I loved watching Disney’s Mulan as a young boy. It made me fall in love with China and its colorful culture. One of my favorite scenes involved a heated argument between father and daughter over tea time. The delicacy with which they poured tea in small cups was everything. Tea was also prescribed to Mulan’s father; “three cups in the morning, three at night.” If that doesn’t show you China’s love for tea, I don’t know what will. But here’s the catch – coffee is slowly taking over tea!
You read that right; it’s been a few decades since China witnessed a surge in coffee consumption. Don’t get me wrong; tea is not going anywhere. But the truth about coffee’s popularity cannot be denied either. How did that happen? Well, coffee is nothing new in China. It’s only that now its consumption has increased by leaps and bounds.
History of Coffee in China
Coffee was brought to China by a French missionary in the state of Yunnan during the late 19th century. It was grown like any other plant, but that was that. It was not used as a caffeinated drink. Chinese people were still deeply in love with tea.
It wasn’t until the late 1900s that the giant American coffee chain Starbucks decided to land in China. From there, coffee took rise among young people. It would be unfair to give the entire credit to Starbucks for introducing delicious coffee drinks to the people of China. Most of this has to do with China’s decision to see the world. Coffee culture was brought to China by youngsters who came back from other countries. Starbucks and other coffee chains were already there when the coffee revolution started happening.
Coffee Industry in China
Despite being a tea-loving country, China ranks at number six in coffee production. The plantation and manufacturing took place in Yunnan since it was the place where everything began. The coffee market in China is booming, thanks to chains like Starbucks. Starbucks has a nearly 60% coffee market share in China, and its number of stores is increasing every day. It is said that a new Starbucks is launched every 15 hours somewhere in China. They claim to have 6,000 outlets by 2022.
The coffee business in China still needs growth if we analyze the population it has. On average, a Chinese only takes around 7 cups of coffee a year compared to 400 cups for Americans and nearly 1,000 cups for Swedish and Norwegian people. Deep analysis shows that coffee is popular among people between the ages of 20 to 30. Older people still prefer tea over any other caffeinated drink.
Coffee Culture in China
Chinese culture is deeply rooted in its ancient background. More than two centuries of being driven by tea cannot be conquered in a matter of mere decades. Chinese cafés and restaurants convey their culture via the ambiance and the services.
One of the reasons Starbucks is gaining immense popularity in China is its adjustment with the Chinese culture. In China, you will find oddly flavored coffee drinks like red beans or green tea. You will also spot mooncakes and other delicacies during Chinese New Year. It was fascinating for young people to notice an international brand representing Chinese tradition so well.
As opposed to America, consuming coffee in China is seen as a status symbol. The newly made cafés are designed to be chic yet in contrast with the Chinese interior. Surveys have shown that teenagers go to these cafés to hang out with friends. They enjoy coffee, take cute selfies and leave. On the other hand, the older visitors prefer to sit in silence to relax or to work.
Another reason for coffee to be considered a status symbol is that the price is quite high for a single cup. A large latte costs more than $4, equivalent to a day’s food or two to three cheap meals. Still, people who can afford it take their time to visit the nearest café and enjoy a cup of coffee. While Americans prefer to take their coffee as they go to and from work, Chinese people invest their time and money to be relaxed when it comes to coffee. They prefer a nice cozy sitting area where they can drink coffee and just sit in silence.
Chinese Coffee Brands
It goes without saying that Starbucks is doing extremely well in China. You’ll find an outlet in every corner of urban areas, especially Beijing and Shanghai. Apart from it, Costa and Dunkin Donuts are in for the game too. The prices usually remain the same with each brand, making it more popular in cities than in low-class rural areas.
Other cafés like Baker and Spice and Café on Air are also popular in Beijing and Shanghai. They are expensive but are frequently visited by youngsters for the elegant interior design that is worthy of being a perfect background for pictures.
China is also capable of producing its own coffee. Local brands like Arabica Coffee, Shangrila Farms Coffee, and many others are famous among locals. They are relatively cheaper than the ready-made coffee drinks from the cafés but tastes good no matter. Luckin Coffee is a new addition to the local Chinese brands. It started off in 2018, and since then, it has seen great success among Chinese coffee lovers.
Future of Coffee
China owes the success of coffee to its young generations. The middle-aged and older people are still hooked to tea, and it will take some time to convince them for coffee. Giants like Starbucks and local star, Luckin, aims at getting 400 millennials to embrace the love of coffee in the coming few years. It is quite clear that the Chinese will never completely adopt the Western culture, but with the popularity of coffee increasing, the world can hope that China will be among the top coffee consumers in the world one day.