An American in Chengdu

Coffee | June 5, 2010

A few weeks ago, to mark the belated start of smoothie season, I went looking for a blender at the French supermarket Carrefour. It’s hard to avoid getting “helped” at the supermarket if you’re looking at anything at all expensive (e.g., electric blankets, wine, tea), but I thought I might have escaped when I walked purposefully past a group of staff in the small appliance section and none said a word to me. But I didn’t get far before I was chased down by a guy I took to be the designated foreigner consultant.

“What do you want to buy?” he asked in Chinese.

Me: “I don’t know how to say it.”

Him: “Coffee machine?”

Me: “No.”

Him: (in English) “Blender?”

We foreigners are pretty predictable, apparently.

It’s not that the Chinese don’t drink coffee, but for everyday sipping, they usually go with pre-sweetened, fake-creamered instant. Brewed coffee, and certainly anything involving espresso, is a luxury one finds at Western restaurants, Starbucks, or upscale domestic coffee houses. Starbucks prices are about the same here as they are in the States, which means a latte or cappuccino runs around 30-35 yuan. By comparison, my usual breakfast (two large steamed buns and a cup of soy milk) costs 2 yuan; a bowl of noodles in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant costs about 5 yuan, and a short taxi ride costs around 10 yuan.

Even Nescafe, which costs around 1 yuan per serving if you buy it in a box at the supermarket, seems to be cultivating its cachet. Just as some moon cakes come in elaborate packages to be given as gifts, there are shiny golden Nescafe gift boxes that you can use to show your esteem.

This post is dedicated to Joey, who suggested I blog about coffee. He was probably kidding.



  1. Check out Sabrina’s on 科华北路华 for coffee if you haven’t already. They have great ground Yunnan coffee for 25 yuan!

    Comment by Charlie — June 5, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

  2. Came across your blog by complete accident. I too will be living in Chengdu beginning in August.

    Comment by Melanie — July 19, 2010 @ 7:54 am

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    About me

    I've come to Sichuan in search of adventure, fluency in Chinese, and awesome vegetarian food. I have to concede that the baby pandas are very cute.
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