Most Chinese see coffee as an element of Western lifestyles, like it or not, the fact is, China digests growing amount of coffee. In the decade between 2006 to 2016, coffee consumption in the country rose from 26,000 metric tons to 128,000 metric tons.
More coffee-planting countries seek to sell beans to China, in the hope of securing a slice of the market where a growing size of middle class are taking coffee as their daily fix.
Coffee consumption in China has almost tripled over the past four years, and the market still has enormous potential. According to a report released by International Coffee Organization last year, China’s coffee imports in 2017 grew by 16 percent year-on-year, while the United States, the world’s largest coffee consumer, saw an increase of about 2 percent year-on-year.
A UN Comtrade report said that China’s top three coffee exporters are Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of robusta coffee, a kind of bean featuring a low acidity and a strong bitterness. Vietnam provides about 35 percent of China’s coffee imports.
China’s fast-growing middle class has developed into the habit of drinking coffee, including latte, cappuccino and other versions of the drink. This expansion drives leading coffee shop brands to open more stores in the country. China’s most cosmopolitan city Shanghai now has more than 6,500 coffee shops.
The main brands are Starbucks and Costa, claiming about 70 percent of the market.
Starbucks opened its first shop in Chinese capital Beijing in January 1999, it now leads the market. Howard Schultz, its CEO, visited China in 2016, and said Starbucks would open 500 new shops on an annual basis by 2021. That will double its outlets in the country to about 5,000.
Costa Coffee, the United Kingdom-based coffee chain, now acquired by Coca-Cola, plans to open another 900 stores in China by 2020, which will bring the number of its outlets to 1,344.
Among traditionally tea-drinking Chinese, the most popular forms of coffee are latte and mocha. In order to cater to local taste buds, international coffee chains have been adapting and developing their menus to better fuse with local traditions. Starbucks has specials on offer, such as green tea java chip frappuccino along with green-tea-flavored cake.
Alongside such international players, independent enterprises are also emerging and have their own philosophy. An owner of coffee shop Seminsky in Jing’an District of Shanghai said his menu is not specifically designed for customers’ preferences, but stays “true to coffee”.
The thriving independent coffee stores like Seminsky also speaks of growing demand for high-end coffee and a greater variety of beverages.