The advent of coffee in the motherland of tea

Perhaps it’s because of the lure of Western luxury, or perhaps it’s because tea houses — which have existed for over two thousand years in China and never had much competition — were no match against brands like Starbucks. Or perhaps it’s because modern China has no time for the leisure way of drinking tea (for hours and hours) which had been popular for centuries. Or perhaps it’s because tea is simply less addictive than coffee. Or perhaps it’s because change happens faster amid the many other changes which China is going through now. But the fact is that in the motherland of tea, coffee shops are opening at a rapid pace, while tea houses (including modern ones like Royaltea) are closing down.

In the nineties, coffee in China mostly meant chalky instant coffee mixed with boiled water, and half a kilo of imported Lavazza beans costed well over 400 RMB. But since 1999, Starbucks — which acquired the loving nickname ‘Papa Star’ (星爸爸) — has led the way for fresh grounded coffee, having opened more than three thousand stores in China already, and planning another 2000 before 2022. Especially post 80’s and post 90’s in big cities are embracing coffee, as they make up 75% of coffee drinkers. While the interiors of Costa and Starbucks are indistinguishable from their Western branches, the differences lay in their offerings. Beverages are served at warm rather than the scorching temperatures that Europeans like, and Starbucks especially has succeeded in tailoring its flavours to the Chinese market, such as red bean scones and — ironically enough — green tea latte.

About the author

jaapgrolleman

Dutch strategy planner at Seventy Shanghai.