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Innovative beverage industry attempts to woo customers back after pandemic

Wei Hanye, left, co-founder of the Berry Beans cafe in Beijing, makes coffee on his bike. [Photo/China Daily]

Wei Hanye, co-founder of the Berry Beans cafe in Beijing, walks his bike along a street in the capital. A wooden box containing coffee beans, a kettle and a grinder is positioned on a stand over the rear wheel.

“The pandemic has stopped clients coming to our cafe, so I am bringing the cafe to them,” Wei said. “As a barista, I’m used to making coffee all day, but the pandemic has forced me to slow down.”

Wei, who was born and raised in the capital, loved to cycle as a child, and this inspired him to combine two loves in his life-cycling and coffee.

He wheels his bike to communities and hutongs (alleyways) to make coffee, and offers it free to people walking by. He likes to talk to those who have never tasted it and listen to their comments. “Sometimes, they share their stories with me,” he said.

“With my bike, I don’t need to rent a space. I can sell my coffee anywhere.”

The beverage industry has been heavily affected by the pandemic. Many outlets had to close in February, before gradually reopening last month.

Along with Wei’s one-man business, teahouses and cafes are finding ways to attract customers’ attention, in the hope that they will return after the pandemic.

Last month, Zhang Yan, who owns One Quarter Coffee in Beijing, began organizing livestreaming shows hosted by her barista to teach viewers how to make coffee.

She opted for a private platform, which requires a QR access code, as she thinks that the drink has a more specific interest for consumers than restaurant food.

“We may get fewer viewers than on an open platform, but we can ensure that every single one is really interested in coffee,” Zhang said.

During the pandemic, beverage chains have been developing creative products.

Milk tea maker Nayuki has launched limited-edition 5-liter bottles of bubble tea. The product, which is first poured into a 5-liter bucket and comes with 10 cups of bubbles, costs 99 yuan ($14) and is the equivalent to 10 cups of regular milk tea, but is much cheaper.

Hou Zehan, a food blogger in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, said: “I am used to having a cup of milk tea or coffee every day. During the pandemic, most of the drink stores have closed, so I have been making milk tea at home. But the flavor is never the same as in stores.

“Even though it’s a large bottle, I saw the servers make regular cups of milk tea one after another before pouring them in the bucket, so the flavor is the same as a regular cup,” he said.

Hou thinks milk tea shops are good places for friends to meet, and since the pandemic started, he has met 10 of his friends individually at the Nayuki shop.

The chain is also promoting its products through livestreaming shows, with businessman and online celebrity Luo Yonghao selling more than 90,000 Nayuki coupons on April 1 during one such broadcast.

Cheese tea maker Heytea has ventured into the food market. Last month, together with Alibaba-owned online-to-offline supermarket chain Hema Xiansheng, it launched two new flavors of qingtuan, a green glutinous rice ball snack.

Traditionally, qingtuan features a red bean paste filling, but Heytea has combined two of its popular tea flavors in the rice ball-Ovaltine and mashed taro with bubble, and cheese with soyabean milk.

In Shanghai, the first batch of Heytea’s rice balls sold out on March 11 within one hour of appearing on Hema Xiansheng’s platform.

According to online platform 36Kr Media, Heytea is completing a new round of financing. According to predictions, this will value the brand at more than 16 billion yuan.

It has some 460 stores across China, and on April 3 launched a subsidiary-Mini Heytea Factory, which has smaller stores and offers lower-priced drinks than Heytea.

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