Navigating Coffee Culture An Expats Guide to China

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Welcome expatriates to the rich tapestry of coffee culture in China, offering insights and tips for navigating the local coffee scene. Embarking on an adventure to a foreign country brings a cache of excitement and unfamiliar experiences, and coffee is no exception. The coffee culture in China is a unique and intriguing mix of tradition and modernity, and it is high time expats explored this scene.

Understanding Coffee Origins and Production

Coffee is not indigenous to China, but local coffee producers still manage to cultivate astonishing varieties of coffee. The highlands in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Hunan are ideal terrains for coffee farming. These areas have optimal elevation, weather conditions, and soil quality that make for coffee beans with unique flavor profiles. While locally grown coffee is not as widely available as imported varieties, it's worth seeking out for the authentic taste.

Locally Grown Beans Versus Imported Varieties

The terrain, climate, and soil structure in different parts of China lead to varying coffee bean varieties. For instance, the Yunnan Province has an acidic and fruity flavor profile, while the coffee beans cultivated in Sichuan have a bold, earthy taste. Expat coffee enthusiasts should not hesitate to explore locally grown coffee beans. On the other hand, there are also imported varieties from Latin America and Africa that cater to different preferences for the coffee drinkers.

Exploring Coffee Plantations and Farms

If you're eager to witness coffee farming in China up close, you're in luck. There are a handful of enviable coffee plantations and farms that are accessible to the public. Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is a spot to visit when seeking out coffee cultivators. The city hosts myriad coffee markets and roasters showcasing the vicissitudes of locally grown coffee. Moreover, several cafes in the city offer coffee plantation trips, such as the Chen Zhe Coffee Farms, where you'll learn the different coffee farming stages and taste the beans.

Embracing Favorite Coffee Style Drinks

Coffee consumption in China has a unique flair unlike anywhere else in the world. Coffee culture is less influenced by Western countries, leading to the unspoken creation of an authentic Chinese coffee experience. Below, we listed, delve into some of the traditional brews and specific foods that are paired with coffee in China.

Traditional Brews

  • Chinese Style Coffee - This coffee consists of steamed soybeans mixed with ground coffee and served with condensed milk.
  • Taiwanese Style Coffee - A scoop of whole milk ice cream served with a shot of espresso.
  • Hong Kong Style Coffee - A combination of black coffee and evaporated milk, with an option of adding condensed milk.
  • Injeolmi Latte - This is a Korean-inspired coffee drink that includes a milk-based coffee drink topped with ground yellow bean paste, comparable to popular Asian dessert ingredients.

Particular Foods

  • Wujiang Longyuan Coffee: This coffee from Wujiang, Jiangsu Province is paired with traditional Chinese pastries, including maltose (a sticky rice cake) and baozi (steamed stuffed buns).
  • Huimeiwan Coffee: A coffee sourced from Yunnan Province is best paired with chestnuts wrapped in a glutinous rice pancake.

Embracing Coffee Drinking Customs and Traditions

Immersing oneself in the culture of coffee goes beyond the beverage itself. Tapping into the customs and traditions that surround coffee's role in daily life is an essential aspect of the coffee scene in China. Coffeeshops in China are bustling with locals, some working remotely while others catch up on business deals. Below are few insights into the culture of coffee drinking in China.

Local Coffee Customs

  • Coffee is frequently served hot or iced, depending on preference.
  • Coffee culture in China is, in most part, an after-dinner beverage, often taking the place of tea in social settings.
  • Coffee rituals and traditions are severe and respected, and China is no exception to this. The presentation, serving style, and etiquette around coffee consumption set it apart from other drinks.
  • Coffeehouses in China are havens to escape the bustling city scenes, as locals associate coffee consumption with a slower pace of life. The ambiance of the coffeehouse is held at the highest regard, with soothing music and cozy interiors.

Coffee Etiquette

  • In Chinese culture, it's appropriate to drink your coffee in three sips—the first sip quenches your thirst, the second sip allows savoring of the flavors, and the third sip finishes the drink upright to showcase respect towards the establishment.
  • Drinking coffee with a straw, as a symbol of subtleness, is common in China.
  • When mingling with business partners, avoid consuming coffee as part of your regular intake. Instead, test the waters with green tea, as it's a tradition followed frequently in business settings.


Coffee culture in China, as we've seen, is a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity. The Chinese coffee experience is nothing short of remarkable, and living among locals is an opportunity to embrace the coffee culture fully. More expats should take advantage of the forward-thinking coffee establishments and indigenous coffee drinks that China has to offer. As coffee enthusiasts, immerse yourself in the coffee scenes, observe the traditional coffee customs and etiquette, and most importantly, discover your new Chinese coffee favorites.

Our comprehensive guide has provided a solid platform to jumpstart your coffee journey in China. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a cup of authentic coffee while cherishing the local customs and traditions. Happy Coffee Discoveries!