The practice of drinking tea has a long history in China, having originated there during the Tang Dynasty. But in 2017, the practice of drinking coffee could be adding a new chapter to its history in China.

For those living in Shanghai, last week’s WeChat Moments were filled with Shanghai locals posting pictures and selfies in the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which opened its doors on December 6th. It’s world’s biggest Starbucks, but other than that, it offers many things and features that you aren’t able to taste, see or experience in an ordinary Starbucks in other Chinese cities.

Stereotypically, tech entrepreneurs love and appreciate good coffee. We even evaluated Shanghai-based co-working spaces based on their coffee environments. There are many things we’d like to talk about in terms of this branch’s new menu–wine, craft beers, chocolates, bakery products (pastry, pizza), freshly roasted coffee and so many items that go over RMB 50 or even RMB 150–not to mention the entire coffee roasting process, coffee library and coffee brewing process. But we’ll focus solely on how techie was Starbucks in Shanghai, the city burgeoning with New Retail sites and a top destination for VR arcades. 

Make sure you do these three things. Firstly, take your time. You need more than an hour to explore this Starbucks. Lining up in front of the Starbucks entrance itself takes more than 30 minutes. The security guards on the doors will allow only 15 people to enter at a time. Secondly, your budget should be more than RMB 5o, because a lot of the drinks are over RMB 50, and bakery items are over RMB 20. Thirdly, you need a fully-charged phone. You might have to play with your phone to wait 30 minutes to enter Starbucks, and playing Augmented Reality game consumes a lot of battery.

1. Starbuck’s AR game

Now you’re in. Firstly, you cannot miss the AR game in the new Starbucks. To enjoy the AR game:

  1. Connect to Starbucks Roastery wifi

2. Download Taobao (Starbuck uses Taobao’s AR scanner)

3. Scan the QR code on the Starbucks Roastery guide

4. Be patient when loading

5. Start scanning coffee roasting machines and flasks in Starbucks!

Starbucks Roastery AR game (Image Credit: TechNode)

The AR game involves scanning over a dozen coffee machines and coffee brewers in Starbucks. You can first see the map on the app, and select “AR scanner” at the top, then tap the image below to get a hint of exactly where you should go and scan the object or place.

After pointing the camera on the object, the loading process takes about 2~3 seconds. In my experience, some of them work well and are impressive, but it takes a lot of patience to scan it right and some of them just doesn’t work well. After scanning two coffee machines on the first floor, and frustrated to see the AR scanner failing to capture the third coffee flask, I asked the staff to scan it for me, but still no use.

After scanning, an interactive image of the copper cask being filled up with freshly roasted coffee appears, and the copper cask, placed in the middle of the new Starbucks is actually the easiest to scan. As I scanned the copper cask, I could see animated images showing how coffee beans are roasted, and when I tapped “More information,” I was led to another page explaining how the copper cask works in detail. Using the AR function to explore the coffee roasting process was quite impressive and educational.

2. Apply for an electric invoice

Starbucks Roastery provides electric invoices (Image Credit: TechNode)

Other technology attempts in the new Starbucks include giving phone notifications when your coffee is ready, (if you have paid through either Alipay or WeChatPay) and offering options to apply for electric invoices (fapiao), a very useful function for those who work for China-based companies and want the company to reimburse your invoice. After paying for your drink, tap “Apply for electric invoice (申请电子发票)” at the bottom, and fill in your company name (invoice title, 发票抬头), tax code (税号), and your email address. The electric invoice will then be sent to your email, and you can browse them on your mobile too.

3. Don’t line up, just grab a member of staff to place an order

Staff can receive your order on their Windows Surface tablets (Image Credit: TechNode)

At West Nanjing Rd’s Starbucks, you don’t have to line up to place an order. You can simply collar a member of staff wandering around with a Windows Surface tablet. They will hand you the paper menu and you can place an order and pay using your mobile phone’s mobile payment options (WeChat Pay, Alipay) or swipe a card. If you want to pay by cash, then you need to go to the cashier to place an order. After placing the order, the app will tell you the name of the nearest spot to pick up your drink.

Considering Alibaba’s technology that it has developed, especially its cashier-less cafe showcased at the Taobao Maker festival, the new Starbucks could have explored even more new functions, such as Alipay’s facial recognition and the unmanned payment options that are currently used in some of its Hema stores (盒马鲜生). But Starbucks played it safe this time, only implementing AR experience at its first Roastery in China.

There was less focus on coffee technology. While Starbucks offers options to its customers to make coffee much stronger or lighter by adding more or fewer shots, this could have been done digitally. For example, you could imagine Starbucks coffee machines connecting directly to user’s Starbucks membership card apps, and records users’ coffee preferences.

The most populous city in China with 34.0 million people and the biggest city in the world by population, Shanghai is surely an optimal destination multinational companies and brands to set up pilot projects. 13 of the total 20 Hema stores, Alibaba’s new retail store concept, are operating in Shanghai, Alibaba’s Single’s day flagship stores were launched in Shanghai, and China’s first Disneyland opened here in 2016.

Starbuck Roastery Chinese address: 上海市南京西路789号 (近石门一路)
English address: 789 West Nanjing Rd (Near No.1 Shimen Rd) Shanghai. Take subway lines 2, 12, 13 and get off at West Nanjing Rd station exit 11 (only line 13 will allow you to get off at exit 11) and you’ll see Starbucks on your right.

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Eva Yoo

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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