Starbucks in China is popular for other reasons besides its coffee.
Though there is a reason for Starbucks’ success in China that goes beyond price gouging, status, and serving sugar packed tea and crappy coffee to people who don’t know the difference:
In China, Starbucks is not a place where people simply ingest their daily regimen of caffeine, it’s a social place, a recreational place, or, if you chose, a place to find a bit of solitude.
In a country that’s becoming ever more fast paced, in city centers that are becoming ever more congested and stressful, in a society that’s rapidly moving into high-rise apartments that offer few opportunities for community immersion, Starbucks gives people a place to hang out — a place to go. Go to a Starbucks in China and you will see customers who are not just grabbing a cup of coffee and going on their way but a place where people are chilling out FOR HOURS. Nobody is going to give you the boot or the stink eye for this: you are supposed to loiter here.
China’s Starbuckses are spacious, air-conditioned, quiet(ish), dimly lit, and comfortable. Nobody is vying for your space, nobody is yelling at you, nobody is telling you to move, nobody very few people are spitting on the floor, smoking, and screaming into their phones, no cars are honking, the workers leave you alone and they alter your order to meet your demand (even if you order something idiotic like a latte without milk), the bathrooms are well stocked and clean. It’s a different culture inside this cafe chain and those like it. Starbucks in China is an escape — which is a commodity that’s becoming increasingly valuable in urban China.
You don’t just pay for a drink here.