The biggest Starbucks café in the world opened its doors in Shanghai on Wednesday, prompting Chinese coffee lovers to set their alarms early and line up in the chilly cold to be among the first to experience the company’s most ambitious project yet.
By 6:30 a.m., a line of over 50 Starbucks fans had already formed outside a two-story, oval-shaped building on the glitzy West Nanjing Road shopping strip in Shanghai. Among the crowd was Lan Tianxiang, a businessman in his 40s, who was excitedly waiting to enter the store.
“I’m so excited for this that I couldn’t sleep well last night,” said Lan, a longtime coffee drinker who arrived at 6:45 a.m., 15 minutes ahead of the store’s opening. “I used to travel to Italy for work. I’m glad I can try different kinds of beans and different ways of brewing in Shanghai now.”
At 7 a.m. sharp, the 2,700 square meter Starbucks Reserve Roastery — a bit over one-third the size of a standard soccer field — opened its doors to the city’s deep-pocketed consumers. The café also features three coffee bars, a tea bar created from recycled materials and a 3-D printer, and a food section stocked with piping-hot baked goods.
“It’s like Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka,” said Emily Chang, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Starbucks China, in a statement, referring to the store’s augmented reality (AR) features — the first-ever in a Starbucks location, allowing customers to learn more about the coffee beans they’re drinking.
The technology allows customers to point their mobile devices around the store to get more information about the coffee bars and brewing methods, and is supported by e-commerce giant Alibaba. However, on Wednesday, most customers seemed awestruck by the expansive selection of coffee and less aware of the AR experience.
“I stopped by to get a glimpse of the store and my morning boost before going to work,” said Zhang Ruoyu, a 25-year-old who just ordered a smoked butterscotch latte for 52 yuan ($7.85). “I will probably go back to my normal latte tomorrow, but it doesn’t hurt to try something new.”
College student Hester Tang, meanwhile, was blown away by the design of Starbucks’ new store. “For the first few seconds, I was in awe,” she said. “It wasn’t until I walked to the main bar that I realized where I was.”
Starbucks’ efforts are meant to impress Chinese consumers, who only developed a taste for the Western beverage in recent decades. Starbucks entered China 18 years ago, and now has over 3,000 stores across 136 Chinese cities, with 600 locations in Shanghai alone, giving it the largest Starbucks presence of any city in the world.
As revenue growth has stagnated in the U.S., Starbucks is aiming to boost its presence in the the company’s second-biggest and fastest-growing market by increasing its number of stores to 10,000 in the next nine years. Store sales in China in the latest fiscal year — which ended on Oct. 1 — increased by 8 percent from the same period of last year, while sales in the U.S. only saw 3 percent growth.
“The affinity we have built with our [employees] and customers over the past 18 years in China is special,” Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ executive chairman, said in a statement on the company’s website. “We knew we must bring the Reserve Roastery, our boldest, most premium store ever, to Shanghai, China’s bustling metropolitan hub and one of the world’s most dynamic retail destinations, as well as a gateway to customers from across Asia and the world.”
Unlike in the U.S. and Europe, where the beverage industry is more competitive due to support for smaller, local coffee shops, Starbucks is favored by China’s burgeoning middle class, who associate it with the Western lifestyle, and view the high price tag as a status symbol. Since its entry into the country in 1999, the brand has become so adored that it has earned a moniker from its loyal customers: “Xing Baba” — xing, meaning “star,” is the first character of the brand’s Chinese name, while baba means “sugar daddy.”
The state-of-the-art coffee house on West Nanjing Road is Starbucks’ second Reserve Roastery store, after the original was opened on the company’s home turf of Seattle in 2014. The stores are Starbucks’ answer to the so-called third-wave coffee movement, whereby customers have begun to show a stronger preference for high-quality, artisanal coffee. The roasteries have an intense focus on every step of the bean-to-cup experience, from sourcing to roasting to educating consumers, Summer Chen, a food service analyst at the Shanghai office of British consulting company Mintel, told Sixth Tone.
While third-wave cafés are still in a nascent stage in China, Starbucks aims to stay ahead of the curve with its store in Shanghai, a city that already has a rich coffee culture and more Starbucks branches than any of its peers worldwide, said Chen.
Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.
(Header image: Courtesy of Starbucks.)