Gerhard Greyvensteyn

If you're going to teach English in China, I have some good news: coffee is big in China. Whether you are a hardcore coffee addict or a casual drinker, there is a decent cup of coffee no more than 50 meters from where you are. Let's investigate some options.

Family Mart

These 44-year-old Japanese franchise stores are everywhere. There is one on my way to work, and one in the mall beneath our school. There are two more on the way to the subway station. And one in the subway station. As a convenience store, it is hard to beat. They have everything you need (and a lot you might want to try out), from last minute sandwich or noodle lunches to a wide range of yoghurts, juices and sodas. They often have some specials - check the promotional material fluttering from the ceiling and wobbling from the shelves. You might need a local colleague to assist as these promotions are not explained in English, and often involve some kind of two-for-one deal. And best of all, the coffee is decent and cheap!

Pro: Cheap and easy

Con: This is fast food - no lingering, no wi-fi, limited seating. And it's noisy, with the door welcoming song repeated ad infinitum.

Medium Americano: RMB10

Similar stores: 7 Eleven; Lawsons; Buddies; Quik


Immensely successful in China, this chain does most things right. It is generally not a haven of peace and quiet: at all hours of the day and night people come together to talk, meet, watch movies on their phones; and (sometimes) drink coffee. There is communal seating around long tables, smaller individual tables and comfortable couches. The stores range from rather old and tired, to super contemporary. In December, the newest addition to the franchise will open in West Nanjing road in a stand-alone building next to the new Taikoo Hui Mall: Starbucks Roastery and Reserve Tasting Room. It promises to be an immersive experience, with an on-site roastery and daily demonstrations and tutorials. You already know which coffee is your favourite. Next challenge; find your favourite Starbucks store and make friends with the nice baristas.

Pro: Consistent; wide range of products; Wi-Fi; and comfortable seating

Con: Can be noisy; a little expensive

Medium Americano: RMB22

Similar stores: Pacific Coffee; Costa


Seesaw Coffee

A mini-chain with four shops in Shanghai, Seesaw recently opened their first shop in Shenzhen. National expansion is on the cards for this great little shop - one of my favourites. The coffee is excellent (you can choose between a light and dark roast for all options); the design is modern, and the service is good. You can always find a seat and relax for an hour, or grab a coffee and run.

Pro: Quality of coffee; nice design; inviting environment

Con: High price; limited number of branches

Medium Americano: RMB25

Similar stores: Time; Insider; Ocean Ground; Lanna


This is not a coffee shop, but a little café. It deserves a mention for its innovation. There is coffee-tonic, which combines coffee with Indian tonic water to stunning effect (copy it at home!); you can have coconut or cashew milk in your latte to make it dairy-free, and they have seasonal specials like Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. Taking coffee in China to the next level. A basic Americano starts at RMB 22, but prices rise steeply after this.

Pro: Amazing coffee

Con: Expensive

Similar: Nothing. Egg is truly unique.

At Home

The cheaper option: make your own. A simple French press coffee maker will cost you as little as RMB28 on Taobao.

Buying ground coffee is easy in the bigger supermarkets (Tesco and Carrefour); and even cheaper online where you can get steep discounts and delivery to your office or home.

At home

At Work

The cheapest option (because, sometimes it's free!): coffee at work. Most schools and centres have a coffee machine where you can buy a decent cup for as little as 3 or 4 RMB. Some lucky devils even have free coffee.

And now it is time for a lovely cup of coffee. See you at the local coffee shop!

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