The story of our Banka coffee is one of triumph over adversity. Rarely seen until recently, as a single origin in its glorious own-right, it is time we included Banka coffee in our repertoire of exquisite-tasting and fascinating-to-roast coffees!
IN THE BEGINNING…
With a symphony of tasting notes, apples, limes, and the sweet, comforting warmth of demerara sugar, it is surprisingly strange that this coffee didn’t make it to our shores and onto our palettes a lot earlier that it has.
Image by Jonathan Mabey
It’s nascent beginnings in the 1800’s was an accidental by-product of the arrival of French missionaries, the influx of which was brought about by the Imperialism of the Opium wars and the Sino-French war, just a couple of the terrible tragedies that led this period of Chinese history being referred to as ‘The Century of Humiliation’. This context is important because, just like the humans who tend to it, coffee cannot grow and develop to full potential in isolation and without nurturance.
As the humans of the 19th century suffered so did their agricultural endeavours with this new crop. Farmers were some of the worst affected by these conflicts as they not only were unable to feed the nation, but widespread famine ensued and therefore coffee cultivation was not on a list of priorities. This isolation and neglect of the people and their new plant was exacerbated by the USA introducing the Chinese Exclusion Act, meaning that coffee being able to enter the Western world was seriously hindered.
Image: Road to drying patios at Banka
Whilst this all sounds a bit bleak it is important to note that we are now able to sip a cup of Banka coffee because of its triumph over, rather than sufferance in its historical adversity. Things change and usually because the individuals passionate about coffee can find fertile earth amongst the ruins, and opportunity in despair. And that’s just what they did.
HONING IN, REACHING OUT…
Sharing a border with three of China’s fourteen neighbours, Yunnan Province is nestled in the South- West of the vast country. Being raised in the West we are taught almost exclusively about The Great Wall of China being the dominating feature of the country. However, the vastness of the country is made astonishingly real when google maps shows it will mean travelling nearly 3000km over thirty hours from this school textbook memory to Banka, the village in the province where the coffee we can enjoy today is produced.
In 1988 the world bank and the United Nations Development Programme collaborated with provincial governments in China funded farmers to dedicate their land to, and to cultivate the coffee on commercial levels. However, as you may have guessed, the success story of Banka single origin coffee is far from an overnight one. This was in no small part because The Yunnan Coffee Traders were embroiled in an uphill battle to establish themselves on the world scene. Without the corporate backing of international, mass-consumed powerhouses (who were able to offer their product for a cheap price and market them to the masses,) they found themselves remaining a relatively domestic grower and feeling powerless to reach their potential.
Image: Washing station at Banka coffee farm by Indochina Coffee
Knowing the quality of their coffee, the men and women of Banka, Yunnan province made the decision that a plan was needed to announce themselves on the world stage. Instead of cowering in the shadows of corporate giants, they found a way to use these roadblocks as stepping-stones, which lead them to ranking in the top 20 of worldwide coffee producers only twenty-eight-years later.
This infiltration, of sorts, started with the inclusion of Yunnan coffee in the blends coming out of China to the world beyond. This part of the plan meant that they garnered enough funding to grow and improve production year after year until they were ready to take their rightful place as a luxurious single origin.
Image by: Indochina Coffee
Between December and March, when the climate is gentler on crop and workers, the beans are harvested and accumulated at Banka wet mill, which is the local village from which, the coffee at the heart of this tale of triumph over adversity gets it’s well-earnt name. Banka coffee has an imminent, blooming reputation here in Wales. We may be 6000 miles away, as the bean flies, but we pride ourselves on standing together in our shared ambitions to establish ourselves as champions of sustainability, traceability, and transparency.
Image by: Yunnan Coffee Traders_Banka / Banka Natural