The coffee & charms of Puli, through the lens of Japanese migrants
菅大志 began with the history of the colonial-era Puli Experimental Forest Station and how Japanese authorities began their farming research with just over 40 coffee trees.
Nantou’s Puli Township may be far away from the sunny beaches, but its good-nature appeal has attracted many world citizens to settle in central Taiwan. To introduce some of these international residents to the local community, National Chi Nan University (NCNU) held a Taiwan-Japan liaison afternoon with coffee and snacks on March 20 at the B&B Trade Winds bookstore to introduce two Japanese nationals living in Puli -- 菅大志 and 今井修.
As a doctor of agriculture from Hokkaido University, 菅大志 relocated to Puli after meeting his wife from Taiwan. His alma mater happens to be the same Japanese institution that raised three agronomists who influenced the 20th-century course of Taiwan’s agricultural industry: sugar specialist 新渡戶稻造 (Inazō Nitobe), Ponlai rice scientist 磯永吉 (Eikichi Iso), and 新井耕吉郎 (Kōkichirō Arai), who introduced Ceylon black tea to the high-mountain regions surrounding Sun-Moon Lake.
菅大志 began with the history of the colonial-era Puli Experimental Forest Station, the predecessor of National Chung Hsing University’s forestry resources today, and how Japanese authorities began their farming research with just over 40 coffee trees. The Japanese colonial Office of Pacification and Land Cultivation began cultivating coffee in earnest at Puli, which was the highest arable land in Taiwan at that time, from as early as 1896.
Large-scale coffee farming began in 1902, when Inazō Nitobe headed the colonial Office of Pacification and Land Cultivation and rolled out an ambitious plan to launch a tropical plants nursery at the southernmost point of the main island, Hengchun. Imperial Japan also offered handsome rewards to those who could successfully grow new tropical crops here, and Puli’s coffee farmers were among the beneficiaries of this policy.
Sharing the same affinity for coffee, 菅大志 began growing his own brew using strains of cultivars that were first introduced to Puli by Japanese scientists. He has also chosen eco-friendly farming methods for promoting biodiversity on his land, while branding his coffee with the old logo of the Puli Experimental Forest Station in homage of the caffeinated drink’s roots.
In today’s thriving Taiwanese democracy, Puli has become the cradle of homegrown boutique coffee. B&B resort operator and coffee roaster Shen Yung-wei (沈詠為) was another guest speaker invited by the NCNU College of Management to the March 20 event. He explained that townships like Guoxing, Puli, and Yuchi worked together to grow their fledgling boutique crop after the Sept. 21 Earthquake devastated central Taiwan in 1999.
Sharing popular Arabica cultivars such as Yellow Bourbon and the Geisha from Ethiopia that are now grown in Nantou, Shen cites the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) on the five core components of the boutique coffee eco-system — from growing to harvesting, roasting, brewing, and enjoying. Consumers are key to the survival of this burgeoning yet young niche corner of the coffee market. Taiwan is now at the forefront of this movement’s production capabilities, making the next step of educating Taiwanese consumers essential to this business segment’s survival.
今井修holds an EMBA from Keio University in Tokyo and relocated with his wife to Puli, Taiwan upon marriage. He has since been studying the differences in Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine, noting that even something as foundational as miso will carry distinct flavor profiles depending on its origin. Miso soup, he explains, varies by regional style, broth, and ingredients just within Japan.
He also uses the example of the Japanese rice ball, known as well as onigiri, as another food item that has prized specialty forms in different regions and seasons. Beloved by kids and adults alike, the rice ball was the protagonist of a “make-it-yourself” demonstration organized by 今井修 as he explained its iconic triangular shape came from a desire to equally distribute the stuffing within.
NCNU has been organizing community events for over 3 years now; with the support of the Ministry of Education, this year’s program has gained more international focus. Free tickets for the March 20 event were snatched up within the first day of pre-registration, and attendees included not just students but also instructors from NCNU’s information technology and tourism departments and members of the Japanese community in Puli.
今井修 explained its iconic triangular shape came from a desire to equally distribute the stuffing within at Onigiri-making session.
Shen Yung-wei gave a brief introduction about the development of Nantou’s specialty coffee.