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How to drink coffee in China

Like many things in China, the Shanghainese coffee culture is a little.. off. Drinking coffee in China is a rather bizarre experience, and I’m not quite sure whether it lags behind or somehow surpasses its US equivalent (probably the former). Below are some of my encounters with coffee in Shanghai:


Sumerian Coffee


Neon signs? Yep, we're in China.
Neon signs? Yep, we’re in China.

This Jingan coffee shop, which shares a wall with Dogtown – a bar serving hot bourbon and tacos (my favorite of combinations) –  is simultaneously everything that is wrong and right with coffee in this country. Sumerian Coffee is sustainably-sourced (sustainability!), locally-roasted (environmentally-friendly!), and only uses organic (bGH-free!) milk. That, however, comes with a price. A latte sets you back about 38RMB per cup (roughly 6USD). In China, that’s a tad ridiculous. Actually that’s quite ridiculous, because most days, 38 RMB could be the price of a dinner, or even two lunches (now you can see why I get food poisoning so often in this country). At the same time, Sumerian doesn’t quite have the PSet-fueled atmosphere of Blue State or the faded-couch vibe of Koffee (and its 747 tub of espresso). It’s far too packed on most weekends, too hurried, too filled with girls taking selfies with the (albeit adorable) dogs. While it tastes like coffee in the U.S. should taste like, the forced vibe sometimes leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.


YuanYang NaiCha (鸳鸯奶茶)

I'm one pair of black flats away from being a Basic.
Add a pair of black flats, and this would be the perfect ‘basic girl’ photo.

Fine, yes, I’ve talked about this magical (no exaggeration) drink a fair bit , and I still believe that it deserves its own paragraph. Nay, maybe its own book (or at the very least –  its own post). I want to meet the brilliant mind who decided that mixing coffee and tea, then adding irresponsible amounts of milk and sugar would be a good idea. Why does this combination, which on the outset sounds so gross, taste so amazing? My money’s on the sugar.

Starbucks (星巴克)

Confession: I never liked Starbucks back in the US. In high school, it was the place to go to at the mall (but with Dairy Queen, why would you choose Starbucks?) In college, during the summers, it was entirely too full of EXPLO kids; during the school year, the bathrooms always smelled like bums. In China, I still don’t really like the Starbucks. For one – it’s overpriced and exalted like other random Western brands (seriously China, why do you think it’s okay to pay 10USD for two scoops of Haagen Dazs?). Secondly – in all honestly, the coffee is not that great. It has too much of an oil-slick and for some unknown reason takes absolutely forever to make. Their saving grace? Green tea cheesecake (although to be fair, cheesecake can save virtually anything.)

Dunkin’ Donuts

Not pictured; the wall of donuts
Not pictured; the wall of donuts

More so than any other place in Shanghai, this  makes me feel like I am back in New England. Case in point, the crappy excuse for a rural hometown where I grew up had just one McDonalds, but about three Dunkin Donuts shops, if that is an indication of my shameless dedication. In New Haven, the stores were always disgusting and filled with.. questionable people (yep, that one by State Street in particular), but there was still something nice about ordering a large cahffee that was bigger than your head. In Boston, there is a DD on virtually every block. In Shanghai, I’ve been lucky to find a single outpost. And I’ve made it my home.


Family Mart Coffee

 I sort of shamelessly love FamilyMarts. FamilyMarts, along with Lawsons, Haodes, and Kuaikes are convenience stores, if convenience stores were spotless and stocking absolutely anything you could possibly imagine. In the US, 7/11s are gross, but in China, these stores have everything  – warm chocolate soymilk? Yes. two-liter bottles of beer? Yes. Peanut M&Ms? Hell yes. Three different flavors of lube? Yes, Yes, and Yes. And I guess they also have coffee, which is pretty okay. But let’s face it, if I’m in a FamilyMart, I’m getting a Tsingdao.


8 thoughts on “How to drink coffee in China”

  • Hate Starbucks, partly because of their tax-dodging here, but I’ve never been a fan with their drinks either. Plus as it was plugged in the Austin Powers films, before coffee shops were even a big thing here, then there is a “counter-intuitiveness” to fight against the subliminal marketing of the bandwagon we’re supposed to jump onto here in the UK. It was just the same with Taco Bell which was all over Demolition Man. We still have no clue what that is!

    I almost told you for your last blog, but sometimes they pop up late if you scroll back down, but this and your last blog never turned up in the Reader thing. I only knew about it because of your Twitter thing. You should check it out in the Reader because if you can’t see it then no-one else can!

  • Thanks for the notice! I was wondering why my view count has been a little off. I think what happened was that WordPress isn’t updating my publishing date, so the posts are getting ‘published’ on the date I started writing the post and getting lost in the reader.

    I haven’t seen Austin Powers in so long, so I don’t think I remember the Starbucks marketing, but that makes sense, because they were extremely aggressive in the Early 2000s.

    • Hope you get it sorted. I have had that problem a long time ago and it came down to the number of tags or something like that. I had to search a lot, possibly through the difficult forum thing, to find that out as they keep changing the rules and not telling you.

      With Austin Powers, the sequel, it was after the villain had been defrosted in the present day where his business bod explained that they’d diversified the business from evil into more legitimate money-making purposes and that he now owned Starbucks. Or legitimate evil in my view. I imagine they paid for this plug, but I don’t know, but it did stick in my craw as ungainly at the time.

      • Do you use the iOS app at all? That and the Stats counter have been changing rather rapidly, and not always for the better.

        I just looked up the clip and I think I definitely remember it not from the movie. Man, Austin Powers has really not aged tremendously as a film, especially the CGI

    • I’m assuming the “iOS app” is a mobile thing?!? I’m not that advanced and just on a laptop although I think I had to revert to their old way of posting on the site and not the new way which has more bells and whistles. I presume this is totally different to you then. I write all mine on MS Word first before pasting it across and then painstakingly putting back in all the italics which seem to have gone missing in this transfer.

      I generally find that any social media “improvement” forced upon us is normally a backward step.

      I was never a great Austin Powers fan at the time although I thought the first one had some merits and that it was diminishing returns after that. At the moment I’m revisiting “classic” eighties fantasy films I used to watch as a child and I would say that despite some dodgy eighties music that Labyrinth with Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie really stands up well. Even my young niece, who I got it for, was gripped within minutes.

      • I tend to type out my entries in Evernote, and I’ll eventually add them to the draft window in WP, but I also find a lot of my formatting tends to get lost in translation, my paragraph spacing in particular.

        I haven’t seen Labyrinth in years, but I remember confusing it with Pan’s Labyrinth for years and then being really confused when I saw David Bowie.

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