The emergence of coffee in China is fairly recent. The crop was introduced to Yunnan province (south China) by French missionaries in the 19th century and made Yunnan the main coffee growing region in the country ever since. China produces around two million bags of coffee per year, 30 times less than Brazil, the world’s largest coffee nation, and 15 times less than the neighboring Vietnam. Therefore, the growing coffee demand in the country is heavily dependent on imports. Around a third of all coffee imports to China come from Vietnam, whereas the rest originate mostly from Malaysia, Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. During the crop year ending in September 2019, China imported approximately 900 thousand bags of green coffee beans and at least 1.5 million bags of soluble coffee. Over the next couple of years coffee imports are expected to continue to increase.
From the perspective of consumption, the coffee market in China is largely dominated by instant coffee, resulting in the average expenditure on coffee being far lower than elsewhere. On the other hand, the freshly ground coffee market has been witnessing the fastest growth as more and more consumers expand their knowledge, taste, and appreciation of a superior quality product. The number of cafes in China has been increasing at a blistering pace, with Starbucks dominating the market since the early 2000s. The total coffee shop industry size was predicted to approach 50 billion yuan by 2023.
The boom of hundreds of new coffee shops and the popularity of coffee delivery apps make coffee not only extremely accessible in urban China, but also fashionable, especially among the young professionals. Traditionally a tea-drinking society, Chinese people are opening up to international influences, foreign brands, and new experiences, transforming the coffee market into a highly promising opportunity.