Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 19 News List

The buzz on Yunlin's coffee festival

STAFF WRITER

For those thinking that Starbucks was the first to popularize coffee in Taiwan, think again. The aromatic beans have been growing in the mountains of southwestern Taiwan since the 17th century. To heighten awareness of the island's caffeine legacy and drum up a bit of tourism at the same time, the Yunlin County government is sponsoring a coffee festival that will go from today through Nov. 2.

The Dutch were the first to bring coffee beans to Taiwan when they first came to the island in 1624, dedicating several hectares of what is now Yunlin County to growing them. But it was the Japanese who made the most of the southern island's excellent coffee-growing environment. During the early part of the last century, there were some 300 hectares of coffee growing in Yunlin's Kukeng Township, Huisun, and in Taichung County's Rueisuei, near Hualien, making it the main agricultural product of Taiwan's Japanese colonial period, according to the Yunlin County Culture Bureau.

The Arabica strain has historically been Taiwanese coffee grower's beans of choice, both because of they grow heartily in on the southern parts of the island and because the beans have long fetched a handsome price at market.

After the 1999 earthquake and a couple of typhoons the following year, Yunlin County government began encouraging growers to change their agricultural model into one that would produce higher profits and to stop growing tea and betel nut, which don't have the market value of Arabica beans (the county government was also betting that more tourists would come to a coffee festival than would come to betel nut festival -- we'll see).

Tourism aside, the increased attention to coffee has resulted in more than 50 new coffee boutiques that have sprung up throughout Yunlin, with 35 in the Huashan community alone. These boutiques, the county government and Janfusun Fantasyworld (劍湖山世界) theme park are betting that Taiwanese will be brimming with excitement about the festival and return in coming years.

Interested festival goers should check out the Yunlin County Web site for more information at http://www.yunlin.gov.tw/chinese/coffee/index.htm or simply drive to Huashan Elementary School, where they can pick up more information on events and activities going on at other venues, buy locally grown coffee beans and, of course, drink a lot of coffee.

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