China'scoffee culture was just started to percolate when I arrived in Beijing in 2005.
Thenearest place to where I lived to get a real (not instant) cuppa was a roughly20-minute cab ride to the city's Sanlitun area. And the only place I could findgrounds was the Friendship Store.
Today,there are at least a dozen spots selling a host of coffee drinks near my homeand place of work.
ButI don't even need to leave my apartment or office.
Severalyears ago, a coffee stand opened in our company's lobby, which has since beenreplaced with an automatic vending machine that uses mobile payments. And I canget steaming cups or capsules delivered to my apartment door while still in mypajamas.
Thatwould've seemed unimaginable in 2007, when I wrote a story in China Daily, entitledIs coffee the new black? examining if the beverage's nascent popularity was afad or an emerging norm.
Today,the answer is clear.
Chinesedemand for coffee has continued to grow at around 10 percent annually since2000, the International Coffee Organization reports.
Thecountry's coffee market currently exceeds $10 billion and is expected to reach$43 billion by 2020.
Theexpansion is due to a confluence of commerce and culture.
Nestlewas a first mover, making inroads in the Chinese market in the 1990s. Itcontrolled 90 percent of the market by 2007.
Starbuckshad 250 outlets that year, including a controversial store in the ForbiddenCity that'd opened in 2000 and was replaced by Forbidden City Cafe shortly aftermy article was published.
Adecade later, the company told media it was opening a new store on the Chinesemainland every 15 hours and was serving 5 million Chinese a week.
Lastyear, Starbucks announced plans to build 3,000 new outlets in China in thefollowing five years to nearly double the number at the time.
Butbeyond corporate brand-development strategies, one of reasons coffee startedbecoming extra hot around 2007 was the US sitcom, Friends.
Somuch so, in fact, that an entrepreneur opened a replica of the fictitiousCentral Perk cafe featured in the series in Beijing in 2010, followed byanother in Shanghai.
TheFriends craze has since died down. But the coffee culture it introduced toyouth has steeped into Chinese society.
Indeed,the beverage is no longer merely a status symbol enjoyed in sit-down cafes.
LuckinCoffee, founded in Beijing in late 2017 and recently valued at nearly $3billion, focuses on a delivery and takeaway model. It operated around 3,000outlets — more like stalls than cafes — as of this July, after going public inMay.
Ordersmust be made through its app, rather than third-party apps like Meituan.
Ithopes to outnumber Starbuck stores by the end of the year, with 4,500 outletsnationwide.
Seeminglysymbolically, Luckin became the Forbidden City's only coffee shop last fall,replacing the store that replaced Starbucks over a decade ago.
Indeed,coffee consumption has undergone incredible transformation, not merely fromwhen I first arrived 14 years ago but also from when coffee first entered Chinain 1892, the year a French missionary planted coffee trees in the remotevillage of Zhukela in Yunnan province.
Ivisited the settlement's coffee forest in 2010, when reaching the villagerequired hiking at least 5 kilometers along a narrow mountainside trail. Only24 of the original trees still stood, but villagers had planted millions more.
Yunnanstill grows about 98 percent of domestically produced coffee, and home-breweddemand is growing in pace with its plantations.
Indeed,it seems, today, coffee is the old black in the land of tea.