Taiwan's mountain coffee hub
Simply by sipping, tasters will be delighted to find that coffee products from a small aboriginal town called Taiwu share similar characteristics with Arabica coffee — a creamy smooth texture, with no sour or bitter aftertaste.
Located in Pingtung County's Dawu mountain range, Taiwu Village enjoys a natural environment that is exceptionally friendly for growing coffee, with gentle mountain slopes that climb to 800 meters above sea level, providing moderate heat and humidity. In a region where the annual temperature never exceeds 24 degrees Celsius, Taiwan acacia shrubs flourish, resulting in a shadowing effect that contributes to the production of high-quality coffee beans.
The planting of coffee trees in Taiwu can be traced back to the Japanese colonial period. The beans were once exported to Japan as a product reserved for royalty, but when the colonial period ended, gone also were the coffee-processing skills; coffee plants and their red fruits were left to be gradually taken over by weeds. Not until the early 2000s was the coffee tree once again the spotlight of the local community. Its visibility also increased as aid from the government poured in after Typhoon Morakot pummeled southern Taiwan in 2009.
A coffee-oriented community
In line with the government's campaign to develop a specialty for each aboriginal township, many Taiwu residents have been encouraged to participate in the coffee industry; ninety-nine percent of the residents of Taiwu are indigenous Paiwan people, and 76 percent of the 126 households in Taiwu now grow coffee trees.
However, only few have successfully broken into the international market, and those that do have taken advantage of the opportunity to receive aid from the public sector and other sources. For example, the Pingtung County Government has subsidized half the price of heavy-duty machinery such as a coffee bean peeler and a coffee bean decorticator that is owned jointly by the town.
As part of the community's adoption of an eco-friendly lifestyle, the coffee beans are handpicked by local workers, naturally fermented by water, and dried by the sun. The end product is given neither preservatives nor aroma-enhancing additives.
Taiwu's coffee beans are also grown organically. Since April 2011, the government initiated a project to encourage coffee growers to obtain organic certification. So far, more than 18 coffee farmers have been awarded certificates by the Taiwan Formosa Organic Association.
Like many startups, Taiwu-produced coffee still has a long way to go before stepping onto the world stage. Among other pressing issues, low production quantity and high costs are the most urgent. In addition to maintaining strict control over quality, many coffee farmers also attend agricultural product fairs as a way of promotion and to learn first-handedly the needs of consumers.
Some local entrepreneurs are ambitiously building the first complete coffee production line in Taiwan. All production phases, including bean picking, fermentation, sun-drying, warehousing, roasting, and packing, are included in the plan.
The community hopes to see the industry prosper under the premise of existing harmoniously with nature. Efforts to fulfill this goal include a technique that can transfer thermal energy into electricity, and establishing Taiwan's first "green” coffee factory.
The burgeoning local coffee production industry will also help retain the local workforce by providing more employment opportunities to Taiwu youths. A workshop has been set up to educate willing learners on the basics of farming coffee trees, from sapling care in the nursery to pollination techniques.
Infused with cultural elements and local flavor, coffee in Taiwu is not merely an agricultural crop, but carries with it the ambition of creating a new lifestyle. Endowed with plentiful natural resources, local aboriginal culture, and high-quality beans, Taiwu will undoubtedly become a force to be reckoned with in the coffee industry.
As one indigenous coffee start-up owner quipped, 'Coffee culture has been imported into our tribe, and we expect to export it as cultural coffee.'