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Haute couture for new coffee culture
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Caffeine addicts now have another option to get their fix at the Citta Espresso Club in Zhongshan Park, Shanghai. The recently opened cafe serves hot food, gourmet sandwiches and most importantly, fresh premium Italian coffee to cash in on the city's burgeoning coffee culture.

Bringing this concept to these shores is Israeli Maayan Kahn. The CEO has 20 years of experience in food and beverage and had previously introduced similar concepts in London.

"There are other coffee chains here but there are all mid-range, not premium," said the coffee-mad 42-year-old. "We're trying to be the Versace or Armani of coffee. To do that, we've understood very quickly that coffee is not enough - you have to bring a lifestyle. We don't just sell products."

The business-savvy Kahn was lured to the city last summer, barely a few months after he had first had a peek at the opportunities Shanghai had to offer in February last year.

The Tel Aviv-native stated that he was simply a fast mover, and as soon as he had identified the opportunity was quick off the blocks to strike while the proverbial iron was hot.

"We're positive about the location," said the father of three. "I wasn't sure at first but now I see customers coming from the residential apartments, the nearby hotels and the offices around. The level of frequency with which they are coming is amazing."

Khan sees the lure of his concept in it being essential to everyday life here, especially in the Zhongshan Park vicinity. "This is needed in this area. It's part of your life - you don't even think you just go. People want to be part of something good and here you can feel like a millionaire without being one. You can order something small but still feel the luxury."

Food is an indispensable element to any cafe, and this is another aspect Khan is paying close attention to. Citta has incorporated the five a day approach to fruit and vegetables, with different colored leaves for the body's essential vitamin and mineral uptake. "It's a win-win situation - the food is colorful, healthy and tasty."

The outlet also serves hot food to cater to local customers as well. Eschewing popular notions ingrained in Europe, Khan's team tried its hand at localizing many items to cater to the city's palate. A tall order for any restaurant, this is twice as hard for a small cafe.

Most would question how anyone can turn a nation of tea drinkers into coffee aficionados. Khan, however, is nonplused and is positive about growth in this market. "I saw what happened in England, another supposed country of tea drinkers. Now it is a land of coffee chains. In China, they really appreciate the culture of tea and the ceremony around it. Coffee has culture too, and the Chinese love things that have something around it. They don't just drink and go on, they will adapt to what is beautiful about coffee and appreciate it.

"Coffee is the most complicated beverage in the world, more so than wine. Every five seconds of roasting gives different results. We have spent a lot of time getting the ideal blend from Italy, not too bitter and a little bit sweet. What is unique about coffee is that I don't get to drink the perfect cup everyday - every cup is different because there are so many things that influence it. The most important aspect is the man behind the machine."

Citta Espresso Club plans to open eight stores this year and 140 outlets in the next four years. The first Zhongshan Park cafe offers free wireless Internet.

(Shanghai Daily February 15, 2008)

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