This article was researched and written by one of our current Princeton in Asia Fellows, May Braverman.
Pessoa Coffee, a perpetually sunny spot, looks out on the normally golden yellow fields surrounding the Linden Centre. These days, the rice has just been harvested and all that remains is mud and straw huts built by local Bai minority aunties. This doesn’t stop Pessoa from being a gathering place for a hodgepodge of Waidi Ren (people from all over China who come here to work), long-term vacationers, picture-perfect tourists, and foreigners looking for that perfect cup of coffee. At the center of this little world is Peter Chen, the owner of Pessoa who occupies a number of roles within the café from teacher to professional roaster to friendly host, ensuring all who enter Pessoa leave having made a new friend and having had a delicious beverage.
Peter, who hails from originally from Zhuzhou in Hunan moved to Xizhou in July 2014 and opened Pessoa Coffee in June 2016. Peter himself is a charismatic man who is soft-spoken and may appear quiet at first, but soon reveals his good sense of humor and energy through conversation. At the same time, Peter can be intensely focused on whatever work is at hand, whether that be brewing a latte, carefully picking through beans to find the perfect ones for roasting, or keeping detailed records of coffee flavor tastings. In between his daily responsibilities, Peter found the time to sit down and talk with me about his story in fluent English (more on that later):
Where are you from?
The earth…Zhuzhou, Hunan, a city, it’s big—too big.
What did you study in college?
I studied business English in college. I chose the major I think because language is a type of communication tool, something to communicate with the outside world.
Have you used your major at work?
It was convenient when I worked at Starbucks because Starbucks is from the USA.
Why do you like coffee?
After I graduated from college I wanted to find some work, this work needed a stable life quality, and needed to be innovative, so I choose coffee. After graduating, I studied coffee at Starbucks in Zhongshan city, belonging to Guangdong. I didn’t drink coffee before making it, just had imagination, and what I thought is good. Making coffee is special, it’s about the quality of life level—and you have to keep innovating and use your imagination. If it tastes good or bad is all about technique.
I picked Xizhou because it’s quiet and beautiful, local culture, old houses and buildings. When I quit my last job I wanted to have a rest, be an Yi Gong (generally unpaid temporary employees who are provided with housing and food) and travel to have a break because the last job was too tiring. My last job was working in a coffee shop in Pu Er city in Yunnan, I worked there for one year.
The first time I came here, checked Xizhou on the map, saw it was close to Erhai lake so maybe it’s interesting. So I called the hotel owner of “Ji Yi Si” and said: “I’m a barista, I can help you.” For the first month I helped the owner for free, then helped him make juice and coffee. I was going to go back to Pu’er, but he said if I wanted to study coffee more I could stay. He helped me pay my tuition to learn how to roast coffee in Dali. After the training, I became the manager of the hotel for over one year.
Why did you decide to open a coffee shop?
Because I’m a barista, all I can do is coffee, making coffee—no dream to open a coffee shop, it’s natural—the market needs a coffee shop, the tourists need a place to have a break and enjoy the view.
Who are your clients?
Most of the customers are tourists because local people do not drink coffee.
How does your coffee shop help Xizhou?
Better for the tourist market.
Are you worried at all about the future of Xizhou?
More and more tourists in Dali and Xizhou is good for business, but the newcomers or tourists maybe destroy something in Xizhou like the old buildings. They destroy it for the new space to rent to some people, and most important is the government. The government needs to protect Xizhou, we hope the government will protect Xizhou because we like it, it is a special town in China, it is unique.
~QUESTIONS ABOUT COFFEE~
Where does your local coffee come from?
The coffee is from Baoshan city, the farmer is Mr. Feng (封), my friend opened a coffee shop earlier than me so he bought the coffee beans from Mr. Feng, so I know him. His coffee beans are very clean and the quality is very good.
What is special about Yunnan coffee?
Nothing special, it’s light, tastes like tea, and is sweet. It’s like a good souvenir.
How do pick what coffee beans to use for each beverage?
Just like when you eat your lunch – just choose coffee like you choose food. I’m like a cook.
If some people never drink coffee they can ask me: “what suits me, what is suitable?” I assess the coffee bean’s coffee flavor, acidity, and bitterness, so the customer can choose one to try.
How did you start working with the Linden Centre?
I think the Linden Centre is a good hotel, so I want to offer my coffee beans to the Linden Centre. I asked Brian and I asked the manager Wang Zhong, if you want to offer Yunnan coffee to guests, I can offer you some. So three months ago, I started grinding coffee for the Centre.
After I have a communication with Brian and manager Wang, they said we have to have a tasting of my coffee in the Linden Centre, so I roasted coffee and took it to the Linden Centre for tasting. Because Brian doesn’t like coffee with acidity, so it’s French Roast, it’s very very dark.
The coffee the Linden Centre uses is blended coffee, Yunnan and Colombia.
Pessoa coffee is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9am to 8pm.
Join us for a cup of Pessoa coffee at our café/bar everyday from 10am to 10pm.