The path that led Tiffany Yu (余芳霞) to her newfound passion can only be described as “a blessing in disguise.”
In 2008, Yu’s trading company in Taipei suffered huge financial losses because of the financial crisis.
She sold her company and returned to her hometown, Yuchih Township (魚池), in Nantou County. Little did she know then that she would go on to start a coffee farm that has since won acclaim from a world-famous coffee master.
In a recent interview, the 54-year-old said that the coffee business was not part of her original plans.
As someone who likes a daily cup of coffee, she decided to plant her own trees after tasting coffee made from beans grown in farmland near her hometown.
Committed to organic farming and the manual process of agricultural production — from planting seeds to roasting coffee beans — Yu was firm in her belief that the best coffee comes from the most natural and simplest growing methods.
One major factor behind the high-quality Arabica coffee beans that Yu produces is the location of her farm, which sits at the foot of a mountain rich in natural crystals.
Such geological properties make it easier for plants grown there to absorb water and nutrients in the soil, said Kevin Wu, a coffee expert who has spent about 10 years in the field.
In 2010, Wu first tasted Yu’s coffee in a Taipei cafe and he was so impressed with the drink that he turned down an opportunity to work for Erna Knutsen, a US-based specialty coffee expert, and instead chose to stay in Taiwan to help Yu promote her business.
“I brought the beans [to Knutsen], but told her I couldn’t work for her,” Wu said in a recent interview in Nantou.
After tasting the Taiwanese coffee in person, Knutsen was so impressed she decided to visit the coffee farm, Wu said.
In February, the 91-year-old coffee master finally met Yu and toured the Nantou coffee farm during her first trip to Taiwan.
“The aroma is heavenly,” Knutsen said in an interview with local media at the time, praising its dark chocolate flavors.
“It’s amazing to me,” Knutsen added.
Enjoying a respected status in the field of coffee cultivation, Knutsen coined the term “specialty coffee” in 1974 and created a new way of grading the ancient beverage that won her the title “Coffee Godmother.”
Speciality coffee refers to exceptional beans which are grown in ideal coffee-producing climates.
Such a concept was seen as a “milestone” in the coffee industry at the time, Yu said.
Asked how Knutsen could help promote Yu’s coffee on the international stage, Yu said Knutsen promised to recommend her beans in the pages of the monthly Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, one of the world’s leading beverage magazines.
Yu’s coffee has also been well received by local consumers and her farm’s Facebook page is filled with a string of orders for its products.
The coffee packaging also includes printed remarks from Knutsen that read: “It’s sweet and different to other coffees; it’s wonderful.”
Another secret for the quality of the coffee may lie in the organic fertilizer that Yu and her husband produce and use, combining coffee bean peels with fermented powders.
“The process is easy,” Yu said. “It’s just a matter of whether you are willing to do it or not.”