China Food

It’s a drink that’s more curly than milk tea



Text: Xie Wuji   

Source: New Weekly (ID: New Weekly)

If you look back at the trend of Chinese people drinking coffee, you will find that the “Feng Shui turns around” – instant coffee once surrounded by middle-class elites has been firmly nailed to the bottom of today’s coffee contempt chain; Starbucks, the founder of x-pack, will also end up with netizens questioning the end of “a taste of Shabu Shabu water”, which has only happened in two decades.

The most in playful coffee parties nowadays have long disdained to be the atmosphere group of Starbucks Ruixing. Isn’t the quality coffee sprouting in cities fragrant? Isn’t the hand brewed coffee that can be bought online at civilian prices fragrant? On the hottest social platform nowadays, many young people have dug up many treasure coffee shops in second and third tier cities.

According to the latest white paper on China’s freshly ground coffee industry, by the end of 2020, the number of cafes in China had exceeded 100000. At present, China has 108000 cafes, mainly distributed in second tier and above cities, accounting for 75%. By January 2021, there were 6913 cafes in Shanghai, which is the city with the largest number of cafes in the world.

Data source: public comments, OpenStreetMap, commercial database of new first tier cities

Coffee seems to integrate into the city faster than we thought. Our discussion of coffee ranges from “I struggled for 18 years to sit and drink coffee with you” to “how to pretend to be an old hand when I go to Starbucks for the first time” Up to now, coffee has gradually eliminated the senior class gap and gradually become more and more daily and civilian. It can be either a blending agent like milk tea or a life-saving water for social animals on weekdays. Our discussion on it has gradually become “how to DIY a good and inexpensive coffee?” “how to quit drinking coffee?” “As long as there is coffee in your heart, there is romance everywhere”

The significance of coffee in the times is more like a constantly changing spiritual symbol. In today’s tired society with increasing spiritual internal friction, an implicit spiritual demand is shaping the city – coffee shop is existing as a third space outside work and home, which provides a public and private space.

New weekly was the first to continuously discuss Chinese cities from the perspective of humanistic life. There is no doubt that today’s coffee shop, the most representative spiritual and cultural space of a city, must occupy a seat. Why do we walk into a coffee shop? From the lifestyle of Chinese people drinking coffee, we can get a glimpse of Hamlet like beings.

Chinese people drink coffee

Why can’t you break the chain of contempt?

Tracing back to the coffee addiction of Chinese people, you will find that coffee comes with its own foreign accent.

A hundred years ago, China’s first coffee shop was just to relieve the addiction of foreign businessmen. At that time, coffee was also called “black wine of fangui” in Guangdong Tongzhi during the Jiaqing period.

In the 1930s, the earliest coffee shop in Shanghai was called “cough potion” by local people. Foreign coffee appropriately fitted with the temperament of modern petty bourgeoisie in Shanghai during the period of the Republic of China. The coffee shop under the dense Shanghai style culture is an indispensable part of the Bund.

Even in the era of lack of resources, coffee is still brewed on the stove of old Shanghai people. Shanghai people love coffee even in difficult times. The low-cost “coffee tea” invented in Shanghai in 1961 is made by grinding the leftover coffee beans into fine powder, spreading powdered sugar and drying them together.

Early Shanghainese drank coffee.

As early as that time, coffee is no longer coffee itself for Chinese people. It has long been endowed with the tone of petty bourgeoisie culture.

Until 1980, the first coffee wave was set off in China, coffee began to popularize to the domestic public, began to become instant and commercialized, and really had the concept of China’s coffee market.

Instant coffee and three in one flavored coffee have become the mainstream of Chinese coffee culture since the reform and opening up to 2000. In Nestle’s advertisement in 1986, the wife found a bag of coffee powder from the cabinet to wake up her husband who went home to work overtime. It is a symbol of the middle-class family.

After many years, this scene has transformed into the world of “small times” created by Guo Jingming – the busy figure of Shanghai white-collar workers walking into the office with Starbucks take-out coffee bags. “I’m not in the office, I’m in Starbucks, I’m not in Starbucks, I’m on the way to Starbucks.” this slogan further establishes coffee as the identity of middle-class petty bourgeoisie.

Now the topic has evolved into Starbucks atmosphere group, the label has changed, and the nature has not changed. / YouTube

In 1999, when Starbucks opened China’s first Chinese mainland market in Beijing China International Trade Center, many people may not have anticipated that the more than 2000 stars in the Chinese shop have been launched.

When coffee consumption develops to a certain level, a hundred schools of thought contend in the market segment, and the so-called coffee contempt chain on the Internet is constantly updated and iterated. In 2004, a popular post entitled “I have struggled for 18 years to sit and drink coffee with you” detonated the whole network, drawing a huge gap between people who drink coffee and those who don’t drink coffee.

Nowadays, young people in cities may open a new chapter in their understanding of coffee culture – “holding a cup of high-quality coffee on Wukang road is yyds”. In the eyes of coffee fundamentalists, all coffee in the world can not be more pure than hand washing.

There are many red coffee shops in Wukang road network.

It seems that young people who claim to rely on coffee to survive can draw a cultural gap with their parents with tea genes. Just as those who drink black coffee and American style can’t understand the three in one instant party with milk and sugar, the difference between the first half of life misunderstood by the public and the second half of life surrounded by Versailles is only more than 20 years.

Perhaps there has never been a drink like coffee in the world. It is endowed with complex and diverse identity symbols and unique taste, function and social attributes, so that it can not only become the energy supply of migrant workers, but also become the symbol of identity differentiation and identification of petty bourgeoisie. Contempt chain is a cultural attribute derived from coffee consumption society.

Coffee has long been a representative of petty bourgeoisie culture in China/ Stills of “in love”

Interestingly, the so-called Chinese people do not understand coffee, this debate is accompanied by an endless chain of contempt. Coffee is more like a spiritual medium. Future generations chase it, and even many people put it on the height of art for exhibition. I’m afraid the people who first invented coffee will not understand it.

Coffee market sinking

But consumption and taste are escalating

Because of the epidemic, the whole coffee industry is experiencing a “closing tide” and once fell into a downturn. Interestingly, as the two largest markets of Starbucks, the performance of the United States and China in store sales shows an opposite trend – the sales of Starbucks stores in the United States decreased by 5%. Looking at the whole Chinese coffee market last year, the coffee industry still showed a growth trend, with a year-on-year increase of 5%.

Since the outbreak, the domestic coffee market has recovered rapidly, consumers’ demand for high-quality coffee has increased, and independent coffee shops and chain stores are still booming. At the same time, the “sinking” trend of China’s coffee market is gradually obvious.

China’s coffee market shows a downward trend/ unsplash

According to China catering category and brand development report 2021, at present, the proportion of coffee stores in China’s first tier cities is about 17.7%, the proportion of new first tier cities is 26.2%, and the proportion of second tier and third tier cities is 20.6% and 17.9% respectively.

The extravagant layout of domestic coffee shops is changing. The latest data show that Starbucks, which once made its fortune in the first tier cities, has more stores in the second and third tier cities than in the first tier cities. Their latest strategic layout is also gradually “sinking”, and the opening of “coffee express” stores in the second and third tier cities will be accelerated. Coincidentally, Ruixing coffee, which is mainly based in new first tier cities, is also gradually expanding the proportion of stores in second tier and third tier cities and below.

Online coffee sales performance. Data source: first financial business data center

Coffee is no longer the identity label of white-collar workers in first tier cities. When you are on the hottest social platform at present, you will find that more and more independent coffee shops are often hidden in the communities of second and third tier cities. You can often buy a cup of flavor and taste for more than 10 yuan, which is better than the coffee starting with 30 yuan in your hand.

Consumers began not to pay for space and flower pulling, and no longer simply divided the taste of coffee with acid and bitter. People who can drink coffee will study the type, origin, baking and brewing methods of a cup of freshly ground coffee beans in the cafe. Even if they drink instant coffee beans, they can also be refined to capsule, ear hanging, cold extraction and other options. They like to explore fresh flavor, and can collide with new sparks in the creative mix and match of wine flavor, raw coconut, cinnamon and so on.

The coffee market seems to be sinking, but consumption and taste are upgrading, because the psychological demand space of consumers is becoming wider and wider. Each cup of coffee has different flavor, and each form of drinking coffee has different scene stories. In the eyes of 1000 people, there are 1000 ways and meanings of drinking coffee.

2、 Residents of the third tier and below cities may be potential people who know better about fine coffee. Their attitude of drinking coffee can be more in line with life, so that they will not be involved in the unprecedented pace of work, will not turn the function of coffee into a bitter water for life renewal, and can enjoy the romantic and leisurely atmosphere of coffee.

There is no doubt that Shanghai is the first tier city in China that can integrate coffee into daily life. This is the city with the largest number of cafes in the world. According to the report of Shanghai coffee consumption index released by first finance and economics, there are 2.85 cafes per 10000 people in Shanghai, which has reached the average level of global cities such as London, New York and Tokyo.

Shanghai has the largest number of cafes in the world/ Visual China

Walking on the streets of Shanghai, especially in the central urban areas such as Huaihai middle road and Nanjing West Road, you will find that you can meet the characteristic block of an online Red Cafe every few steps.

Pay attention to the observation. Different from other cities, the afternoon tea time in Shanghai boutique coffee shop, uncles and aunts aged 50, 60 or even older, sit down in twos and threes, have a cup of coffee and chat, and pay attention to the classic Napoleon Cake. The aunt in overalls walked into the store and said to the waiter, “have a cup of clear coffee and take it away.”

Shanghai coffee shop can also meet many exquisite aunts.

Han Huaizong, a Taiwanese writer, once talked about the three waves of coffee in the study of fine coffee – instant, fine and aesthetic. Obviously, the third coffee wave is driven by high-quality coffee and advocates a life aesthetic attitude. The intensive growth of boutique cafes is the biggest change in Shanghai coffee market in recent five years. At present, boutique cafes or independent cafes account for 55.88% of the business structure of Shanghai cafes.

The picture then transits to Xiamen, Ludao, where the sea breeze blows. Due to the early influence of foreign culture, coffee is no stranger to them. The area of Ludao is only one tenth that of Beijing, but there are more than 3000 cafes. Their way of drinking coffee is as free and effortless as the fish in the sea.

Many young people in independent coffee shops plunge into the romantic vortex of fine coffee, which constitutes the unique flavor landmark of the city, while chain brands such as Starbucks are naturally embarrassed and “out of favor”.

The “sinking” of coffee makes Chinese people’s coffee addiction take root and sprout all over the country like capillaries. The coffee art originally set on the easel has become Andy Warhol’s 15 minute law. Everyone has the right to explain “what is a good cup of coffee”. Everyone can make a self portrait with coffee.

Why are Chinese cities inseparable from cafes?

Nowadays, the development of China’s freshly ground coffee brand basically presents a two-line trend. On the one hand, it tends to develop in the direction of high-cost and affordable coffee. Especially in the current tired society with increasing spiritual internal friction, coffee is a working partner. Our demand for coffee still tends to be functional for daily refreshing and has higher requirements for the convenience of stores, More sensitive to the price of coffee.

On the other hand, we pay more and more attention to the high quality of coffee and have higher consumer demand for catering and environment, which is a sense of ceremony from the city. Either trend seems to confirm that Chinese cities are increasingly inseparable from coffee.

We don’t need to dwell too much on the impact of coffee on modern human society and its position in the world trade market. For thousands of years, too many literary giants and thinkers have been generous in praising coffee and cafes.

Perhaps the more interesting discussion about Chinese cities is: why do Chinese cities need cafes? How many people can’t imagine the sense of city without the local cafe?

The significance of today’s Cafe is not as grand as usual. It has set off a wave of enlightenment and “subversion” of foreign cultural trends. It has become increasingly daily and private, maintaining our emotional connection with the city.

Coffee shop in the city, is the emotional adhesive/ Graphic insect creativity

The cafe meets our imagination of “city sense”: it is an open and inclusive social place. People from all walks of life in the city can contact and discuss different topics, but it is a free and strange community. You have no intersection with other people’s private lives, but you can be alone here, do not interfere with each other, and everyone is a lonely and full individual.

Nowadays, in addition to the requirements for producing coffee, people have to have an atmosphere for a good cafe. It is more like the “late night canteen” in a lonely city. The manager’s vivid face may be more moving than the coffee itself, and the barista may know the subtle drinking habits better than the guests.

It is neither as lazy and presumptuous as home, nor as serious as office. It appropriately balances the rigid model of urban people. There is a neighborhood coffee shop within walking distance. It feels like a convenience store to a city. It is a moment when we can reconcile with the city.

The people and temperature of a city are the soil on which local coffee depends. Similarly, coffee is also shaping the city. Watching how people in a city drink coffee may taste different.

The exquisite foreign style of Shanghai Cafe is the first face. Looking deep into the alley, you can also see a more local scenery – in the alley coffee, those aunts are wearing pajamas and holding thermos cups to make coffee.

Shanghai coffee shop has a strong atmosphere/ Visual China

In contrast, Beijing’s coffee culture is late, but it coincides with the trend of boutique coffee. Therefore, you will find that the proportion of hand brewed coffee on the menu of Beijing coffee shop is significantly higher than that in Shanghai. If you want to visit places with strong Beijing flavor, you can go to Hutong stores, Siheyuan stores, medieval buyer stores

Of course, the coffee shops in Guangzhou and Shenzhen have stronger market gas, and the independent cafes in the community have a broad sense of humanity. It seems that they will spend more patience on coffee flavor, especially in Shenzhen. Without the burden of history and culture, there will be more freshness and creativity. There are also coffee in the daytime and bars at night. There are also many young people who start businesses to make coffee and participate in coffee competitions, and they continue to explore in the innovation of technology and taste.

Guangzhou community coffee shop is very humane/ Graphic insect creativity

When it comes to grounding, we really have to mention Hainan, one of the three major coffee producing areas in China. Their cafes are too local and old-fashioned. It may be more appropriate to call them “teahouses”.

Early in the morning, uncle with yellow teeth walked to the broken and old breakfast stall with a pair of slippers. He shouted for a cup of Nanyang coffee for less than ten yuan. What he served was a little rough, even heavy flavor coffee.

The old soul of Hainan coffee/ unsplash

Yunnan coffee has a strong sense of existence in recent years, especially as the best local brand in China, Yunnan coffee is highly expected. People usually talk about the origin value of Yunnan coffee, especially putting aside the commercialized high-quality coffee beans, but really entering Binchuan and zhukula villages in Yunnan, You will find that their method of making coffee with firewood is a little similar to the ancient Turkish method of divining coffee. The simple and pure coffee culture also constitutes the unique cultural ecology of Yunnan coffee.

Yunnan coffee can also be very grounded/ Graphic insect creativity

People who can drink coffee can drink the flavor of the soil behind a cup of coffee. It contains the regional flavor created by each planted mountain, its orientation, altitude, water and soil, vegetation and temperature. What’s more, coffee beans fall into different cities. Different people have different grinding thickness, water temperature and brewing equipment. Subtle differences are the diversified ecology.

Of course, this year’s online red culture is impacting the coffee culture, making the “Involution” of the coffee industry more and more intense. Many consumers patronize a coffee shop, perhaps just to punch in the trend and take photos. Data show that in the city, one in four people had the idea of opening a cafe. Cafes are endowed with too many imagination: freedom, elegance, comfort, petty bourgeoisie

As a result, there are more and more coffee shops in the city, and creative varieties emerge one after another. Many coffee practitioners can still embrace this online popularity trend, because it means a new way of life. The rise of coffee itself is the product of conforming to the times.

However, it is easy to open a shop and difficult to keep it. The reality is still very skinny. There are only a few old brands that really survive, and coffee has entered the white hot track with the inner roll of the city. Nevertheless, it is still impossible to dissipate people’s enthusiasm and imagination for coffee. What should a good coffee and cafe in a city be like? This question is still an unknown to be explored. Maybe when you have the answer, you will catch up with the next round of coffee trend.

reference material:

[1] Study of fine coffee by Han Huaizong

[2] White paper on Chinese freshly ground coffee

[3] Coffee walks down the altar

[4] Can the collective “sinking” of coffee brands give birth to the next “Honey snow ice city”? Red meal network

[5] Coffee despises the hundred year history of the rise and fall of the chain

[6] Why do young people start to live on coffee? Life Week

[7] Xinmin weekly of coffee war in Chinese cities

[8] Shanghai, the city with the largest number of cafes in the world, has “mystery” Jiefang Daily

[9] Who is making black coffee addiction? TOPHER

[10] Does China’s coffee market need to be saved? Surging Business Review

[11] The industry is extremely introverted, and coffee culture is moving towards low-level cities   What about the Internet

This article is authorized to be reprinted from the WeChat official account (ID:new-weekly) of new weekly. Founded on August 18, 1996, new weekly is positioned as “China’s most cutting-edge lifestyle weekly”. It has measured the temperature of the times with a cutting-edge attitude for more than 20 years. From magazines to new media, new weekly continues to look for the common pain points, tears and laughter of you and me. Pay attention to the WeChat official account of the new weekly, and have an attitude with you. Official microblog @ New Weekly.



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