmers is not only limited to Tainan and Yunlin Counties, but also extends to Nantou, Hualien, Alishan and Pingtung. In fact, coffee has become the fourth most popular crop in Yuchi (Nantou County) after black tea, orchid and mushroom.

The Taipei-based China Times reported that many years ago, a member of the Shen Yen-chieh's family in Yuchi township brought back two pots of ornamental coffee seedlings after visiting Taichung. A year later, the pots could no longer contain the coffee trees and they were moved outside under areca palms. After three more years, these two Arabica coffee trees had become prolific bean producers, and that was when the Shen family decided to plant more coffee trees. Now the family has over a thousand coffee trees planted in 1.4 acres.

Yuchi provides an ideal environment for growing coffee trees. The soil quality, altitude and temperature all allow the trees to thrive and bear top quality beans. Shen said after seeing the falling price of betel nuts derived from the areca palm, it was natural for farmers to remove the palms in favor of planting coffee trees.

Taiwan is no stranger to coffee cultivation. Under Japanese colonial rule in the first half of the twentieth century, Rueisuei-Wuhe in eastern Hualien County, Gukeng in Yunlin County and Fengshan in Kaohsiung County in the south were the three big coffee production areas in Taiwan. This changed as cheaper imported coffee pushed out local brands. But in the last couple of years, the Hualien County government has started to promote coffee again. Now they have two brands on the market – Rueisuei Coffee and Wuhe Coffee.

Taiwan’s largest coffee region is located in Tainan County. In particular, Dongshan has a plantation area of about 370 acres. Farmers there can produce 616,000 pounds of raw beans, which results in about 88,000 pounds of roasted coffee beans. But this changed after the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot in August 2009. Since then, all coffee trees have been infected with codling moth pests, which agricultural experts have been hard pressed to control.

Besides planting coffee, Devin Coffee of Pingtung County has gained popularity by marketing itself as a tourist destination, but Typhoon Morakot has dealt them a double blow. Not only are there no beans to harvest this year, many of the farms are now located on unstable ground, considered too dangerous to farm.

Although local coffee beans have gained ground in Taiwan, there are still many hurdles to overcome. The Farmers Association in Yunlin County said the Gukeng coffee growers have not been able to plant coffee trees on a large scale because they are not good at the management of coffee production and processing. Most of the local farmers still stick with labor intensive tea plants. The association hopes this will change if the local agricultural authorities set up processing plants, attracting more growers, improving overall bean quality and help in the marketing of local beans.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.