Britt explores coffee-trade relations with a booming China

Capitalist opportunity in communist China

June 2004 - Steve Aronson

Britt explores coffee-trade relations with a booming China

Brash and ready for western-style business, China feels it can do anything, and I’d have to agree with it.

I observed this invincibility for myself during a March 27 to April 3 trip there to explore introducing Café Britt to this nation of 1.3 billion people and its Asian neighbors beyond.

The China of my travels – Peking, Beijing, Dalian, Shanghai and Hangzhou – gives an aggressively capitalist impression: billboards, neon, lots of American advertisement, and NO communist slogans.

I met my Chinese host, Ming, in Costa Rica. A trader in what appears to be anything that moves, Ming has what looks like a dynamic organization staffed by young professionals. He bought a freight container of Café Britt that he hopes to serve in a new coffee house Peking.

The northern port city of Dalian, on the Yellow and Bohai seas, is an hour away from Japan and Korea. The Russians used it as a military base during WW2 and stayed during the 1950’s. The architecture is pure Stalin.

A call center here that can handle Japanese, Korean, Chinese and English could be a springboard for introducing Café Britt to a region that appears to be ripe for fine coffee.

The classy coffee shop in town had an extensive menu that included Blue Mountain, Sumatra and Colombian coffees. The cappuccinos were super sweet and expensive – we probably spent a week’s wages on four cups of coffee there.

Per capita consumption of coffee in this tea-dominated nation is barely a gram per year, but a coffee culture is catching on, driven by the urban rich and wealthy middle class. Analysts predict the Chinese will follow the lead of the Japanese, who today yearly consume more than 3 kilos of coffee per capita, compared to barely 300 grams per capita per year in 1965.

One of Ming’s distributors, whom we met in the eastern port city of Shanghai, said the local supermarket chain – an empire of 1,600 stores – could be a good vehicle for our chocolates and macadamia products.

This country is open for business. Internet and cell phone service works well. Major construction is everywhere. There is undoubtedly poverty here, but I didn’t see much of it. The Chinese revel in their mighty nation and seem immersed in enormous possibility.

I’ll keep you posted on how that possibility will translate to potential for Café Britt.

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