Chinese roasters switch to homegrown coffee amid latest lockdown

chinese coffee yunnan province
  • China’s “zero Covid” policy has sent almost 40 million people into lockdown
  • Imports of green coffee from Africa and Latin America have been affected
  • Roasters are increasingly using coffee grown in mainland China to dampen impact of delays and price rises  

THE RECENT wave of Covid-19 lockdowns has prompted many of China’s roasters to source coffee grown domestically, according to local sources.

Green coffee from origins such as Colombia and Ethiopia is increasingly being replaced by beans produced on mainland farms in the southwestern Yunnan Province. The region produces the majority of China’s coffee, with output reaching around 1.8 million 60kg bags for the 2020/21 harvest.

The move comes amid further delays to imports from key coffee-growing countries across Africa and Latin America as a result of China’s new “zero-Covid policy”.

Introduced to prevent a recent surge in cases, the policy has forced many of China’s ports and warehouses to operate at a reduced capacity. In mid-March, it was reported that up to 37 million people were under lockdown.

“We have enough inventory to supply our customers,” says Lei Wang, who works as a green coffee buyer at a roastery based in Shanghai, one of the worst affected areas, “but there is now a one-to-two-month delay for importing beans compared to last year. For example, we were supposed to receive the new season Ethiopian coffee in January, but it has only just arrived.

“Consequently, roasters have now become more willing to swap coffees from Colombia and Brazil, which are used in blends, for washed coffees grown in Yunnan.”

The price factor

While shipping delays are largely responsible for the move towards domestically grown coffees, they’re not the only cause. A range of factors, from fertiliser shortages to adverse weather conditions, have sent coffee prices soaring in recent months.

In December last year, arabica coffees prices hit a ten-year high at $2.40 per pound, more than double what they were at the start of 2021.

As such, more and more roasters in China have turned towards domestic green coffee to offset the added cost of importing. It’s also allowed them to continue serving customers bags of whole bean and ground coffee, despite the widespread closure of cafes.

For example, online shops have become a staple for many Chinese roasters, with some reporting higher sales compared to before the lockdown.

“We sell our roasted coffee to coffee shops and through our online shop,” Lei says. “I’ve noticed increasing demand online since the latest lockdown, and friends of mine who run coffee roasting businesses also say they’ve received more online orders – some double or triple the amount compared to pre-lockdown.”

China is one of the world’s fastest-growing consumers of coffee. Over the last few years, consumption has grown at an average of 30% per year, compared to an international rate of 2%.

However, the latest lockdowns have forced many coffee businesses across the country to temporarily shut or reduce their activities. They are China’s strictest measures since the Covid-19 outbreak began more than two years ago.