In several earlier blogs, I reported that coffee consumption in China is soaring, to the point that we can speak of a coffee culture. This trend has been developing constantly and now I feel comfortable to announce that a uniquely Chinese coffee culture is in place. This culture is affected by a number of recent trends: the nationalist trend and the punk-diet of the growing group of young single professionals.
- Guochao – or the ‘national trend’; A trend that currently affects virtually every aspect of Chinese society is guochao, or the ‘national trend’, which encompasses a renewed interest in traditional Chinese culture (both material and immaterial). The economic reforms of the late 20th century made many (then) young Chinese turn their back on traditions, seeking new solutions in the present and in the western world. This is now changing. The shift can be partly linked to the enormous advancement of Chinese science and technology. Chinese now have a lot to be proud of. Recent anti-Chinese sentiments in the West are another driver of this trend. The national trend is noticeable in several aspects, including on packaging and the use of traditional Chinese symbols.
- Pengke yangsheng – the ‘punk diet’ A trend that has appeared among the same post-90/post-2000 consumer segment is pengke yangsheng, or the ‘punk diet’. These consumers tend to work late, often until after midnight. They smoke less than their parents, but eat irregularly, with a preference for snacks and sweets, that can be eaten in front of your PC. However, these consumers also want to stay fit and healthy. They frequent the gym, but also try to get nutrition from convenience foods enriched with nutrients. These can be vitamins and minerals, but also extracts from traditional Chinese medicinal (TCM) herbs.
As for the nationalist trend, China’s home grown coffee is gaining market share in its home market. ‘Imported coffee’ is no longer automatically perceived as superior to the domestic bean. Another guochao development is that China’s leading TCM pharmacy, Tongrentang, has established a coffee shop concept in which you can order coffee enriched with various TCM herbs.
The influence of the punk diet trend is much stronger. It has led to coining the concept of ‘dirty coffee’. Dirty coffee is a relatively new type of coffee made by pouring hot espresso over extremely cold milk. It’s become popular in Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. In China, the expression is evolving to adding lots of ingredients that you would not normally associate with coffee. This trend is undoubtedly also informed by the immensely popular milk tea of which young Chinese can consume several litres per day. Luckin Coffee was the first to introduce the term dirty coffee.
Various other chains quickly followed suit. The following photo shows two dirty coffees from the fancy chain Vista Coffee.
The ‘dirtiest’ picture that I have come across sofar is also provided by Vista: coffee with two youtiao (fried dough sticks) stuck into it. To make the dirty impression complete, they have added a plate of fish as well. Youtiao is a traditional food, so this picture also reflects the nationalist trend. Why would you only drink tea with your dim sum?
The developments proceed rapidly, so this blog is a little messy, which suits the dirty image of the products I am introducing here. I will keep you up to date as usual.
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success