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From Baijiu Latte to DIY Liquor Coffee: China’s Coffee Culture Takes a Shot at Coffee + Alcohol Fusion

The recent buzz surrounding the Luckin x Maotai collaboration shows that blending coffee + alcohol might just become the next major trend in Chinese coffee culture.

Manya Koetse

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China’s coffee culture is brewing up something new as it embraces the fusion of coffee and alcohol. This blossoming trend, currently a hot topic online thanks to the Luckin x Maotai collaboration, is sparking curiosity and discussions about its lasting impact on coffee culture in China.

Would you like a shot with that? Recently, a trend involving the fusion of alcohol and coffee seems to be taking off in China, blending established liquor brands with popular domestic coffee labels.

The concept of mixing alcohol with coffee is relatively new in China, where classics like Irish Coffee never achieved the same recognition as they did in Western countries.

But also, the way in which ‘coffee + alcohol’ is introduced to consumers is different, with brands such as 7-Eleven and Luckin promoting their ‘coffee + liquor shot’ or ‘alcohol lattes.’

As a tea drinking nation, coffee culture is not part of Chinese traditional culture. However, over the past decade, China has witnessed the remarkable growth of a distinct and immensely popular Chinese coffee culture. In this evolving landscape, companies and consumers are continuously finding innovative ways to incorporate coffee into daily city life.

Coffee in China is typically an out-of-home purchase, particularly favored by the middle class (Ferreira & Ferreira 2018, 785). It has become intrinsically linked with modern urban life in China, taking on new cultural meanings related to status, lifestyle, aesthetics, urban communities, and the acquisition of new tastes. Millennials and Gen Z are at the forefront of shaping China’s coffee culture.

The pursuit of unique flavors is a defining aspect of China’s coffee culture, with a strong emphasis on specialty coffee. In fact, Shanghai alone boasts over 7,000 independent coffee houses, surpassing coffee hubs like London or New York (Xu & Ng 2022, 2349). Chinese coffee shops are known for introducing innovative concepts such as fruit-infused coffee, spicy chili coffee, garlic coffee, and liquor-flavored coffees.

Rather than introducing coffee into China’s drinking culture, alcohol is now being integrated into China’s coffee culture, providing consumers with yet another way to enjoy their coffee and explore new flavor experiences.

 
7-Eleven Blending Coffee with Alcohol
 

At various 7-Eleven convenience stores in China, you can now purchase a shot of alcohol to go with your coffee. For just 5 yuan ($0.70), customers can add a shot of their preferred liquor, such as Havana or Malibu, to their take-away coffee. It’s also possible to add it to your soda.

7-Eleven DIY counter: adding a shot of Malibu to takeaway coffee. (Image via Xiaohongshu user 今天怎么还没睡).

While we first noticed this option at a Beijing 7-eleven somewhere during the summer of 2023, Radii and Phoenix News reported that the first DYI counter was piloted at a Beijing store in October of 2022.

The counter, that specifically promotes the coffee + alcohol combo, is meant to serve customers who would previously purchase their coffee and then separately buy a full-priced mini bottle of liquor for anywhere in between 20-40 yuan ($2.75-$5.50) for 50ml.

DIY liquor counter at 7-Eleven in Beijing, promoting its “coffee + shot of alcohol” option (Photo by What’s on Weibo).

In late 2022, 7-Eleven in Taiwan also promoted the liquor + coffee combo as it exclusively offered the Hennessy cognac x City Prima coffee “Liquor Latte Set.”

City Prima x Hennessy at 7-Eleven Taiwan (Image via tw.com).

 
Luckin x Maotai Collab: Introducing Baijiu Latte
 

While the trend of adding alcohol to coffee seems to be taking off in China, Luckin coffee became all the talk on Chinese social media this week for its collaboration with Maotai (茅台), also known as Moutai, a renowned Chinese brand of baijiu – a type of strong distilled liquor.

Luckin launched the drink on Monday for 38 yuan ($5.20) under the name “酱香拿铁” (jiàng xiāng ná tiě) or “Sauce-Flavored Latte,” soon selling out at various stores and becoming a trending topic online. The ‘sauce’ reference is because of the distinct flavor profile associated with Maotai, often described as having a soy sauce-like aroma (“酱香型”).

The collaboration has become super popular for various reasons, one major one being the unexpected yet exciting combination of two such well-known Chinese brands coming together.

Promotion of the Maotai coffee on Luckin’s Weibo page.

Luckin Coffee (瑞幸咖啡) was founded in Beijing in 2017, opened its first shops in early 2018, and it has seen incredible growth over the past five years. The brand’s primary emphasis lies in providing top-notch coffee at accessible prices in convenient locations. Due to its ubiquity and dominant position in the market, it’s sometimes also referred to as “China’s Starbucks” (“中国星巴克”).

Maotai, made in Maotai in Guizhou Province, prides itself for its 2000-year history and it became the first Chinese liquor to be produced in large-scale production. The strong luxury spirit (53%), known as China’s national liquor, is especially popular among middle-aged and elderly men.

With Luckin being particular popular among China’s younger generations, while Maotai is especially loved among the elder generations, one popular Weibo post about the recent collaboration said: “For young people, it’s their first cup of Maotai, for the elderly, it’s their first cup of Luckin.”

It is also one of the reasons why the trend has become so big this week: many consumers are just curious to try this novel combination, although not everyone likes its special taste.

Trying out the new Luckin x Maotai combo (photos via @互联网欢乐指南).

The blend of coffee with alcohol is really more about the flavor than the buzz; the baijiu-flavored Luckin coffee only has an alcohol content of about 0.5%. One Weibo hashtag related to the question of whether or not people should drive after consuming the drink amassed an astonishing 640 million views (#瑞幸回应喝茅台联名咖啡能否开车#). Despite the very low alcohol content, Luckin still advises that minors, pregnant women, and drivers should avoid consuming the beverage.

The “Chinese version of Irish Coffee,” image on Xiaohongshu via @謝琦鈦.

Some social media users add some extra Maotai to their coffee themselves, calling it the “Chinese version of Irish coffe” (“中国版的爱尔兰咖啡”).

 
“Milk Tea for Grown-Ups”
 

Luckin is not the only Chinese coffee house offering a Maotai-flavored latte. Other Chinese coffee shops have independently introduced their own versions of Maotai coffee, without official partnerships.

In addition to company-driven innovations, consumers are also experimenting with their own coffee + liquor blends. On the social media platform Xiaohongshu, numerous users are enthusiastically sharing their personalized methods infusing coffee with Maotai and various other types of alcohol, including adding miniature bottles of Baileys to Starbucks takeaway coffee.

Image via Xiaohongshu user @潮流情报官.

Others are going beyond the coffee trend, and mix their milk tea or fruit tea with Jameson, Kahlua, or other liquors, turning them into “grown-up milk tea” beverages (成年人的奶茶).

While such practices might receive disapproval in many countries, where daytime drinking and adding spirits to coffee could be seen as indicative of alcoholism and irresponsible behavior, in China, these actions generally lack these negative connotations. Many young people just view it as an innovative way to enjoy new tastes, describing it as “a new trendy way to drink coffee” (or tea).

Is the coffee + alcohol mix a temporary trend, or will it become a permanent part of China’s out-of-home coffee culture? On social media, most people are curious to try it out but they are also not convinced the combination is one to stay.

“I don’t really know the flavor of coffee + alcohol, but judging from their effects – alcohol makes me sleepy and coffee wakes me up – I’m afraid it would mix up my nerves, so I don’t dare to try” one commenter (@无边桃炎) wrote.

“It’s just the taste [of mixing coffee with alcohol] that’s really good – apart from the Maotai Luckin one,” one person responded.

They are not alone; numerous young Chinese internet users are speculating that the recent Luckin collaboration is Maotai’s strategy to appeal to China’s younger generations, who do not necessarily appreciate its distinct flavor. These younger demographics have moved away from the traditional drinking culture in which baijiu plays a significant role.

“It’s just so unpleasant to drink,” others write. “Is it alcohol or is it coffee?” another person wonders: “In the end, it’s actually neither.”

While Luckin’s “Sauce-Flavored Latte” might not secure a permanent place on its menu, it’s clear that the trend of adding alcohol to coffee has gained popularity among China’s younger consumers. With 7-Eleven’s DIY counter offering a variety of sweeter liquors for customers to blend with their coffee, it appears they’ve found the perfect “shot” in this coffee and liquor trend.

By Manya Koetse

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

References

Ferreira, Jennifer, and Carlos Ferreira. 2018. “Challenges and Opportunities of New Retail Horizons in Emerging Markets: The Case of a Rising Coffee Culture in China.” Business Horizons 61, no. 5: 783-796.

Xu, Xinyue, and Aaron Yikai Ng. 2023. “Cultivation of New Taste: Taste Makers and New Forms of Distinction in China’s Coffee Culture.” Information, Communication & Society 26, no. 11: 2345-2362.

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Show-Inspired Journeys: Chinese Netizens Explore Next Travel Destination Through Favorite TV Series

The rising influence of Chinese TV dramas on tourism highlights the synergy between entertainment & social media in China, serving as a powerful tool for travel promotion.

Wendy Huang

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The Chinese TV series Meet Yourself has significantly boosted the popularity of Dali in Yunnan. The series’ success, coupled with the official funding behind it, not only underscores the impactful role of Chinese dramas in tourism but also illustrates how Chinese travel destination promotional strategies are being reshaped in a competitive post-Covid era.

On December 25th, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture’s Culture and Tourism Bureau in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, announced a proposed subsidy of 2 million yuan ($282k) for the Chinese TV series Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The news soon went trending on Weibo (#去有风的地方获200万元补助#). Many found it noteworthy, especially since the announcement clarified that this funding is part of the prefecture’s special fund for cultural and tourism industry development, and the TV series was the only project under consideration.

There are several reasons why Dali might consider this strategy.

Firstly, Dali plays a pivotal role in Meet Yourself. Launched in January 2023, the TV series quickly became an online sensation, achieving an impressive rating of 8.7 out of 10 on Douban—a platform in China similar to IMDb. Spanning 40 episodes, the series features actress Liu Yifei (刘亦菲), renowned for her role in Disney’s live-action Mulan, and Chinese actor Li Xian (李现).

Promotional image for Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The narrative follows a white-collar worker in her mid-30s who, following her best friend’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, embarks on a quest to understand the true meaning and purpose of life.

The TV series not only captivated audiences because of its soothing narrative about life and interpersonal relationships, but the show was also a hit because most of its scenes were filmed in Dali and showed picturesque rural landscapes and portrayed a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle.

The show accumulated more than 3 billion views on the streaming platform Mango TV by the time its final episode aired on February 2, 2023. It also sparked numerous trending topics on Weibo during that time. For instance, one snapshot from the drama, “Liu Yifei Holding Flowers” (刘亦菲捧花), also went viral, with many netizens even changing their profile pictures to this image. Captivated by Liu’s beauty and charm, they believed that the image possessed some sort of magical power, like the symbolic significance of koi fish in Chinese culture and how they’re believed to bring good luck.

The ‘lucky’ Liu Yifei holding flowers image.

The lucky Liu Yifei holding flowers meme spread across social media in various ways.

Benefiting directly from the popularity generated by the TV series, Yunnan experienced a surge in visitors during the 2023 Spring Festival holiday. This influx significantly boosted its tourism revenue to an impressive 38.4 billion yuan (approximately US$5.4 billion), surpassing all other provinces and regions in the country.

The primary filming location of the drama, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, welcomed over 4.2 million visitors, marking a significant year-on-year increase. Within the first six days of the holiday, Dali boasted the highest room occupancy rate nationwide, and became the fifth most visited tourist destination across the country.

 
TV Series Inspiring Real-Life Travel to Featured Destination
 

Dali is not the only city or travel destination that has become popular because of Chinese dramas or TV shows. The recent Chinese TV series There Will Be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙), in which Chengdu plays a major role, has also come to be seen as a promotion for the Sichuan Province capital city.

The series revolves around four women who grew up together, chose different paths in life, and then reconnect in Chengdu. The series showcases the city’s laid-back lifestyle, especially in contrast to the fast-paced metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai where the featured women return from.

Scene from There Will be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙).

Back in 2003, the TV series Lost Time (似水年华), which was filmed in the historic scenic town of Wuzhen, also became popular. Lost Time was written, directed, and starred by the renowned Chinese actor and director Huang Lei (黄磊). The series narrates a poignant love story of a couple in their thirties who meet in Wuzhen, only to be separated by the vast distance between Wuzhen and Taipei.

The TV series successfully showcased the timeless beauty of the Wuzhen water town to a broader Chinese audience and, indirectly, promoted the town’s unique artistic and cultural atmosphere. This later led to the establishment of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, a celebration of performing arts and a center for cultural exchange. The festival has since become one of the premier events in China and Asia. Each year, as the festival unfolds, there is a significant increase in business, with tourists flocking to the area.

On social media today, Lost Time is still seen as one of the major reasons why Wuzhen became so popular among Chinese travelers.

Wuzhen featured in Lost Time (似水年华).

But it’s not only the television series that portray a slower-paced and romantic lifestyle that motivate viewers to visit the showcased destinations. In 2020, the filming locations of the popular Chinese crime and suspense drama The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落) not only entertained its audience but also boosted tourism in the actual places where it was shot.

Much of the filming for the TV thriller took place in Chikan, an old township located in Zhanjiang in Guangdong. As a result, Zhanjiang’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrocketed by 261 percent in a single week.

Earlier in 2023, Jiangmen in Guangdong Province also gained popularity after it was featured in the popular crime TV drama The Knockout (狂飙). As a result, it became a sought-after destination during the May Day holiday, drawing numerous TV enthusiasts to the city. Jiangmen reportedly received over 765,200 visitors in the first two days of the May Day holiday alone, generating a revenue of approximately 439 million yuan (US$62.2 million).

Jiangmen’s popularity went beyond the May Day holiday. The Knockout caused a steady influx of visitors to the Guangdong city. From January to October of 2023, the city saw a total of 20,278,200 tourists, a reported year-on-year increase of 85.36%. This resulted in a tourism revenue of 19.649 billion yuan, representing an impressive increase of 133.77%.

 
Beyond the TV Screen: Social Media Creating Travel Hits
 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how there are always unpredictable factors that help Chinese destinations suddenly become a hit among travelers. For instance, in late 2021, a song titled “Mohe Ballroom” (漠河舞厅) gained popularity across various social media platforms in China. This song narrates the story of a man who, for thirty years, danced alone in the Mohe Ballroom following the death of his beloved wife.

Prior to the song’s release, many Chinese netizens were familiar with Mohe as it is the northernmost point of China, and it is extremely cold. As the song gained traction on social media, the local government seized the opportunity to promote the city’s ice and snow tourism. Now, Mohe has emerged as a new destination for tourists seeking a unique, chilly experience.

Another example is Zibo, an ancient industrial city, which treated students well during their Covid quarantine period. So, when China lifted all Covid restrictions in the spring of 2023, these students returned to express their gratitude and celebrate the city. Their contagious enthusiasm, coupled with their social media posts about the city, sparked nationwide interest and people soon flocked to Zibo to enjoy the vibe and the local BBQ (read more here).

During the summer of 2023, the city of Tianjin became online hit due to a group of energetic seniors who transformed a local bridge into a stage for their remarkable water acrobatics. Tianjin’s so-called “diving grandpas” attracted attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). Videos of their dives quickly went viral on China’s social media, drawing tourists, including many foreign residents in China, to witness the spectacle firsthand. Some people even joined to dive, including He Chong (何冲), the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 3m springboard.

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

In a playful twist, some visitors created their own scorecards, acting as judges and rating the divers’ performances. However, this spontaneous event eventually had to be toned down due to safety concerns. Despite this, the event kept Tianjin in the spotlight for quite a while as a tourist destination.

Social media has become a vital tool for cities and tourist destinations aiming to attract potential visitors. While some destinations organically become online sensations due to a combination of factors, other efforts are more deliberate and strategic. For instance, in spring of 2023, Chinese local government officials went all out to promote their hometowns via online channels, going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos about their hometowns with low to zero budget.

However, when an article by Xinhua News criticized this approach, suggesting that local officials should prioritize improving service quality in their hometowns rather than striving for internet fame, the online trend appeared to wane.

Over the last year, different regions and industries in China made significant efforts to boost their local economies through tourism to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The China Tourism Academy recently published a report that forecasts that the number of China’s domestic tourists in 2023 has hit 5.407 billion, and domestic tourism revenue will amount to 5.2 trillion yuan. This figure allegedly represents a recovery to 90% compared to pre-Covid year 2019.

The upcoming Chinese New Year’s holiday is expected to kick off a promising start for the Chinese tourism industry in 2024. According to Trip.com data, bookings for the 2024 New Year’s holiday have surged by over threefold compared to the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, Tongcheng Travel highlights skiing, hot springs, Northern Lights viewing, music events, outdoor activities, island retreats, cruises, staycations, and firework displays as the top domestic travel preferences during this holiday season.

As China has significantly relaxed several travel and visa policies for both Chinese and international travelers, the number of outbound travel bookings for the New Year’s holiday on Trip.com has also seen a nearly fivefold increase compared to the same period last year while inbound tourism is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the way in which the TV drama Meet Yourself (去有风的地方) has boosted the tourism industry of Dali, which already was a popular tourist destination, is generating ongoing discussions on Chinese social media as it is a good example of how the integration of destination themes can captivate viewers’ attention, inspiring them to visit and discover the real-life locations.

In this way, TV shows serve as powerful platforms for local tourism authorities across China. First, utilizing television series provides them with a higher level of control compared to other methods of online promotion, including more fleeting trends. The show’s narratives, vibe, and filming locations can precisely showcase a destination’s unique features, attractions, and local culture.

Second, featuring destinations in TV series effectively accomplishes two goals at once, as Chinese TV dramas and online communities have become strongly intertwined. This amplifies the influence and reach of such productions, as fans engage, share, discuss, and promote the series and associated destinations across various social media platforms. And so, a featured scene or image, such as the one with Liu Yifei, can transcend the series itself and become an entire trend of its own on Chinese social media channels.

For travelers, visiting a destination featured in a beloved TV drama is not just about exploring a new location—it’s about experiencing a feeling and and immersing oneself in a fantasy. This trend won’t end with Meet Yourself, as new dramas inspire viewers to visit new locations again. As fans are binge watching the TV series Love Me, Love My Voice (很想很想你), Guangxi’s Guilin is the next hotspot attracting attention online for its portrayal in the show. “I finished watching the show,” one viewer wrote, “Now I want to start traveling.”

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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