A former tech executive who drinks three to five cups of coffee each day — perhaps at least two of them from Starbucks — Jenny Zhiya Qian must have asked herself: Why do people want coffees?

People from Italy — where drinking coffee is considered a national lifestyle — might have a different answer from the Americans who see coffee as a sugary stimulant beverage. As the Seattle coffee chain has made China its largest non-US market where it opened more than 3,300 stores, Starbucks has introduced the American interpretation of coffee to the Chinese middle class.

In China, coffee used to be the trendy western beverage that shows one’s status, education, and taste. Jenny Zhiya Qian knows that it is no longer true. By 2022, more than 70 percent of China’s urban population will be entering the middle class, per the country’s own criteria. The nation’s amount of coffee consumption is increasing (link in Chinese) by 15 to 20 percent each year. But moving forward, will the Starbucks model — which has been working for over 20 years — satisfy China’s new coffee consumers?

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Tianyu Fang

A Boston-based freelance writer on Chinese tech and culture, and an independent researcher on US-China relations. Previously, he lived in Beijing, where he worked closely with China’s tech startup community.