Feb 1, 2010

Quick coffee to-go in Beijing

China doesn't yet have the coffee culture we have in America. The environment is catching up, but there is still some ways to go.

Sometimes you just want a decent cup of coffee to-go between meetings, or perhaps on your way to a meeting. Here's my experience of what you can get in Beijing.

Chain coffee shops:
When you want to optimize for quality rather than price, pick one of these.
  • Starbucks: Quick and reliable, but just as expensive as in the US, $2 to $5, depending on what concoction you order. Also, more local areas of Beijing have a lower density of Starbucks, so it's not always a choice.
  • SPR Coffee: The Chinese knock-off version of Starbucks. I have experienced only two kinds of service here: slow and slower. I would not pop in here between meetings for a caffè latte to go.
  • UBC Coffee: Chinese Starbucks knock-off number two. (It could have been the first one for all I know, but who cares). Same experience as at SPR. Although both SPR and UBC do brew a proper cup of coffee, given enough time.
Fast food joints:
If you want quick and cheap, drop by a fast food place.
  • McDonalds: They make brewed coffee at all the McDonald's I've been at in Beijing. It doesn't appear to be sitting around all day and going stale, either. They're making a fresh pots frequently, and there are free refills. Not as tasty as Starbucks coffee of the week, but the best of the fast food places.
  • KFC: Stay away from the coffee here unless you have no other choice. KFC in China serves coffee from one of those little Nescafe machines that dispenses instant coffee and hot water, the result tasting something like cardboard.
  • 7-11: I'm grouping 7-11 under the category of fast food, because it seems like one-third of their space is devoted to ready-made food and beverages. 7-11 in the US has very decent coffee. I find it comparable to Starbucks coffee of the week, but even cheaper. In China, it's completely different. No fresh coffee at all, just some canned, pre-made sweetened coffee in a warming case. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

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