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.
With hopes of empowering the region, 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.