Xu Guoming owns an 80-square-meter coffee bar in the coastal city of Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province. The cafe sells some 200 cups of pour-over coffee every day, made with beans he has collected from home and abroad.
The 55-year-old coffee enthusiast calls himself a "coffee seeker" -- one who goes to plantations and farms near the equator during the production season to find and buy high-quality coffee beans.
In his 20s, Xu met an old Japanese barista, who taught him how to make pour-over coffee. That was when the idea of starting his own cafe germinated in Xu's mind.
In early 2000, he opened his first cafe in Qingdao, selling only pour-over coffee. However, coffee drinking was far from popular at that time, when international brands like Starbucks had just entered the Chinese market, and drinking coffee was still considered by many as a luxury.
After struggling for three and a half years, his first attempt in coffee business failed, and he had to close his cafe.
Over the past two decades, however, coffee drinking has become more popular, ushering in a coffee business boom.
"Almost everyone around me drinks coffee every day, so it's like a necessity for us," said Jiang Zhengxu, a 26-year-old marketer working for a foreign-invested company in Shanghai.
According to a report by CBNData and Tmall.com, Chinese coffee consumers like to have a healthy variety of the beverage and are quality conscious.
The report also showed that those aged under 30, especially females, are more likely to choose sugar-free black coffee, and office workers and students are the main consumers of such coffee.
"I prefer Americano, not instant but pour-over ones, to refresh myself during work," Jiang said.
Thanks to the changing coffee market and consumption trends, Xu's second cafe was opened, and he was also encouraged to chase his dream -- to find better quality coffee beans.
Since 2010, Xu has been collecting coffee beans and at the beginning of each year he sets out looking for new beans.
"Coffee plantations are mostly located in tropical and high-altitude areas. Subtle differences in seeds, soil, water sources, light and other natural conditions will lead to different flavors, not to mention the effects of artificial cultivation methods and processing," Xu said.
"The coffee beans from the same plant last year may well not taste the same as this year's," he added.
According to Xu, to find high-quality beans, one should use the most primitive method -- smell them first, brew them with hot water, smell them again, then take a scoop, sip, and let the coffee atomize in the mouth.
"Always note down whatever taste you experience, such as sour, sweet, bitter and mellow flavors, or flavors of rose, orange, lemon and strawberry. Your taste, smell and imagination should be mobilized," Xu said.
"The criteria for selecting beans are strict but also subjective. Some coffee beans, I think, have the smell as wood residue, but others might really like this smell," Xu said.
So far, Xu has been to about 500 coffee farms. On his "treasure hunt map," Costa Rica and Panama are places that must be visited every year.
Coffee beans are often named after their origins, plantations and treatment methods, but Xu would give new names to some of the beans he had collected. "One night, when I was collecting beans, I saw swarms of fireflies, so I simply named those beans fireflies."
Xu's business is an epitome of China's growing coffee industry.
With elevated income and improved living standards in China, people are showing more interest in high-quality coffee, and new professions are emerging, such as "bean seekers" and "bean bakers."
According to the Qianzhan industry research institute, a Chinese think tank, the per capita consumption of coffee among Chinese consumers was 7.2 cups in 2019. China's coffee consumption is growing at an average annual rate of 15 percent, and the size of the country's coffee market is expected to reach 180.6 billion yuan (27.5 billion U.S. dollars) in 2023.
In 2019, the southwestern border province of Yunnan, China's largest coffee-planting base, exported 56,100 tonnes of coffee beans and related products to 55 countries and regions, including the United States, Japan and the European Union. The coffee industry in Yunnan has become a major pillar of the local economy. Enditem