A cup of herbal delight

Source:Global Times - Agencies Published: 2016-2-26 5:03:02

Ancient TCM brand makes a space for itself in the modern world

A barista makes a herbal beverage at Herbs Expresso in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Photo: CFP

Herbal gifts sold at Herbs Expresso in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Photo: CFP

"Herbs Expresso" - What would you think if you saw a signboard like this? Would you think it is some sort of joke?

The truth is that it's not a joke but a real café in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

Born from a century-old traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) Huqingyutang company, the 100-square-meter Herbs Expresso features some 20 types of beverages made from herbs used in TCM.

According to the café's manager Miu Yan, the herbs are used in coffee machines just like coffee beans when making a cup of coffee. All the recipes were created under the supervision of a group of veteran TCM doctors from Huqingyutang and have different effects such as calming the nerves, adjusting the body's inner energies or making people more attractive. Some of these drinks are even based on TCM prescriptions from Huqingyutang.

Each beverage contains three to four types of herbs, however by adding cream and fruit flavoring the bitter taste of Chinese medicine is transformed into a tasty drink.

One beverage named Rose Macchiato is a semitransparent brown drink topped with heavy cream and scatted with rose petals. According to TCM, rose helps calm the nerves and is good for your health.

"We tried combining coffee and Chinese herbs, but finally decided to rely purely on Chinese herbs to help better develop the health food culture," Miu said.

Currently, a tall cup sells for 33 yuan ($5.06) and a grande cup sells for 36 yuan, a little more expensive than Starbucks in China.  

Huqingyutang is a TCM brand similar to Beijing's Tongrentang. Founded in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in Hangzhou, it has long been regarded as a major representative of China's long tradition of medicine. However, while many only think of TCM when talking about Huqingyutang, this veteran brand has decided to take on a younger appearance.

"We noticed that foreign brands like KFC know how to attract kids. When kids grow up, they will still be consumers," Miu said.

"Herbs Expresso is like a door Huqingyutang opens for the young."

She further added that today's market has a bigger demand for staying healthy as stress in modern society is very common. With the TCM specialists and resources it has at its command, Herbs Expresso is trying to make staying healthy more fashionable to the young. 

According to Miu's research, while there are plenty of cafés in Hangzhou, only a few actually turn a profit, with Starbucks being one of the best.

"A Starbucks store has to sell at least 500 cups of coffee [a day], which we are able to do at the moment," Miu said.

But Herbs Expresso does not want to stop at that.

In addition to beverages, it started to sell herbal desserts and herbal gifts at the beginning of the year. Additionally, from time to time, classes on TCM are held in the café as well.

While there is currently only one café in Hangzhou, Miu said that they are planning to open more direct sale stores around the nation.

"For small stores near places like the entrance of a subway station, we may only sell beverages and herbal gifts. If we have a 200-square-meter store, we can have herbal cuisine," Miu said.

Huqingyutang is not the first company to try and modernize TCM and turn it into a commercial commodity. As early as 1992, a local herbal tea from Guangzhou, Guangdong Province was made into a modern beverage known as Wong Lo Kat. One of the most popular herbal tea drinks in China for decades, the success of Wong Lo Kat indicates that there is still a market for TCM in modern society.

Currently, most customers come to the café out of curiosity. Though the shop has a 4/5 star rating on domestic review website dianping.com, it's still up in the air whether Herbs Expresso can become a popular brand for TCM like Starbucks is for coffee.

Global Times - Agencies

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