Starbucks in Beijing

I’ve been meaning to do a post on the supermarkets here in Beijing but I haven’t been brave enough to haul my big-ass camera around the teeming multi-level thunderdome of shopping known as my local Lotte’s.  There’s a lot of foreign brands in Beijing, like Walmart (same as the states except completely different products/brands) and Carrefour (a French supermarket chain) and Lotte’s (South Korean – Japanese conglomerate) and from the inside all three of them look almost exactly the same to me — but totally wild — I’ve never seen anything like it outside of China.

Starbucks on the other hand, is deceptively similar.  It serves it’s lattes ‘grande’ and everything down to the furniture seems like direct imports (doesn’t the checkerboard table below look familiar?).

The sugar comes in the same white or raw choices, but it’s from a different company and the packets have some delightful English translation work: “golden coffee sugar crystals”.  Mmm, just like mom used to make.

I haven’t been in the states for a while, so I’m not sure if this is standard, but I’m assuming it’s like simple syrup they use in iced coffees.  Or as known in China, “invert syrup sachet” which if I said that out of context, you’d probably have no idea what I was talking about.  “Yeah, make mine a grande and be sure to get some invert syrup sachets!”

The branding though, absolutely consistent.  Green plastic cutlery.  The identical label with just a little Chinese added.  Of course, what you get isn’t quite the same — it’s heavy on the corn and red beans (sweet to the Asian palette) and there’s a mystery mayo-crab-something salad in the corner.  The dressing was vaguely asian-y like a little sesame oil was added in.  Overall, just fine for a salad from Starbucks.

The table advertising is the same, but note the blueberry cheesecake.  Blueberry is like THE fruit in Beijing, it seems to me.  If you want to make something fancy, just add blueberries.

This kid could be bored in a Starbucks anywhere in the world, but nope, he’s right here in Beijing.  (By the way, this place was packed.  Starbucks is crazy popular with expats and locals.)

Even the hardwood floors look the same.  It’s like someone picked up a Starbucks from Seattle and plopped it down in China.  Cole was kind enough to inspect the floor very closely and he says, “Yes, it’s practically the same.  I think I recognize this wood grain.”

The cashier spoke with perfect English, she practically had an American accent, and then everyone fell into Mandarin as they called the order back and forth to each other.  I asked my tutor if people like Starbucks here and she said, “I think if you work in the CBD  in one of the tall buildings [note: she means a corporate job, probably] then you’d like very much to bring your cup of Starbucks to work with you.”  Does she drink it? “No, it has too many calories! I’d have to run around all day…”


  1. Kaylin Elizabeth Stephens

    I do! I have been to a McDonald’s in almost every country I’ve been to lol. I’m curious about the differences on the menu

  2. Aside from the horrific Christmas Wrap they had going back in december (which involved steamed green peppers, mushrooms, mayo and hot dog pieces chopped up), I’m often delighted by the creativity of Chinese Starbucks offerings- peach blossom chai latte? Okay! Valencia Orange macchiatto? Sure! A few years ago, they had tuna scones (um…no), cuttlefish bread (see: and coffee jelly iced cappuccino. Never a dull day…

  3. Yafieda Jamil

    yes! I make sure I stop by Starbucks in any country!

  4. Lindsay Shapka

    I love this story. I lived in South Korea for awhile and the Starbucks there looked exactly the same as it did at home. It was easy to forget I was in a foreign country curled up in an oversized leather chair with a Chai!

  5. Epiphanie Bloom

    Nice to know you can have your cup of Starbucks and not drink it too!

  6. Welcome to China! 🙂 Perhaps you should make that trip to Pizza Hut too, where locals are dressed in suits.

  7. Hi. I love exploring local supermarkets and finding new products. I try to stay away from Starbucks, Mc Donalds and other American fast food chains. Like the Chinese lady said it’s all just full of calories! 🙂 Local food is always better!

  8. As a former Starbucks employee, I can tell you that this kind of copy-paste experience is exactly what the brand was aiming for. It’s a third space so it should feel comfortable and familiar no matter the city or country in which you find yourself. It’s also eery but the food selections are localized. I had a chicken sandwich that seemed harmless and familiar but had a spice to it that sent my mouth ablaze!

    This sort of thing does provide a sense of comfort but at the cost of independent coffee houses that can’t get off the ground.

    (ps. your note about supermarkets definitely caught my attention. The Carrefour I visited in Shanghai left me more than a ltitle unnerved!)

  9. All the time 🙂 but I havent been ‘home’ for years, I think my ideas of what things should cost may be a bit outdated :-/

  10. I totally do this, and with Starbucks no less. I even stopped at the one in the Forbidden City when it was open just to say I did it. Doesn’t hurt to add a little familiarity to the trip also…

  11. Ron Turner

    I had very similar experiences a year ago in China! Around Thanksgiving, I was always used to my Pumpkin Spice latte, but was disappointed when they didn’t offer it in China. Instead, I was treated to a wonderful Dark Cherry Mocha latte, which ROCKED! A few months later after returning to the States, I was SO let down that I couldn’t get one here 🙁 Ahh, the joys of traveling abroad…did you try to get on the internet there? It was interesting to have to sign on, request a log-in password which had to be texted to your phone, THEN used to log in to be able to sure the web….

  12. It’s huge in Santiago too, which is a change from when I arrived in 2005, and there was only 1 Starbucks. Now I’ve got 4 within walking distance of my office. And they’re all exactly the same – I think they must even choose employees with a decent grasp of English because it’s the only place that they usually manage to spell my name correctly rather than turning it into Emili/Emyli/Emilia/Evelyn.

  13. I LOVE going to Carrefour! I can understand your reluctance about bring your big camera in there.
    I have to admit, I don’t really go to Starbucks when I travel, unless I’m desperate for wifi or an iced drink. I’ve been to one in Hong Kong and Singapore. It was like being inside one at home, and at the time, it was fabulous.

  14. Cole looks like the Stay-Puft marshmallow man in his little coat – so cute! In Paris, the only people I saw at Starbucks were expats and tourists. I think it was one of the many things one does in Paris that is akin to stamping “American!” in red letters on your forehead. But Starbucks was the only place with takeaway coffee.

  15. JustWilliam

    Please help me here — what does this have to do with Thailand?

  16. Oooh I just learned how to make invert syrup. What makes it different from simple syrup is you add acid (citric acid or cream of tartar) to the sugar and water mixture. It mixes and holds up better than simple syrup, probably why it’s in packets.

  17. Christine, it amazes me just how different Starbucks is around the world. I really like the design for the sugar packets you got a photo of!

  18. Love that photo of Cole yawning. I have never been a fan of Starbucks coffee, but while traveling in Latin America, I have begun to appreciate a place that will always have a comfortable feel and decent coffee (the kind that does not come in power form in a packet).

    With Starbucks, I always know what I’m getting.

  19. This says it all, ““No, it has too many calories! I’d have to run around all day…””

    And I am so impressed by how beautiful you have made a simple Starbucks look with your photographs. Bravo Christine!

  20. living in England as an American, I come to work with my starbucks every morning. and everyone views it as the American thing. :o). I LOVE IT!

  21. Hi! Newish reader here! I thought it was sort of interesting that you did a post about Starbucks, since I feel like it has such a negative connotation, especially for travelers who prefer local spots. I’m actually pretty ambivalent about it–on one hand, sometimes I seriously crave a massive soy latte, but on the other, I’m glad Starbucks hasn’t attempted to open a store in Zagreb. If they did, I’m not sure they’d stay in business–but I hope they never try. At any rate, for me, going to Starbucks outside the US is absolutely an attempt to get a dose of familiarity or comfort. When I’m home, though, I rarely patronize Starbucks. Funny, that.

  22. I had a craving for an iced chai latte so I went to the nearest starbucks here in the Haidian district and they didn’t have it on the menu. I then asked and they weren’t familiar with it. Crapola!!

  23. Hello! Found this post when searching for why Starbucks in China give out sachets of invert syrup instead of just filling a bottle. Any ideas? If I remember correctly, the creamers are in thermos jugs, just like the US, so I can’t even guess that it’s for perceptions of sanitation (someone could tamper with a thermos jug as easily as a syrup bottle).

    • almostfearless

      Hmmm I’m not sure… maybe it’s not as popular to use, so it makes more sense to have packets than to prepare simple syrup on a daily basis? Curious though…