China's Iron Coffee Cup
But by 2014 Starbucks
Starbucks once even had a spot at Beijing's imperial Forbidden City tourist landmark. It was asked to leave in 2007, but which of its peers had even gotten in, and who cares anymore? The cafe chain now sits comfortably in the who's who of China's mightiest office towers, trendiest malls and about 1,000 other places around the country.
The reason is, Starbucks isn't just leading a trend. Other offshore coffee such as Lavazza
Business partners, friends and dates meet in Starbucks because it's relatively private yet they're OK being seen there if someone must look. The place smells energetically of ground coffee, the colors coordinate, the staff keeps things clean and you can usually find a table. Compare that to takeaway-only coffee -- meaning no seats -- or to Chinese restaurants, which are noisily packed during standard meal times and closed between meals. Other cafes are less abundant.
"The real story with Starbucks is not coffee, it is the rise of a well-branded 21st Century social meeting place," says James Berkeley, managing director of the London-based management advisory service Ellice Consulting. "Social is in the sense that visitors can readily communicate physically and virtually with minimal barriers. There are striking parallels with the rise of the Austrian coffee houses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."
Starbucks showed up in 1999 around the same time as a wave of American fast-food chains such as YUM! Brands'
But Starbucks stands out, again, because its customers can get by on just a coffee while avoiding competition for seats with after-school crowds who mob the fast-food chains. So sought after is Starbucks that its challengers have opened knockoffs so real you can tell only through China's inevitable alphabet spelling errors, for example "Starsbuck" and "tarbucks."