Brewing a new batch

Updated: 2011-11-25 07:35

By Liu Xiaozhuo (China Daily)

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 Brewing a new batch

The fine art of coffee making has become a new trend for young Chinese who are opening cafes all across China. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

The craving for more relaxing, alternative lifestyles has many perking up to become baristas

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Li Pinju, who works in the fashion industry, came to Blend Coffee in Jianwai SOHO to learn how to make coffee. With the sound of blues music in the background, Li and six other students began a course to become baristas.

Li ground the coffee beans and poured them into a coffee maker, which looked like something out of a chemistry lab than the ones found on a kitchen counter. She counted down the time nervously with the timer on her iPhone as the coffee brewed.

After the coffee was done, the teacher, named Lisa, and students tasted and evaluated each of the students' cups of coffee with criterions of taste, color and smell.

"This is the first cup of real coffee that I have ever made in my life," said the 26-year-old as she snapped a photo of her brew and uploaded it onto her micro blog. "I love coffee and drink coffee everyday, but most of us drink instant coffee."

Li received a tepid evaluation from her teacher because her coffee was too bitter.

"Maybe I didn't remove it from the fire quickly enough. But it is the first time and I can practice more," she says.

As coffee becomes more popular in a nation where tea is beloved, many young white-collar workers like Li are apparently making coffee and practicing the art of brewing a perfect cup of joe for the first time.

And the reasons why are not just because of the taste of a strong roasted coffee or because they want to open their own cafe.

"As a (child from) the post-'80s era, I feel much pressure from the dull and heavy work from the 9 to 5s in Beijing like many of my peers. Running a coffee shop is just an ideal lifestyle for me, combining my interest and work," says Su Xianguang, 29, who after attending the barista training classes at Blend, quit his job of seven years in Beijing and opened a caf in Baotou, a small city in Inner Mongolia.

At Blend Coffee, located in the affluent Guomao area, classes are offered by its Blend Coffee College, which was started in 2007. Classes cost 2,200 yuan for eight four-hour classes. Qi Ming, the director of Blend Coffee, says there have been more than 600 students in the four years since the classes were established. He also says that 90 percent of them eventually open their own cafes across the country.

Li says she learned about the class from Blend Coffee's website and thought it was a good opportunity to understand more about the coffee culture.

"I love the tranquility of a coffee shop. Besides, it is a good way to broaden my social circle," Li says. "To learn something that I love is a lot cooler than just spending a Saturday afternoon at home sitting around."

Currently there are at least 10 schools in Beijing and Shanghai. In second-tier cities, such as Wuhan in Central China, there are three to five in each city. Qi says there are more and more barista training schools springing up all over the country with an increasing number of students coming from second- or third-tier cities to learn how to make coffee.

At China Barista Coffee School in Beijing, founded in 2009, more than 1,000 Chinese students have signed up for classes since its inception. Prices for classes range from 2,200 yuan to 9,800 yuan. A woman surnamed Fu at the school's marketing department says the number of students is increasing every year. "The reason for the increase lies in the huge need for baristas. Students who possess the coffee-making skills through barista training can have a good job," she says.

"There are plenty of coffee shops in Beijing, Shanghai, and those big cities, but not many in smaller cities like Baotou. More and more people need a quiet space to chat with friends and I think the market is huge for coffee shops in smaller cities," Su says.

Like Li, both Su and Qi say the reason why more and more people are going to these classes is not to earn money.

Su says opening a coffee shop and being a barista will fulfill a dream of a colorful and relaxing life. Qi, a coffee lover himself, also says the most significant reason that young Chinese people learn to be baristas is to find an opportunity to have a more relaxing lifestyle.

Qi recalls that a young woman came to Blend Coffee College in order to have a caf simply devoted to coffee. No snacks, no other drinks, no frills - simply coffee.

The caf director advised other potential baristas that it is not enough to own a caf. They must diversify their services and broaden their business by either creating a themed caf or targeting a certain demographic. They must find a niche to be successful, he says.

"The owner of a coffee shop does not only play the role of barista but also a business operator. Our training program includes two parts: barista training and business model training," Qi says.

A woman named Huang, who said she is from the ethnic Zhuang group, attended classes at Blend Coffee College in 2008. She says she took the college's concept of a mixed business model and makes traditional Chinese paper cutouts to decorate her coffee cups.

"I earn 10,000 yuan a month selling the coffee cups that had the papercuts stuck on them," she says.