A farmer who grows coffee beans high up in the mountains of Chiayi County last week won the top prize at the first Taiwan Domestic Gourmet Coffee Competition, beating 112 other entries.
For 37 years, Hsu Chun-jung (許峻榮) was a dedicated tea producer at his farm 1,200m up Chowu Mountain (卓武山) in Chashan Village (茶山), Alishan Township (阿里山) — until a chance encounter 12 years ago led him to a love affair with coffee.
While on a visit to Namasiya Township (那瑪夏), Kaohsiung County (now Greater Kaohsiung), Hsu found the arabica coffee beans being grown there — first imported into Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era — to have a unique aroma and taste.
He started growing arabica beans alongside his tea crop. Coffee now takes up about 6 hectares of his farm, about the same size as his tea plantation. He produces about 6 tonnes of raw coffee beans every year, which yields about 2 tonnes of roasted beans.
From planting to final processing, Hsu has adopted a very strict method for producing coffee beans. He applies organic farming methods, using no pesticides, and offers customers a choice of light, medium or full roast. He has also developed a new type of coffee processing, which he calls “mountain stream washing.”
After the coffee beans are picked, they go through a wet (washed coffee) or dry (unwashed coffee) process. For wet processed coffee, many producers use the “ferment-and-wash” method wherein the fermented beans are washed by water to remove the pulp and mucilage covering.
Hsu’s wet processing is different in that he uses mountain stream water, with temperatures kept at an average of 10°C, to wash and clean the beans. This gives his “Chowu Mountain Coffee” a subtler and more fragrant aroma.
“Producing coffee beans, then going on to market and selling them on your own, is a very difficult task. Running a coffee farm requires many workers, especially when the coffee beans have to be picked and harvested,” Hsu said. “This whole process is especially difficult because getting skilled workers is a problem. It is not something that can be solved by just throwing money at it.”
“Winning the top prize at the competition is proof that my efforts and insistence on sticking to my principles were right,” he added.
The inaugural Taiwan Domestic Gourmet Coffee Competition was a collaboration between National Taiwan University and the Council of Agriculture’s Tea Research and Extension Station.
The two major categories of competition are for “partial fermentation” and “standard wet washing” methods, with the former attracting more than 10 entries and the latter 113 entries.
Assessments for the coffee beans were based on evaluations on water measurement, sieve grading, weight ratio, tasting and other properties.
Besides Hsu, other Chiayi farmers who won prizes and honorable mentions include Tseng Yung-li (曾永麗) of Mo Fu Coffee Garden; Wang Chao-sui (王照隨) of Top Marks Coffee Garden; Pu Hsiu-ling (浦秀玲) and Wang Chiung-shan (王瓊珊) of Chiung Shan Coffee; and Lai Yen-hsiang (賴燕翔) of Lai Family Coffee Garden.
Huang Shih-yu (黃世裕), a coffee gourmet and secretary-general of the Meishan Township (梅山) Farmers’ Association, said that the nation’s homegrown coffee beans are fresher than imported products, with a taste and aroma that can match any top grade “single origin” coffee from any other country.
Huang said Chiayi County and its mountains offer excellent conditions for growing coffee.
Although the county accounts for only about 12 percent of domestic coffee production, it was able to produce such excellent results at the competition, he said.