Now that I am back in Seattle, it is easy to forget how difficult it was to get coffee in Chengdu. I’ve restored my state of having coffee all around me. Like we all do once in awhile, I’m thinking about how much money I’m spending on coffee each day. The commute is much longer here, from home to work, then to school. In the early early dark mornings, my coffee shop is right by the transit center. A cup costs around 1-3 dollars, which is nothing. A cup of coffee here costs pretty much half of a cheap meal. Comparing the values of a cup of coffee with a meal, the cost of coffee isn’t high.
The obvious difference between coffee culture in Seattle (or anywhere in the US) and the coffee culture in China, is undoubtly how dependant the people are on the drink. In Seattle, we drink coffee like water. The people need their wake up call, and almost never fail to get their ‘morning coffee’. People carrying their tumbers and insulated coffee cups, filled with the aromatic drink. Students go to class, while taking notes on their laptops, sipping coffee. This common scene of a classroom in a typical American university is probably taken for granted. As for China’s coffee culture, I see posts else where saying that China doesn’t have a coffee culture. I have to disagree, and say that it exists but as something totally different from ours. That’s for another post though. In this post I’m here to discuss the morning drinking culture in general.
China has it’s own drinking culture. I commonly see people with plastic tumblers, filled with random things: Goji Berries, Tea leaves, Jasmine flowers, plum seeds(?). Never you’ll see a person walking with a paper cup sipping coffee, or steaping a tea bag. I think the random fillers in their plastic tumbers are just for flavoring the water. Since their only source of drinking water is either buying bottled/gallons of filtered water, or boiling their own water, it just makes sense to see why they are drinking those. Plain boiled water just doesn’t always have a pleasant taste. This is so far I’ve observed as the equivilant to-go drinking accustoms in China. Randomly naturally flavored water in plastic tumbers versus coffee in insulated mugs or paper cups.
The chinese drinkers don’t seem to heavily depend on those drinks though. The drink is also not only the morning. They’re not drinking that random water because it has caffeine in it, they’re just drinking water. I mostly see only older men drinking maofeng green tea or something, which is probably the only closest thing I see as a wake up drink.
The morning coffee drinking isn’t something easy to do in Chengdu. As discussed in my first post on Chengdu coffee, there are instant coffee packets for sale anywhere. That is if you want to drink instant sweet coffee flavored water. There are canned coffee for sale anywhere as well, but by the same brand — you’re drinking sweet iced coffee flavored water. The better ones you can get are those coffee ground with filter (more description of it in this post).
So maybe you’re not the kind to get up and make your own coffee, and you usually get them on the go. This is definitely not possible in Chengdu. The best you can get are from those instant coffee vending machines. Again, SAME TASTE, SAME BRAND – instant sweet coffee flavored water. There are no coffee shops open before 10am, usually they tend to open later in the night. Something you can probably find people drinking on the go, and sold everywhere on the streets: every breakfast food stand/cart, as well as mini-marts……one thing everyone drinks, almost strickly only in the morning: Doujiang (豆浆), soybean milk.
I DO believe Starbucks in China open early like it’s supposed. During to my trip to Shenzhen, I think that one Starbucks was open from 7am-10pm. Can’t say it is the same for all the Starbucks in China though. Even so, Starbucks is only at special locations, in shopping districts or business areas. That eliminates Starbucks out of the possibilities for morning coffee.
Yes, the coffee shops with espresso machines or real coffee brew is not convenient for the mornings in China. In fact, coffee isn’t seen as something convenient at all. Not only that the drinking culture differs, the cafe culture definitely sets itself up in a different perspective in China (mostly speaking of Chengdu). The next post for “Journey to Coffee in Chengdu”, will be about the cafe culture in China, and my talks with local coffee shop owners in Chengdu.