Across China: Chongqing designs coffee shops upon old, shabby apartments

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CHONGQING, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) -- Sandwiching a slim flight of staircases covered by wet moss, two dilapidated residences built in the last century have almost become a forgotten memory in the modern bustling Yuzhong District, in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, until a coffee shop named Shakerato showed up.

Providing coffee and cocktails from 10 a.m. to midnight since October 2021, Shakerato is located in one small home aside from the staircases. It has attracted lots of local youngsters to sip its fragrant coffee while sampling the nostalgic view in this once-buzzing neighborhood.

While China's coffee business volume exceeded over 200 billion yuan (about 28 billion U.S. dollars) in 2022, based on a report published by the Chinese e-commerce platform Meituan, a flood of independent coffee shops just like Shakerato have become another driving force in the ever-growing sector.

The coffee shops also provide outsiders a window into daily life featuring local signature characteristics across the country. Chongqing has seen many such shops built upon its old communities and making use of the idle bedrooms, balconies, and backyards as new spaces for coffee lovers.

"The moment I saw these staircases, I thought to myself, 'This is the place!' The staircase is a very important symbol of this mountain city, as people were often seen walking or taking a break on such staircases in the past," said Ye Yi, the 34-year-old owner of Shakerato.

Ye added that due to the local mountainous terrain, Chongqing has most of its buildings on the hillsides, making paths that descend the hills in a series of zigzags with many staircases dotted around.

"Running my cafe here is my own way to keep the old memories of the city," he explained.

Now, in Daijiaxiang and Liyuchi, two local old communities in the city, a batch of coffee shops have sprung up inside the shabby apartments. Such a location preference is not limited to Chongqing. Baristas now serve their picky customers in Guangdong's signature "urban villages," Beijing's hutongs, and Shanghai's alleys.

A coffee industry trend report released by China's Yelp-like review website, Dianping, showed that in 2022, the country saw coffee shops opened in residential buildings soar by 71 percent compared to the prior year.

Lei Xiaowu runs a cafe named "Lazy Hazy" in Chongqing's Jiangbei District, which lies on the first floor of an old compound with a big courtyard.

"Unlike a traditional Starbucks outlet in a packed mall, such cafes can be found deep in some of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods and have captured the essence of the local's daily life," said Darby Cumming, a Canadian living in Chongqing for six years.

When enjoying your cup of coffee, you can sketch out the local life, as residents may hang laundry or tend to the flowers on the balcony at the same time, said Cumming.

Such locations have brought fringe benefits too. "With a relatively cheaper rent, independent coffee shops in the old communities can save more cost in their decoration, product pricing, quality improvement, and so on," Ye said.

"I used to think that selling 50 cups of coffee was something very far to reach for independent cafe owners like me, but now the figure is our daily turnover. This is the 'spring' for us," Ye added. Enditem

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