China Is No Longer a Tea Country

China is a country that produces and drinks tea. Before the 90s, it was impossible to find anything besides instant coffee and now China has the largest Starbucks in the world and the most stores, besides the USA.

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Coffee broke into the mainstream Chinese culture thanks to Nestle ads in the 80s. The first Starbucks café opened in 1999. So younger generations of Chinese grew up with coffee and now often prefer it to tea, while older generations still drink tea.

Big name coffee chains exist in the major cities of China, Starbucks being by far the most present with more than 3,000 stores in China. The British chain Costa Coffee is the second largest with 350 stores and Pacific Coffee from Hong Kong with 300 stores. In 2017, a new Starbucks store opened every 15 hours in China.

In addition to the large chain stores, there are many boutique cafes, especially in Shanghai and Beijing. Coffee is being elevated to an art with specialty drinks, single origin brews, cold brew, and many other "craft" options for coffee connoisseurs. It is now not just a drink but a status symbol. At 30RMB for a cappuccino or latte, a cup of coffee can cost more than a meal.

Originally, coffee stores opened in the downtown area of cities and provided a comfortable place to have a casual business meeting. Instead of a formal meeting room or, traditionally, a tea house, cafes were a simple alternative that represented a Western perspective. Over time, students started using cafes, and the free WiFi Internet that they provided, as a place to meet and study together. Now, there is a mix of all types of people using cafes from business meetings and students to people taking selfies with their beautifully crafted drinks.


This article is part of our new online Chinese course. An efficient way to learn Chinese language for working and living in China.


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Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is an expat from New York City who moved to Shanghai with her husband in 2017 and is falling in love with the Chinese culture and people. She is studying Mandarin, teaching English, and has tens of thousands of questions about language, life, and culture.