Will Chinese Drink Coffee over Tea?

    12 January, 2015

    Asia has long tradition of tea-drinking. And China is no exception.

    However, lately more and more Chinese people are turning to a different drink. Coffee has become an increasingly popular choice of Chinese people living abroad and in the country's huge cities. It is also a popular crop among those living in the mountains of southern Yunnan Province.

    In big cities such as Beijing, coffee shops seem to be on nearly every major street corner. These shops are not just selling drinks from Starbucks, the world-famous coffee company. Coffee businesses from South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Britain are also operating in China.

    Will Chinese Drink Coffee over Tea?
    A woman orders cups of coffee at a Starbucks cafe in Beijing, China. (June 2011.)

    I spoke with some Chinese women to learn if they like coffee over tea since moving to the United States.

    Coffee or tea? Which is your favorite drink?

    Tea-drinking is steeped in the culture and traditions of many Asian countries, like China and Japan. But is that changing? Are young people from Asia now choosing a cup of coffee instead of tea?

    BeiBei Su is from China. She has been living in the United States for the past eight years. Before that, she lived in Italy for two years. We spoke to her at a crowded Vietnamese noodle restaurant near Washington, D.C. Ms. Su says she likes tea better than coffee. But she adds that may not be true among the younger generation in China.

    Anna: "Are you a coffee drinker or tea drinker. "

    BeiBei Su: "I'm a tea drinker.

    Anna: "Do you think Chinese people are drinking more coffee and becoming coffee drinkers?"

    BeiBei Su: "I think they are definitely becoming coffee drinkers ... for the younger generation they love coffee."

    Many young Chinese people drink coffee socially -- when meeting with friends. Yang Lin lives in the U.S. but comes from an area in China famous for growing tea. She used to only drink tea while in China. But now, she says, she drinks both and for different reasons.

    "I would say ... I was definitely a tea drinker when I was back in China. But now, you know, with the Starbucks influence, and all the different flavors and holiday drinks ... I think I like coffee and tea equally now."

    Yang Lin says that drinking coffee for her is a social event. She and her co-workers like to sit in a café and talk over a cup of coffee.

    Tea, she says, is more about family memories. She grew up in Fujian province -- an area known for its tea. Ms. Yang says that as a child, her family would gather together in the evening and talk about the day's events over a steaming pot of tea. So now, even the smell of Fujian tea brings back these warm family memories.

    Voyo is another Chinese woman who now lives in Washington, D.C. She says that after moving to the U.S. her tastes changed. We would call her a coffee convert, someone who now chooses to drink coffee.

    "I used to be a tea drinker before I came to the United States. But now I am a coffee drinker and actually getting to be a very heavy coffee drinker. Like I go (went) from one cup a day to three cups a day and if I stop one day I will have (a) headache."

    On average a person in China drinks about five cups of coffee a year. This information comes from the China Coffee Association Beijing.

    That amount is far below the world average of 240 cups a year. But the association says the amount of coffee that Chinese drink is growing by about 15 percent every year.

    Coffee in tealand

    On any given day, Groove Café - a South Korean coffee chain - is busy with activity and coffee drinkers in Beijing. A chain is a group of stores or businesses that are usually under the same ownership.

    With more people drinking coffee, many see an economic opportunity for Chinese-grown beans. China-grown coffee could be a money-maker even if most of the coffee on sale in China is imported.

    Most of China's coffee is grown in the southern province of Yunnan. A French missionary brought plants to the area over a century ago. But the roots of growing coffee did not take hold until more recently.

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    What about you? Are you a coffee drinker or tea drinker? Or both? Tell us about the coffee culture or tea culture where you're from in the comments section.


    Words in This Story

    steep v. to soak in a liquid at a temperature under the boiling point as you do with tea; also means to cover a subject thoroughly. Often used with "tradition" or "culture" as in "steeped in tradition" or "steeped in culture."

    convert v. to change from one form or use to another; n. a person who has changed to a different religion, belief, political party, etc.

    missionary n. a person who is sent to a foreign country to do religious work (such as to convince people to join a religion or to help people who are sick, poor, etc.)