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Find China's oldest coffee in Dali

By : InKunming | Published: 2013-November-15

A villager picks coffee beans in Zhukula Village, Binchuan County, Dali City, Yunnan.

Yunnan is the biggest coffee-growing area in China, producing more than 98 percent of the country's crop.

Zhukula Coffee, known as the oldest coffee in China, was first introduced to a remote village named Zhukula by a French missionary 120 years ago. Today, the local residents are trying to make Zhukula coffee a well-known brand.

Zhukela village is located in the juncture of Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Lijiang City and Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. The village is home to 327 people from 83 households.

There are many mountains between Zhukela and Pingchuan, a township 51 kilometers away from the village. The routes are steep trails that hug the alpine range's waist.

"No one can enter or leave Zhukula Village on a rainy day. The mountain roads are passable by either off-road vehicle or motorcycle. It takes three hours for one way journey on a clear day," said an official of local forestry authorities.

However, the local government is getting down improving the transportation condition.

A villager uses a bowl for drinking coffee.

Coffee entered Zhukula in 1892 when a French missionary left Vietnam to settle in the isolated village. Around the adobe church planted the seeds of his favorite brewed beverage. The first coffee tree the missionary planted died in 1997. But the rest of the 24 saplings still stand today.

With an over one-hundred-year history of coffee cultivation, local villagers carry on a coffee-drinking tradition. Drinking coffee is entrenched in the lifestyle here.

A habitant named Zheng Shulian, 51-year-old, said Coffee has long been a part of life. It is also a necessary drink on someone’s wedding party here. Villagers often treat guests with coffee—a spoon of sugar and coffee bean powder, no milk.

Zheng said unlike people who live in urban areas, villagers here are not particular about ways to make coffee. For me, it doesn’t matter drinking coffee with a rice bowl or a paper cup.

Zhukula coffee had its ups and downs. In 1948, more than 80 mu of coffee trees were planted by villagers of 43 households led by the village head Li Fusheng. Even so, in those years, many villagers abandoned coffee trees due to sluggish coffee prices. “In 1988, the price of coffee beans was 2 yuan a kilogram.” Until 2008, the village has only 13 mu of coffee trees.

(Yunnan coffee development was very limited until 1995, when Yunnan’s government officially listed coffee as one of 18 bio-engineering projects. It was a critical change in the coffee industry, and it was further stimulated with Yunnan’s quick coffee industry development scheme in 1998.)

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