Pork belly latte? Starbucks goes viral with “Dongpo pork” coffee

On the first day of work after the Chinese New Year, office workers discovered that Starbucks introduced something unexpected to their CNY menu. A “Luck Savory Latte” was introduced along with the more imaginable but nonetheless innovative flavours – the “Red Date Rice Flavor Macchiato”, the “Fortune Almond Macchiato” and the “Black Sesame Latte”. The “Luck Savory Latte” is, in fact, made with Dongpo pork flavoured syrup and topped with a slice of, you guessed it, dried pork. One Luck Savory Latte will set you back 68 RMB (9.45 USD) and is currently only available in 25 select branches across the country.

Dongpo pork (东坡肉) is a Hangzhou dish, said to have been invented by Song Dynasty poet and gastronome Su Shi (苏轼, 1037 – 1101), also known by his art name Dongpo (东坡). Similar to the more widely known red-braised pork, the dish itself is both savoury and sweet because of the sugar used in the red cooking process. This is common in Southern regions including the Yangtze Delta where the pork dish originated.

However, the unlikely sweet and savoury combination nonetheless sparked controversy online, with some complaining about the price while others about its flavour. Coffee, a typically sweet drink, does not mix in savoury dishes, especially in Northern cuisines. Some compare the new flavour with the recent trend of savoury coffees with added Chinese ingredients such as fermented tofu or century eggs. One commenter says, “My bottom line is that I can accept these two in my stomach together, but not in my mouth at the same time”. On Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, the topic “Starbucks respond to releasing red-braised pork latte” (#星巴克回应推出红烧肉拿铁#) reached number 23 on the hot search list with 25.56 million views.

Netizens have found a previous survey from Starbucks asking what new flavours that customers would like to try in the future. The Dongpo Pork was one of the options, along with other Chinese-fusion-style lattes, such as red bean paste latte, Lao Gan Ma chilli sauce latte and Maotai latte (which was released by Luckin, to internet-breaking success). Facing stiff competition with the likes of Luckin, Starbucks has been rapidly adapting to the Chinese market with a more localised menu and marketing such as the collaboration with classic animation Havoc in Heaven. The new CNY menu has put them under the spotlight, but maybe not in the way it expected, however, it is still a way to get closer to its audiences in China.


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