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Giving the Market a Shot: China’s Growing Coffee Culture

In China, the motherland of tea, coffee is rapidly gaining in popularity. Although the market faces some cultural and societal hurdles, China is waking up and smelling the coffee – starting China’s Coffee Culture.

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In China, the motherland of tea, coffee is rapidly gaining in popularity. China’s booming coffee culture is also visible on social media, where coffee companies and netizens collectively discuss and share pictures of their perfect brew. Although the market still faces some cultural and societal hurdles, China is waking up and smelling the coffee.

Whether you are a fan of the beverage or not, it is hard to argue against the fact that the majority of the world is starting to love coffee. Every day millions of people gulp down a cup before running to the office, warm their hands on a hot mug during the chilly winter months, and, now more than ever, photograph, blog and filter their cafe experience until it is primed for the rest of the world to see. Even in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s most prolific tea-drinking nations, coffeehouses far outnumber traditional tea rooms. However in China, the motherland of tea-consumption, coffee is still sprouting as a relatively new and foreign luxury.

 

“Starbucks and Costa are selling the ‘coffee experience’ to Chinese audiences.”

 

Despite China’s long history of tea-drinking, the presence of international coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa is increasing year on year. The American coffee company Starbucks opened its first China branch in Beijing in 1999. Google maps now lists 35 branches of Starbucks in central Shanghai alone, and even more remote Chinese cities such as Urumqi in Xinjiang province are home to three of the chain’s stores. Starbucks has over 1700 stores in 90 Chinese cities, and plans to expand to 3000 stores by 2019. British coffeehouse Costa has 344 branches in China, and is arranging to have opened a total of 900 stores by 2020.

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Large international coffee chains such as Costa and Starbucks have adapted their menus to China’s tastes. This, for example, means that coffee is often served at a warm rather than scalding temperature. They also sell products that are specifically appealing to Chinese consumers, such as green tea-flavoured latte or red bean scones.

The design and operations of the cafes are almost indistinguishable from US and European branches. Internationally famous coffeehouses such as Costa and Starbucks sell the ‘coffee experience’ to Chinese audiences, without the need for too much re-packaging.

 

“What you buy in a Korean cafe isn’t coffee, it’s the film-like romance.”

 

The growing popularity of coffee in Chinese society is also reflected in social media. Starbucks has attracted a large social media following in China. The chain has acquired the loving nickname “Papa Star” (星爸爸) on Sina Weibo. On the official Weibo page of Starbucks Xiamen, the moniker was recently used in a marketing post for the chain’s new spring line: “We invite you to get your friends together and come and get to know Papa Star!”

Aside from American and European branches, South Korean chains have also become big players in China’s coffee market. Names such as Cafe Bene, Maan Coffee and Tous les Jours are becoming a staple in China’s shopping districts. South Korean brands, in particular, boast a unique and whimsical style of interior decoration unlike that of Western chains. Usual hallmarks include large, comfortable chairs, bookshelves lined with reading material, and indoor trees. This style is even replicated in domestic independent cafes.

The booming market for South Korean chains largely stems from the success of Korean pop culture in China. Fans of Korean music, film and television seek to recreate the glamour of Seoul by visiting the same chains as their idols, as well as replicating the supposed Seoul lifestyle, almost to the point of ‘Korean’ becoming synonymous with modernity and luxury. As one netizen writes on Weibo: “What you buy in a Korean cafe isn’t coffee, it’s the film-like romance.”

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US, UK and Korean coffeehouses have succeeded in making coffee ‘cool’ in China. Netizens on Weibo collectively post pictures of their cup of coffee or of themselves sipping it. The coffee brand is often visible, together with a fashionable smartphone or expensive shopping bag- turning ‘coffee drinking’ in a symbol of a trendy lifestyle.

 

“Hefei is full of cafes, yet 80 per cent of the city’s population is made up of rural villagers who have just stepped foot inside the city – here lies your problem.”

 

Despite the success of foreign coffee chains, China is not shying away from home-grown coffee brands. Anhui province in Eastern China is home to numerous branches of Habitat Coffee (栖巢咖啡), a company that offers the comforts of Korean coffee chains but with a menu and playlist more suited to Chinese consumers.

Other brands closer to home have not fared so well in the past. A recent Weibo post by user ‘Coffee and Book‘ discussed the closure of one of the Hong Kong Pacific Coffee chain stores: “Pacific Coffee, known as Hong Kong’s best-tasting coffee, has fallen under Starbucks’s shadow, and up until now hasn’t enjoyed much success in Hefei city.”

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One of the reasons China’s coffee market is still budding is the prevalence of cafes in urban cities in comparison to their absence in rural areas of China. Location and subsequent exposure to international brands and flavors affect the tastes and preferences of people within the Chinese coffee market. Many people from China’s rural areas are simply still unfamiliar with coffee. In response to Pacific Coffee’s poor performance in Hefei, one netizen writes: “Hefei is full of cafes, yet 80 percent of the city’s population is made up of rural villagers who have just stepped foot inside the city…here lies your problem.”

 

“The price of a single cup of coffee in China is equal to a month’s worth of home broadband internet.”

 

A long history of tea-drinking may not be the only obstacle for coffeehouses longing for popularity in China. With the average prices ranging between 18 and 40RMB (±3-6US$), the price of a single cup of coffee in China is equal to an entire takeout meal or a month’s worth of home broadband internet – a price many can seldom afford to fit into their daily routines.

Aside from the price of the coffee itself, branded products such as flasks, mugs and cups are all heavily marketed online and on social media, further promoting the luxurious and expensive lifestyle that comes hand in hand with visiting the stores.

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Despite cultural and societal hurdles, further growth of China’s coffee culture is unstoppable. It is expected that competition for the nation’s top spot between brands and individual establishments will only become more fierce and multi-faceted. With some chains opting for high prices, others appealing to local tastes and domestic salaries, and a growing desire for a more authentic experience involving traditional brewing, the challenge for brands is to decide which road they will take in their quest to win over the Chinese market.

By Cat Hanson

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Cat Hanson is a U.K. graduate of Chinese Studies now teaching and living in China. She swapped Beijing for Anhui, and runs her own blog on China life: Putong Press.

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China Food & Drinks

98-Year-Old Hotpot and Coca Cola Lover Becomes Online Hit

Are hotpot and cola the key to longevity?

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This week, a 98-year-old Chengdu resident has become an online hit on Chinese social media, after videos of her and her granddaughter went viral. The popular grandmother loves to drink Coca Cola, eat hamburgers, and is crazy about hotpot – but only if it’s really spicy.

The 98-year-old became an overnight hit because of the videos posted by granddaughter Cai on China’s popular video app Douyin (TikTok), that show the grandmother’s great appetite for spicy food, alcohol, and sweet sodas.

When the granddaughter tries to persuade her grandma to drink less alcohol (“You’ve already had five!”) she’ll pour herself another cup; while dozing off, she’ll still talk about her favorite hotpot with beef tripe; when eating her hamburgers, she’ll eat so fast that her dentures fall out – all moments that were caught on video by Cai.

The woman, who has been nicknamed “grandma foodie” (吃货奶奶), has been starring in her granddaughter’s Douyin videos since August of last year. Since then, she has accumulated a social media following of some 410K fans and has now risen to nationwide fame, with dozens of Chinese news outlets writing about her. On March 4, she became the number one trending topic on Weibo.

On social media, most netizens praise the grandma for her positive attitude. “I hope I can do all the things I love, too, when I reach her age,” some say: “Eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and drink whatever you like, whenever you like.” “Eating good food is the key to happiness,” others write.

Some also see a lucrative opportunity in the grandma’s sudden rise to fame: “She should become a brand ambassador for Coca Cola.”

Granddaughter Cai told Chinese reporters: “I think it’s the contrast that makes her so popular. She drinks Coke, eats hamburgers, loves spicy food, and all that greasy food. She’s leading the life of a young person, and it appears to be very unhealthy. But she still has longevity.”

Because Cai’s grandma does not know much about social media, Cai tried to explain to her that “many, many people” like her a lot. “Why on earth would they like me for?” she replied: “I’m old!”

Want to know more about hotpot, all the reasons to love it, and how to make it at home? Visit our sister site Hotpotambassador.com here.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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These Chinese School Are Awarding Excellent Students with Pork Meat Gifts

Awarding excellent students with raw meat or even fresh fish seems to be a new trend in Chinese schools.

Gabi Verberg

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School in Liuzhou, Guangxi, image via the Paper.

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A number of schools in China have recently introduced a new gift for outstanding students at the end of term ceremony: no books, no pens, but a chunk of meat that can be shared with the entire family.

A remarkable award ceremony at a middle school in Fuyang, Anhui province, has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens this week for the meat gifts the school offered to its outstanding students.

The award ceremony was held on January 26 at the Anhui Fuyang No. 1 Middle School. The five best students of every class were each rewarded with 2,5 kilogram (5.5 pounds) of pork meat.

At the end of the ceremony, a total of 600 students took home a staggering 1500 kilogram (3306 pounds) of pork meat in total.

Chinese media outlets Pear Video and We Video posted video reports of the noteworthy event on their channels (link and link) on January 28.

Although the initiative of this particular school came as a surprise to many netizens, more schools across China are introducing these kinds of food gifts to their students lately.

 

“Nowadays, every household has enough stationery. So we came up with the idea to award our students with pork meat instead.”

 

The director of the Anhui school, Mister Sun (孙), told reporters: “In the past, the school always awarded its best students with pencils and notebooks. But nowadays, every household has enough stationery. So we came up with the idea to award our students with pork meat instead.”

The pork meat, gifted in a bag with a pig on it, was given just in time for the upcoming Chinese Spring Festival, which celebrates the start of the Year of the Pig this year.

Sun further added: “The students’ hard work is rewarded with something they can take home and share with their family members and other people they love. In this way, they can also experience the gratefulness of others.”

The Fuyang middle school is not the first school that awards its students by offering them fresh meat products. Recently, several stories of Chinese schools awarding their students with meat gifts made their rounds on Chinese social media.

A primary school in Liuzhou, in a mountainous and impoverished area of Guangxi province, received the praise of many netizens when they awarded their 71 most outstanding students with 1,5 kilogram of unwrapped pork meat on a string. It is the second year in a row that the school chose to present its students with a meat gift.

Primary school kids in Liuzhou, Guangxi, showing their meat gifts for excellent performance (image via Chinanews.)

At another school in Dongguan, Guangdong province, the 90 most outstanding students were each rewarded with a fresh fish earlier this month. The fish were caught from the Humen Wharton School’s own pond, The Paper reports.

In a recent interview, director Wu (吴) of the Dongguan Humen Wharton School told The Paper that the fish are usually fed with the leftovers from the school canteen. By rewarding the students with these fish, Wu said, the school not only hopes to make the pupils happy, but also hopes to increase their awareness on the ecological environment.

 

“This is the reality. When you work hard, you’ll have meat to eat.”

 

Last year, a school in Fujian’s Nan’an awarded 30 of its highest-scoring students with a pork leg, something that also attracted the attention online at the time. More schools, including one in Shanwei, then followed their example.

On Weibo, various hashtags relating to the new ‘trend’ are making their rounds. “Middle School Awards Its Students with 1500 Kilogram of Pork Meat” (#中学用3000斤猪肉表彰学生#) received over 5.5 million views this week. “School in Mountainous Area Awards Students with Pork at the End of the Year” (#山区小学期末发猪肉奖状#) had over 3 million views on Weibo.

Chinese netizens applaud the schools for giving these food products to reward students, mainly seeing it as a way to boost the children’s confidence.

“This is great!” one commenter wrote: “The students can really experience how it feels to earn something and what it feels like to contribute. And at the same time, they can share and enjoy their achievements with their family.”

A pork leg and an award (via Chinanews).

“What a great award,” others say: “They’ll feel so proud to bring this back home.”

“This is the reality. When you work hard, you’ll have meat to eat. Why weren’t there such good schools around when I was a kid?”, a Weibo user says.

It is a tradition in China to hold an award ceremony at the end of the semester. During the ceremony, that is attended by the school’s students, teachers, and sometimes (grand)parents, the best students are praised for their accomplishments. The purpose of the award ceremony and the public praise is to let the excellent students set an example for their fellow classmates, and to motivate the students.

But not everyone is equally positive about the initiative. “The intention is good, but how attractive is it for a child to receive a pork leg nowadays?” one man from Guangdong wonders: “Isn’t it more and more uncommon for people to perceive meat as something that’s rare to eat?”

“It’s not about the meat itself,” others argue: “It’s about bringing home something and making them feel accomplished.”

Among the few voices criticizing the idea, there are also those who advocate vegetarianism and think it would be more valuable to teach children the value of living creatures rather than to give them pork.

Others argue that the pork meat gift is not ‘halal.’

But the vast majority of commenters still praise the initiative, saying it is honest, nutritious, and lets the whole family benefit from their child’s accomplishments. For some, the idea is simple and straightforward: “Those who study hard get to eat meat.”

By Gabi Verberg and Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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