Brew-haha is jus­ti­fied

Take one cof­fee shop, add a tea­spoon of authen­tic­ity, a gen­er­ous dash of Amer­i­can life­style and cul­ture, and stir. The end re­sult is a soothing place where cus­tomers can grab a cup of joe and re­lax af­ter work. Sun Yuan­qing re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Find­ing a cof­fee house where you can get an au­then­tic cof­fee in a third- or fourth-tier city in China can be very dif­fi­cult. But peo­ple in Guizhou prov­ince’s cap­i­tal Guiyang have had one for seven years. Amer­i­can restau­ra­teur Christo­pher Delong of­fers not only cof­fee but also the knowl­edge and life­style that come with it.

“We want to cre­ate a space for au­then­tic cof­fee, an Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence to learn about cof­fee cul­ture, as well as a soothing place for peo­ple to re­lax af­ter work,” the 49-year-old says.

In a city that doesn’t yet have Star­bucks, Costa or McCafe, Delong’s High­land cof­fee shop is more than a shop. It has be­come part of the city ex­pe­ri­ence. This is where lo­cal youth meet, trav­el­ers linger and the few Western res­i­dents get a taste of home.

Delong is both the cafe’s boss and the walk­ing sign­board. He ed­u­cates lo­cals on cof­fee and pas­tries, and shares recipes he and his wife cre­ate.

The work starts as soon as the cus­tomer steps in the door. In a Chi­nese cof­fee shop, the cus­tomers are used to hav­ing a host­ess wait at the door and take them to a seat. They then wait for the server to take the or­der. They are not ac­cus­tomed to step­ping up to the counter, look­ing at the menu hang­ing on the wall and de­cid­ing what they want.

“They would sit on the seat and wait for some­one to come. That was the first thing that we ex­plain about our ser­vice,” Delong says.

Then the real work be­gins: the ed­u­ca­tion about cof­fee. Delong re­calls that, in the early days, peo­ple would come in and ca­su­ally ask for a Blue Moun­tain Cof­fee — an ex­pen­sive va­ri­ety grown in Ja­maica’s Blue Moun­tains. But cheaper fakes that are ac­tu­ally pro­duced in South China’s Yun­nan prov­ince are com­mon­place in the coun­try.

“They are ac­cus­tomed to the name but they have never tasted the qual­ity of it,” Delong says.

“And peo­ple who re­ally know what Blue Moun­tain Cof­fee is wouldn’t buy it be­cause it was too ex­pen­sive.”

What Delong of­fers is a tra­di­tional Amer­i­can-style cof­fee house menu that in­cludes espresso-based bev­er­ages. It also of­fers hot and iced teas, hot choco­late and smooth­ies. All the in­gre­di­ents and equip­ment are im­ported.

“Lo­cal cof­fee shops don’t use im­ported equip­ment that costs tens of thou­sands of yuan, be­cause lo­cals don’t rec­og­nize the qual­ity of cof­fee any­way. But we de­cided to do it, be­cause I won’t give a cus­tomer some­thing I don’t cher­ish my­self,” Delong says.

“So it’s also ed­u­cat­ing about qual­ity.

It’s small enough for you to feel com­fort­able, but it’s also big enough to of­fer big busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.” CAFE OWNER CHRISTO­PHER DELONG

It’s like walk­ing with them hand-in­hand through the ex­pe­ri­ence of teach­ing them what good cof­fee tastes like.”

Delong’s ef­forts have paid off. When he first started, nearly all cus­tomers needed to be ed­u­cated. Some have them­selves be­come ed­u­ca­tors.

One of the cus­tomers told him she once went to a lo­cal cof­fee shop and asked for a de­caf, but the owner didn’t know what that was.

“In the end, my cus­tomer had to ex­plain to them what de­caf cof­fee is. In one sense, our cus­tomers know more about cof­fee than the own­ers of other cof­fee houses here. Be­cause they have been cus­tomers for a long time and came to un­der­stand cof­fee,” Delong says.

Not only are the cof­fees pop­u­lar, the pas­tries are a suc­cess, too. The Ore­ocrusted cheese­cakes are so well known that trav­el­ers of­ten bring them on planes when they fly out of Guiyang.

Delong op­er­ated a high-end au­to­mo­bile busi­ness in his na­tive state of Indiana be­fore he sold it and came to live in Guiyang with his Sin­ga­porean wife and two kids in 2003.

He had trav­eled through East China in 1996 and re­turned in 2000 to travel through the western re­gions. While he saw the western part, es­pe­cially Guizhou, was much less de­vel­oped than the coastal area, he also re­al­ized there were a lot of busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­plore.

“It has a small-town feel to it. You can pretty much walk to any­where within half an hour,” he says.

“I like that feel. It’s small enough for you to feel com­fort­able, but it’s also big enough to of­fer big busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Delong, a lover of food him­self, de­cided to open a cof­fee house. At the time, Guiyang had no Western food es­tab­lish­ments ex­cept for a KFC. Once Delong found his niche, he in­sisted on hon­ing it rather than di­ver­si­fy­ing.

“We try to keep things tra­di­tional rather than to change them to make them Asian, which can be com­mon in in­ter­na­tional chains,” he says.

“I choose to do things from my heart, things that I know about.” Con­tact the writer at sun­yuan­qing@chi­

Yang Jun con­trib­uted to this story.


Christo­pher Delong likes ed­u­cat­ing lo­cal peo­ple on cof­fee and pas­tries and recipes he and his wife came up with to­gether.

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