To see the original Bradsher NYT article, go here.
According to NYT reporter Keith Bradsher, Starbucks already has 120 stores in mainland China alone. In the above article, Keith Bradsher writes: “What is striking about these efforts, by McDonald’s and KFC as well as Starbucks, is that they have made few concessions to Chinese tastes, instead cultivating in China an appetite for Western favorites, like Big Macs and grande lattes.”
Starbucks itself is modeled on an Italian cafe, from the 1983 travels of Howard Schultz in Italy; he then takes the “coffee bar culture” he saw in Italy back to Seattle, and the rest is history. In making that cultural translation, what Starbucks essentially was doing in the United States was cultivating an appetite for Italian coffee — and now Starbucks is doing that in the land of tea. The question then, culturally speaking, is — what is going on? Is this more cultural imperialism — the Westernization of Chinese culture? Or is something else happening?
Based on my research on KFC in Beijing, I would say something else is happening. Yes, Chinese cultural practices are changing, as coffee tastes in the United States have also changed — gone are the days of the popularity of “instant coffee” and other varieties of once dominant watery coffee. But they are changing because the needs, expectations, and meanings of Chinese cultural ideas are also changing. In the United States, Starbucks is not the “Italianization” of American culture; there are features within Starbucks that Italians would not recognize from their own cafes. Similarly, while Chinese tastes are changing and expanding, as Starbucks matures in China, there will be features in Chinese Starbucks that make it Chinese.
In the meanwhile, Starbucks is making lots of money.