12/04/2010, 00.00
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China, coffee "revolution" threatens tea

Rapid increase in the consumption of coffee, preferred by young people to traditional tearooms. Starbucks and other large corporations see only profit margins and push for a greater production of coffee in Yunnan province, which has always grown the best tea in China.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A real revolution in agriculture: Pu'er Prefecture (southwestern Yunnan) home of the famous Pu'er tea, considered the best Chinese tea, will be replaced by the cultivation of coffee. Coffee consumption in the country is increasing rapidly, especially among young people, and Western multinationals see the possibility of huge profits.

The prefecture, a mountainous area near the borders of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, has the ideal climate - hot, humid, temperate – for tea cultivation, but also for coffee, especially the “Arabic” variety. Howard Schultz, founder, chairman and chief executive of the local Starbucks chain, wants to create a farm in the area and teach farmers to grow coffee. "The Yunnan - Schultz says - can produce the best quality of coffee." Coffee was introduced to modern China by Swiss manufacturer Nestle in the 80s, but was seen as an exotic product to give to friends, rather than to consume.

Since the '90s, the coffee has appeared in more and more shops and bars, especially appreciated by foreign workers and civil servants, and has since spread throughout the middle class.

According to China Coffee Association Beijing in recent years the consumption of espresso coffee has grown by about 30% per annum and that of normal coffee between 15 and 20% per year. In 2009, the Chinese consumed about 50 thousand tons of coffee, compared to 200 thousand tons of tea.

The profit margins have increase immensely, considering that every Chinese consumes an average of 4 cups of coffee a year, compared to over 500 cups of most Westerners. Also, because the consumption of coffee is increasingly a trend among the young, who prefer Starbucks Café  to the traditional tea houses.

Yunnan already produces 90% of China's coffee, but in November Schultz and the provincial government signed an agreement to develop this industry: the current 26 thousand hectares of coffee will increase to 100 thousand by 2020, bringing production from 38 thousand tons at present to 200 thousand. Many farmers in the region have already removed the tea and orange plants to cultivate coffee.

Starbucks plans to make China the 2nd largest market for its chain of 17 thousand local coffee shops and increase its premises in the country from 400 to 1 thousand in a few years. The McDonald's chain  wants to open a series of McCafes as well and Nestle aims to increase its production of coffee.

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