It is August 7th 2021, and I am back at Infinity Café to sit down and record my conversation with Dai Yu. We arrive an hour before he opens up shop, so we have some uninterrupted time to talk about all things coffee and sustainability.
He suggests we sit outside, and he pulls up a little wooden table and two chairs right in front of the shop in the sun before making us some coffee. We’re in the middle of Dujiangyan Old Town but hidden in one of the back alleys, allowing us to observe the locals' daily chores as they prepare for a new day of work. We can see the busy tourist streets from afar, but at this hour, we only see the fruit and veggie vendors passing by.
I prepared the camera and the voice recorder, and when Dai Yu returned with our warm beverages, we started talking about our views on sustainability in China.
Watch The Sustainable Barista on YouTube here!
KAILU, The Open Road.
A cross-country journey to meet the Chinese Changemakers in sustainability.
Roadtripping in China
Watch it here: The KAILU Docu Series
Read an excerpt from the book here:
(Alizée CCM) We already had this conversation before, but I would love for you to explain to the readers how you see sustainability in the coffee industry and how it impacts you and your community.
(Dai Yu) In the old days, coffee was not a popular drink in China. People would go for tea and other beverages, but nowadays, more coffee houses are opening up in cities like Shanghai.
People figured out that many things in our business are recyclable, for example, the coffee grounds we are left with. I think this is such a good example to show that the coffee business is deeply connected with the concept of sustainability.
We usually tell our customers that they can take the coffee grounds with them if they want and use them in their flower pots or just put them into their ashtrays (which would give the room a pleasant smell).
In my opinion, the whole industry is tuned in with the concept of environmental protection and sustainability. What I mean by that is that it can be a very sustainable and successful industry if we make the right choices.
When it comes to the packaging, for example, we tend to choose the more huanbao (environmentally protective) ones. People used to use a lot of plastic packages and non-degradable materials, but now, we tend to avoid them.
Today, we would prefer cups made of paper, porcelain, or glass, no matter if the order is a drink-in or a takeaway. These are only small parts of the sustainability in the coffee business. Growing and producing are, of course, much bigger parts of the supply chain with much bigger impacts on the environment. Because that’s where more serious problems are concerned, such as the soil, the water, the fertilizer, and the pesticides. Fortunately, we’ve inherited the most precious experiences and values from our farmer ancestors in China, especially in Yunnan.
When it comes to farming, we Chinese people fully respect the law of nature. That is to say, we prefer using our bare hands rather than relying on chemical products.
For example, if there was a pest, we would use our hands to pick them away, or maybe we could introduce some other species to cancel them out.
I think this is exactly what huanbao is about, and actually, you can feel the trend rising across other industries, in the last couple of years.
My family is deeply associated with agriculture; my brother runs a vegetable business, and my father is a veterinarian. I suppose you can say that my family is very acquainted with the concept of nature.
I believe we have to see nature as an integral whole when we talk about huanbao (environmental protection).
Take me as an example; when I was a kid, we could just get out of the house and jump into the river to swim. The water was extremely clean, and we didn’t need to worry that there might be harmful components in it.
But nowadays (maybe due to the increase in population and consumption), you can easily find trash in the river. We can no longer swim in the river as we wish and the only place to go for a swim is in a disinfected swimming pool.
My wish for the days and years ahead is for the concept of huanbao to be accepted by the masses, by everyone.
Because it concerns everyone, our children, our children’s children, their quality of life, and their freedom, this is such a crucial subject.
China has brought out several policies in recent years to push environmental protection, like the ‘grain for green’ policy, which suggests people return some farmland back to the forest.
We also have some public benefit projects carried out by the big companies. There is this man, the biggest boss in China, Jack Ma, maybe you know him.
He started this project, which allows every user of his app to have trees planted in the desert zone in China under their own name simply by walking for a certain distance or doing a certain amount of sports. Users can also check their trees on the same app anytime.
Projects like these give people hope, I think.
Watch it here: The KAILU Docu-Series