Tucked away in an oft forgotten corner of the world, Taitung is a rural city off the east coast of Taiwan with an area just under the size of Rhode Island. While Taitung boasts 10% of the country’s total area, it only accounts for only 1% of its population. Plagued by decades of brain drain and urban flight, Taitung has a population skewed towards the young and the elderly. While the rest of Taiwan has modernized and prospered, Taitung continues to struggle economically.
However, due to this isolation, Taitung has escaped the urbanization in most parts of the country and remains a pristine green idyllic haven that is a reminder of the island’s pre-industrial days. As part of an effort to revitalize the region’s economy, the government has rolled out initiatives in eco-tourism and valued-added agriculture.
We have identified a crop that offers a glimpse of hope for the region—Taiwan’s version of Kopi Luwak Coffee. Taitung is located on what the coffee world refers to as the “bean belt”, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where all the world’s finest beans are grown. Combine that with its natural isolation, moist climate and large mountainous regions (high altitude makes good beans), Taitung presents itself as the perfect location for growing coffee beans.
We met Mr. Ruan in a chanced meeting summer 2012. Mr. Ruan is a Taitung farmer who originally bred Formosan masked civets, the cats that produce the Kopi Luwak taste in coffee. He, along with his cohorts of 11 other famers, were selected by the government to see if they could reinvigorate the coffee industry in Taitung and Taiwan at large.
After three years’ into the government experiment, Mr. Ruan’s coffee has won accolades from the local press and anyone who has had the good fortune to sip his blend, but of the 1,000 acres of coffee plantation in Taitung County, 80% remain fallow.
As connoisseurs of Mr. Ruan’s coffee, we saw an opportunity to help Mr. Ruan and the people of Taitung better market their products globally and set out on a mission to put their coffee on the map.
Kopi luwak coffee originated from the colonial Dutch Indonesia when farmers discovered that certain species of civets would consume coffee beans and leave them undigested through their systems. Due to the civets selection process (they only eat the best), and the active enzymes in their digestion system react with the beans creating a uniquely original flavor. The most common assessment with our Formosan palm civet Kopi luwak coffee is that it is rich with a chocolate aftertaste and much less bitter than the average coffee.
The coffee beans in Ruan’s farm are only harvested three months a year, during the months of September, October and November, meaning the civets are only consuming coffee beans during those times of the year.. Averaging 3 to 4 kg of beans per year per civet, Ruan’s farm with 200 civets produces only about 600kg of coffee beans per year.
Farmers in Taitung have been growing coffee beans since 1912, but like Ruan, though they have perfected their techniques in producing coffee beans worthy of competing with the world’s best, they lack the business skills, means and knowledge to successfully market and distribute their coffee. Breeding and sustaining the civets alone cost up to 24,000 USD a year. My goal is to help Ruan market his coffee by, establishing an online retailing presence where consumers can buy the coffee directly from the Ruans, in short from farm to cup. By allowing farmers and consumers to connect online and bypass the middlemen, we allow consumers to purchase premium coffee more affordably and also allow the farmers to retain a greater share of the revenue.
Your perks will directly help Ruan and farmers like him with the necessities to do what they do best (make awesome coffee) and to promote, package, market, and sell their coffee. Our initial approach is two pronged. Since the farm is very remote—45 minutes by car from Taitung city, we would like to first establish a retail location in downtown Taitung so that visitors can taste Ruan’s coffee and learn about Ruan’s story. At the same time, we would like to expand overseas via the internet, creating greater demand for our products.
In the long term, we hope to empower the area and its local population with the tools for self-sustainability. One of our visions is to transform the farm into an experitential eco-friendly plantation, where visitors can learn about the farming of coffee beans and see the wild civets in their natural habitat.
Finally, our goal is to stimulate the local economy through entrepreneurship. We hope that through our example, we can encourage more entrepreneurs and investors to invest in the region in a socially responsible way. Where possible, we are committed to hiring locally from the 200,000+ community in Taitung and training them with the skills necessary to build a small, yet global business. By hiring local staff and basing the company in Taitung, we want to keep as much of the salary and earnings earned through this venture recycled and reinvested into the community.
RISK AND CHALLENGES
The greatest risk lies in the fact that coffee bean production is still a nascent industry in Taiwan and the accompanying ecosystem, e.g. logistics, experienced marketers, growers, etc. remain underdeveloped or few. As a result, initially the unit cost per pound of coffee may not be competitive in price to what consumers globally find acceptable. In addition, consumers unfamiliar with Taiwan may not be ready to associate premium coffee with Taiwan and be reluctant to purchase.
So, it might be a while till you see our coffee in Whole Foods or your local cafe, but we are prepared to win over one consumer at a time because to us, this is not just another cup of joe, but a social responsibility.
Apart from our Kopi Luwak Coffee, Ruan has spent years developing a “simulated” blend, where he has attempted to enzymatically duplicate the taste of Kopi Luwak. Unlike Kopi Luwak, where the coffee beans are consumed by the civets, the simulated Kopi Luwak treats the coffee beans enzymatically to replicate the Kopi Luwak taste. We have coined the blend, Ecolique (or eco-friendly) beans.
Our perks come in 3 different packages: The Ecolique have been pre-grounded as drip coffee filter bags to be included in all but one of our pledges. With increasing pledges, you will receive increasing amounts of Ecolique and Taitung Kopi Luwak. All of which will be shipped free of charge anywhere in the world!