Starbucks adapts to Chinese preferences with specialty coffee

Amidst the heated competition in China’s coffee market, Starbucks is adapting its strategy to cater to more niche preferences for high-end coffee. On October 17, Starbucks China rolled out its new “Intenso Collection” of coffee beverages with new green cups and stronger flavours. 

Image: Jiemian News

What sets this line apart is its usage of double the amount of espresso, resulting in a richer taste. To emphasise the drink’s uniqueness, Starbucks introduced a smaller 259ml cup, a departure from their usual sizes like the Tall (355ml), Grande (473ml), and Venti (592ml). This move appears to be in line with boutique coffee shops, which often serve their beverages in cups ranging from 180ml to 300ml to accentuate the coffee’s flavour profile.

While Starbucks has its premium line known as the Starbucks Reserve, it is not available in every outlet. The introduction of Starbucks’ latest series suggests that Starbucks China is experimenting with bringing more premium offerings to its standard stores. Breaking away from its traditional practices, Starbucks has now introduced smaller cups in the vein of boutique coffee. Additionally, this new range requires baristas to practice latte art, a feature not commonly seen in chain coffee shops. Each of these new offerings is priced at 33 RMB (4.51 USD).

Image: Jiemian News

Beyond the product-level changes, Starbucks is also significantly investing in its supply chain. In September 2023, it announced the establishment of the Starbucks Innovation and Technology Centre (SITC), with an estimated initial investment of around 1.5 billion RMB (220 million USD) over the next three years. Later, in September, the Starbucks China Coffee Innovation Industrial Park was inaugurated in Kunshan, Jiangsu. This facility, with a total investment of 1.5 billion RMB (220 million USD), stands as Starbucks’ largest production investment outside the US, encompassing the coffee bean industry chain’s import, roasting, packaging, storage, and logistics.

Specialty coffee expert from Shanghai, Wang Zhendong, recently commented on the presence of the Intenso Collection in the Chinese on-premise coffee market. He mentioned that while the collection is not a novel introduction, it has expanded and diversified the range of offerings for Starbucks China.

“What is going to really improve the coffee experience for Starbucks is its recent update on localization of its whole supply chains, which has shortened the roasting days for coffee beans and will elevate the product quality for coffee houses,” stated Wang.


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