“DESIGN IN CHINA” E89 – Modern Vibes, Classic Teas: Kaiji’s Vision for a New Generation of Tea Drinkers

What does tea mean to Chinese young people? Is it boring? Is it tradition? Is it nostalgia? What about tea house, a space unfamiliar to most of the demographic, as the fast-paced modern life drive people to the walk-and-slurp milk tea?

Inspired by traditional tea houses in Chengdu, Zheng Zhiwen, the founder of Kaiji Tea House, aimed to integrate the tea house into modern urban lifestyles. Zheng, transitioning from a decade in the coffee sector in a city where “coffee shops outnumber trash cans,” partnered with advertising veterans Jart and Tommy to make tea culture digestible and aspiring for the younger generation.

Setting its first store in Shanghai in July 2022, a few months before Covid restrictions were lifted, it currently has four stores across the city.

The popularity of Kaiji Tea House can be attributed to the rise of ‘guochao, which is followed by renewed cultural confidence that gives birth to the new Chinese style aesthetics and vibes, as well as the booming teahouse market. Prior to Kaiji, Yinxi, tea’stone and other predecessors paved the path for Kaiji, and the fast-food version including Chagee, HeyTea, Naixue, are accelerating the adoption of tea-based beverages.

The market size for new-style tea beverages in 2023 is expected to reach 333.38 billion yuan, with projections to increase to 374.93 billion yuan by 2025, according to iiMedia Research.

With the slogan “Good tea for chill vibe,” the initiative aims to reintroduce China’s traditional open-air teahouses with a youthful flair back into urban life. Kaiji Teahouse categorizes the complex aromas of traditional tea into three types: floral, woody, and sweet-moist, allowing young people to quickly find their preferred style, similar to how coffee shops invite customers to pick coffee beans.

The teahouse offers a variety of freshly brewed pure teas, including a refreshing iced version for the summer. For those unaccustomed to pure tea or looking for something different, there are options to add milk, sparkling water, or spirits to create mixed tea beverages.

Kaiji also features authentic snacks from across China: Beijing’s sticky rice rolls, Shanghai’s edamame and peanuts, Sichuan’s rice cakes, Wenzhou duck tongues, and pickled fruits from Guangxi, its inclusive menu also embodies the open and diversified culture of Chengdu.

What is special about Kaiji is to make tea cool, visually pleasing, with so many explainers and tags and pictures, it is where the young people can educate themselves and learn about tea from a new perspective.

This approach not only captures the evolving Chinese consumer trends, largely introspective and localized in the post-COVID era, but also mirrors the broader shift in Chinese society where consumption is a primary interface for young people to explore new lifestyles, sustainability, and niche sports.

Kaiji is a great example that showcases the evolution of Chinese consumer trends, which have become inward facing. Before Covid, through human interaction and less restricted internet environment, Chinese entrepreneurs are often inspired by ideas outside China. Today, the inspirations circulate within the borders and in between cities.

It also mirrors the broader shift in Chinese society where consumption is a primary interface for young people to explore new lifestyles from sustainability to niche sports to reconnecting with their roots.

This is a guest post by Yaling Jiang.

As the founder of research and strategy consultancy ApertureChina and consumer newsletter Following the yuan (https://www.chineseconsumers.news), Yaling Jiang specializes in providing insights and strategies for brands and financial institutions on the Chinese consumer market. Her expertise has been featured in international outlets such as Financial Times, Reuters, Le Monde, Les Echos, South China Morning Post and Jing Daily. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School in the U.S. and the University of Bath in the UK.

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