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Recently, Royal Coffee spent a number of days on the ground in the emergent coffee markets in two of the world’s largest cities – Beijing and Shanghai.

Observant blog readers will have no doubt noted that we’ve taken to republishing some of our articles in Chinese and Japanese, and many of you already know that in addition to our four U.S. warehousing locations, we also store coffee in Shanghai.

While the immediately obvious nature of our interest in the world’s second largest economy (third, if you count the EU as a single entity) shouldn’t surprise you, you might be interested to know that there’s also a personal connection to China for a number of the team at Royal. Two of our traders, Kevin Morales and Peter Radosevich, spent time living in the country. Kevin actually roasted coffee in Xining, capital of central China’s Qinghai province for a while, and Peter was once a tour guide in Shanghai. We’ve also recently hired Sara Zhang, a Beijing resident, to help represent our coffees in the country and help translate our marketing materials. The trip provided an excellent opportunity for our Oakland team to connect with her in person, on her home turf.

Our excursion this year started in Beijing, where Peter, Sara, Jen and I took the Crown back on the Road to teach a two-day advanced roasting seminar. Our hosts for the event, Albatross Coffee Roasters, have a roasting and educational facility on the northeast side of the city. Albatross Coffee’s founders, Cheng Lin and Kino welcomed us graciously and Cheng Lin provided interpretation and translation services for us, a skill he developed working in the medical field.

Our students were a great, diverse bunch, and included Albatross’ two women roasters and quality managers and roasters from Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. After class, we took some time out as well to visit Uncle Bean (and Auntie, of course!), who treated us to the city’s famous roast duck.

During the class, Jen Apodaca spent extensive time working with the team on heat transfer, roast profiling, and different techniques for modifying the profile of a particular coffee on the two Probats. I worked with them on green coffee analysis, Ikawa roasting, and quality control department development. We brought Crown Jewels with us to the class and really enjoyed the opportunity to bring the educational nature of the Crown to a group of students eager to learn and apply their knowledge.

From Beijing, we flew to Shanghai to meet Kevin and the Crown’s GM Richard Sandlin, who were busy polishing some very last minute details at our trade show booth.

Each year in March, Shanghai hosts Hotelex, a service industry show, probably the largest of its kind. The show includes multiple halls dedicated to coffee, dwarfing SCA’s annual Expo in the US. It’s a little intimidating, to be honest. However, Sara and Richard managed to put together our most polished booth appearance and experience yet.

As with all trade shows, our time spent was a mix of walking the floor, meeting new and old industry friends, trying out new products, and brewing and cupping a lot of coffee. We showcased our Shanghai coffees, featured producers Teddy Yilak (BNT) and Aman Adinew (METAD) from Ethiopia, offered an authentic Ethiopian coffee ceremony experience, and roasted coffee using Jen’s unique profiles on Ikawa roasters.

We had some off-booth opportunities as well. Jen partnered with Loring to cup and teach about Crown Jewel coffees and Loring’s roasters at their booth at the show. Richard was given the opportunity to speak and answer questions at a mini-seminar at SeeSaw Coffee’s flagship location, a hip customer of ours who also work directly with Chinese farmers on processing and harvesting techniques. Richard’s presentation focused on cafe design, as he’s taken the lead in many respects with coordinating the Crown’s buildout. He was paired with SeeSaw’s cafe designer, and the two offered unique insights to a packed crowd, while Kevin interpreted and Jen & I watched, sipping SeeSaw’s coffee IPA out of some nicely branded bottles.

I’d be remiss not to recount some of the fantastic food. In Beijing (in addition to the duck) we had our fill of hot pot, both spicy and mild, and our feasts in both cities included unusual meats – bone marrow, duck esophagus, and a donkey sandwich (there’s a burrito pun in there somewhere). In Shanghai we sampled multiple preparations of eggplant, dumplings, plenty of numbing spice, and some pretty delicious freshwater fish as well.

While we didn’t get a chance to stop for the street vendor version, we did partake in the hotel-breakfast iteration of the popular breakfast crêpe, “jiānbǐng,” (煎饼) which provided inspiration for Jen’s “Chinese name” (ask her about the stamp). We all got a good chuckle out of it, especially for those of us who conflated it with the pronunciation of “specialty” in Chinese, “jīngpǐn” (精品).

It was a busy, fun trip. This wasn’t our first excursion, nor will it be our last to China. Will you be at a Hotelex event, or are you roasting coffee in China? We’d love to hear from you, and meet up to share coffee and stories.