Monday, October 04, 2004

Selling Coffee in a Tea Culture

Do you remember your first time at a Starbucks? For me it was 1989 when a friend took me to one in Chicago right off Lake Shore Drive. I never heard of the place before, but they had these various coffee drinks that my friend had to explain to me: latte, cappuccino, Americano. Of course I had heard of these drinks before, I just didn't know that the difference was between them since I had never had one.

Fast forward 15 years and there isn't anyone in the U.S. who doesn't know what a cappacino, latte, or decaf, low-fat, one-pump, no-foam mocha is. The U.S. really has become a coffee culture, inventing whole new drinks like frappacinos.

The problem Starbucks has as it expands into cultures that have been traditionally tea based is teaching their prospective clients the ins-and-outs of a complicated drink list that Americans picked up over a multi-year period. This is why in some Asia countries you see these "little" helpful roadmaps for Starbuck's product offerings:

If you can't read it, this eight foot sign has a flow chart for hot beverages on the top half and one for cold beverages on the bottom half.

While Starbucks has been wildly successful in Japan, the coffee culture doesn't seem to have taken as deep a root in other Asian countries where I have seen them: Korea and Taiwan (they are in other countries over here, I just haven't been to them yet). They probably just need a little more time to get established in these traditionally tea-drinking countries, but for now their stores are definitely good places to meet other traveling Americans.

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