up o’ Joe, brain juice, java, whatever you call it, for many people, it’s the only way to start the day. While there are purists who like their Americanos and espresso shots, I am more of an adventurous coffee drinker. I thought that the highlight to my eclectic coffee taste would be stopped dead in its tracks when I came to China because, as we all know, China is known for its leaf juice, not its bean juice.
I was happily surprised to find that there was Starbucks, as well as some other local coffee shop brands such as Costa Coffee, Mann Coffee and the more recent Luckin Coffee. These all did the trick to fill the coffee shop vibe for a quick meet-up and the mainstays of lattes, cappuccinos and some flavored and seasonal drinks. Nothing too crazy or out of the norm.
But, let’s be honest, we don’t all have time to go sit down for a hot, steaming cup every morning so I decided that I would have to hunt for some other options. I was thrilled when I noticed that a small coffee shop opened at the top of my hutong. I saw the name April & Cafe scrawled across the doorway, popped in and saw that they had quite a nice little setup. They had cold brew and fancy machines, as well as Irish coffee – a nice nightcap coffee with a kick. I ordered a latte and it was one of the best I had in a long time. As I walked out the door satisfied that I had found my new morning stop, my eyes widened when I saw the operating hours… 10 am to 11 pm. NO! As coffee culture is still building in China, I guess the times of the shops still are under the curb. So much for my new morning coffee stop.
It seems I was destined to drink convenience store coffee. When I first arrived in China, the only choice for coffee in the convenience stores was a Nestle frappuccinotype drink. More sugar than coffee, I would reluctantly grab one in the morning to help take the edge off before jumping in my cab for work. One that always makes me laugh is the brand Never Coffee. An odd name for a coffee brand as if it was never coffee. One day I walked in and saw there were now four types available – black coffee, the classic sugary latte, a low sugar latte and something that said 3 percent less sugar. Not really sure what that one is all about, but hey, it might be just what someone is looking for.
In addition, I started noticing other flavors. This year, I walked in to see a new product offering from one of the local brands. The regular white bottle with black writing was a beautiful pale pink and decorated with cherry blossoms. I was intrigued. The bottle said the flavor was cherry blossom and peach latte. Gross! That was my initial thought, but my curiosity got the best of me.
I got in my cab, gave the bottle a shake and a swig... delicious! I was super excited and posted about it on my social media. My friends back home took an interest and asked about other “weird” flavors I have found here. In the winter there are seasonal flavors but this by far was the most interesting. Now, I constantly keep my eye on the cooler shelves for the next new and exciting flavor. But aside from convenience store shelves, the coffee shops are also getting more adventurous. Just today as I was ordering some coffee for delivery, I saw a new addition – an orange and honey crisp macchiato. I had to order it. It came with a layer of orange-flavored toffee sauce on top and was sprinkled with a honeycomb crunchy topping. The description accompanying it said, “The taste is more interesting.” And it was. I probably wouldn’t go back for a second cup, but it was definitely worth a try.
While the average Chinese consumer only drinks three cups of coffee per year compared with the 363 cups in the US, the industry is growing here in leaps and bounds. My friend and I attended a coffee festival in Wangfujing at the beginning of the month and it was amazing to see all the personally owned shops and new ways of brewing. From what I see, the coffee demand in China has grown beyond the traditional coffee shop to more of a luxury coffee experience. As the industry grows, so will the variety and that’s what I am most excited about. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know what interesting bean juice flavors will pop up at a convenience store or local coffee shop. Until then, run out and try the cherry blossom and peach latte, you will not be disappointed.