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The Bulletin

Hooking China on coffee

Posting in Cities

How to jolt an emperor. A Starbucks in Beijing's Forbidden City. This branch shut down several years ago amid protests that it disrespected culture.

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The average person in China drinks 5 cups of coffee - a year. Tea has been the hot beverage of choice for millennia.

If you run an enterprising java company, that's an opportunity to profitably hook a nation of 1.3 billion people on caffeine.

Corporations from the coffee-addicted West have taken note and are pushing the stuff, evidenced by a couple of developments in recent weeks.

Starbucks is on a tear. China was a leading contributor to the mega chain's second quater revenue growth, Forbes reported. As Motley Fool headlined it, "China is lifting Starbucks stock to new highs." The Seattle company operates 7,000 stores worldwide and plans to open an additional 1,500 locations in China by 2015 and 4,000 stores in the broader China/Asia-Pacific region soon.

When in Shanghai. The Starbucks across from Yu Garden near the Bund offers green tea latte and other elixirs tailored to local taste.

"At this rate, Starbucks' international business is on track to outpace that of Starbucks' U.S. division by 2022," the Fool said.

What's not clear is the extent to which Starbucks is raking it in from sales of coffee versus tea. While its China outlets offer the usual varieties of cappuccinos and the like, they also cater to local tastes with elixirs including "green tea latte."

Perhaps encouraged by Starbucks, Swiss giant Nestle - the world's largest food company - has arrived with a plan to get the Chinese onto joe. It's spending $16 million on a "coffee center" as it "seeks to boost consumption of the beverage in the world's most populous nation," Bloomberg reported.  The center, in the southwest province of Yunnan, "will provide farmers with training in improved growing techniques, at the same time as promoting the beverage to more consumers," Nestle explained in a press release.

Neither Starbucks nor Nestle can expect to pull 1.3 billion people away from tea and onto coffee overnight. Starbucks entered China 15 years ago, and despite its success, per capita consumption is still those measly 5 cups per annum according to Taiwanese cafe franchiser SPR Coffee.

But with Western persistence, hundreds of millions could in due time be shaking for a fix. Mwahahahahaha!

Photos: Forbidden City Starbucks from Bloggle.com. Shanghai Starbucks from Mark Halper.

A short selection from the many caffeine insights, culinary trends and beverages on SmartPlanet:

— By on May 2, 2013, 9:27 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure