Starbucks Around the Globe: The Great Wall of China and South of the Clouds

This is episode #3 of three of Starbucks Around the Globe.  Today’s journey is a brief trip to the world of Starbucks in China, and is an introductory discussion of Starbucks in China.  Starbucks opened its first store in China on January 11, 1999, in mainland China at the World Trade Center in Bejing.  According to the 2009 Annual Shareholder report (reflecting data as of September 27, 2009), Starbucks currently operates 191 company-operated Starbucks in China, and there are another 283 licensed Starbucks in China for a grand total of 474 Starbucks locations.

The receipt featured in this blog post comes from the Starbucks located at the Great Wall of China which opened in September 2005.  In all honesty, I have no idea what this receipt says.  I was at my local Starbucks and noticed this receipt hanging on the community bulletin board.  I believe it has been hanging there, buried behind a million other things for four years. I have been a regular customer at that store for years, and I’ve noticed it before, and I really do think that receipt has been posted on the community bulletin board for years.  I asked the baristas if I could borrow it for a few days to take a picture of it, and that is how it ended up here in this blog post.

It is also worth mentioning that Starbucks produces a special coffee just for this market: It is called “South of the Clouds“.  Many baristas are unaware that Starbucks produces many more coffees than what is on their shelves, and in particular, many international markets have special blends created and sold only in one market with beans sourced from the market. I previously had a brief discussion of these rare international coffees here in this post: Starbucks International Whole Bean: The rare and exotic.

South of the Clouds is a blend of whole bean with some of the beans sourced from the Yunnan province of China.  Normally this coffee is ONLY sold in China, and it was created in January 2009 to commemorate ten years of business in China.  Once in a very rare blue moon, the two street-level Starbucks receive a small quantity of the international whole beans, which is how I initially got my hands on a bag of it for this blog entry.  Just Wednesday this week, South of the Clouds was given out at the end of the Starbucks shareholders’ meeting as a chance for customers to try this rare coffee.  My understanding is that the beans sourced from China are processed with a wash method (someone please correct me if I have this information incorrect) and this blend is properly classified as an Indonesian type blend.  I’ve heard it said from Starbucks coffee gurus that this is still a somewhat evolving coffee blend, as the beans from China are a new and not perfectly consistent source.  The jury is still deliberating about what this coffee will taste like in the future.

The other two ‘Starbucks Around the Globe’ episodes at StarbucksMelody are here:

Starbucks Around the Globe: Japan (Episode #1)

Starbucks Around the Globe: Mexico (Episode #2)

Please chime in if you’ve tried this rare coffee from China or if you know anything else discussion worthy on this topic!  I’m not particularly well-versed on the Starbucks international business, so this episode was just a fun short introductory discussion of China.  And here is what a bag of South of the Clouds looks like:

Post to Twitter

19 Comments

  1. camspi
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 00:30:14

    I wish I could try this coffee! I remember @Sbux_Ironchef tried it and thought it was good.
    I wonder at what elevation its grown at exactly (it says its grown at the foothills of the Himalayas), and how it compares to other growing regions’ elevations…
    I also read somewhere that these beans are cheap… but I wonder how much a bag of South of the Blends cost. It seems so rare, that I would think they’d hike up the prices on it and make a pretty profit!

    Reply

  2. Sebastian
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 01:09:59

    That is SO COOL!!!!
    Starbucks is located at the most interesting places…would love to visit all those Chinese Stores someday…

    Reply

  3. Hayley
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 09:27:02

    I have not tried it yet…the bag is pretty though! What were your thoughts on the coffee? Have you gotten around to having it yet?

    Reply

  4. Clark Kent
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 10:49:54

    This coffee is sooo delicious! I rescued a barista a few months back and she hooked me up with a bag.

    South of the Clouds is smooth and gentle yet complex and full bodied. Am gonna serve a french press at the next Justice League meeting.

    Reply

  5. WO
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 12:30:53

    Mel,
    Awesome post! The more I read from you, the more I really want to move back to the Seattle area.

    Anyway, on to this coffee. I have had the opportunity to taste it. I had some sent to me for the final coffee tasting event at my Starbucks that was closing. It was a fun party. The cap were the coffees I had for the tasting.

    To remember best I could, I just brewed a cup via Melitta (pour-over).

    South of the Clouds is an Asia/Pacific blend of coffee. The odd thing is it has both washed & semi-washed coffee. Idonesia usually semi-washed. However, the Chinese beans are washed. (For those who don’t know, those are 2 different methods for processing coffee beans in the country of origin.) Uniquely, this coffee has a medium acidity, expected with washed coffees, but not with Indonesian. Body is medium, and very smooth. Sumatra is full but “gritty”, Komodo Dragon Blend is smoother. South of the Clouds is smoother yet. The finish is like melted herb butter on your tongue. The taste lingers some. This is due to the medium acidity level. Flavor is crazy herbs. I had some with wheat bread with rosemary & thyme butter. Flavors just pop. At the store tasting, we paired with RF Cinnamon swirl coffee cake (cinnamon just exploded in your mouth), and banana walnut loaf cake (very subtle flavor changes, just smoothed everything out).

    The Chinese coffee comes from the Yunnan Province in the Baoshan Region. It only rains about 31 inches a year there, so additional irrigation is needed. It grows around 4000+ ft in elevation, which is typical of high quality arabia bean coffees from around the world.

    If you can’t find this coffee, the closest alternative I can find is Starbucks Komodo Dragon Blend, though not as smooth, so the herbal get hidden slightly in the body/texture.

    …just my 2 beans
    WO

    Reply

  6. Ryan
    Mar 27, 2010 @ 17:14:08

    WO,

    That sounds amazing. Fantastic description.

    Reply

  7. Clover Gal
    Mar 28, 2010 @ 20:09:18

    Happened to find South of the Clouds at Roy St. Coffee & Tea about 3 weeks ago… not sure if they’re still offering it at the moment. Had a short, brewed via Clover, and was extremely pleasantly surprised. I tend to lean more towards Latin American coffees than Asia/Pacific coffees, but the lighter body of South of the Clouds was right in my “ideal” zone. It had the earthiness I associate with Asia/Pacific, without being as heavy as Sumatra or Komodo Dragon.

    All in all, I enjoyed my cup of South of the Clouds… and just may have to go back and see what’s available at Roy St. very soon!

    Reply

  8. Enlightened Coffee Sage
    Mar 29, 2010 @ 01:34:18

    That is such an awesome find. I dig the picture, I dig the name (it sound so very poetically Chinese), I dig the fact that you even found the stuff in the first place, and it sounds absolutely delicious. I’d love to get my hands on some of it. In fact, I think that’s one of my new missions in life.

    A quick tidbit on that awesome name: apparently Yunnan (the name of the province) translates to “South of the Clouds,” so they could have called it Yunnan Blend. I’m very glad that they did not.

    Reply

  9. Melody
    Mar 29, 2010 @ 06:10:17

    (Reply to @EnlightenedCoffeeSage) – Re: South of the Clouds – Yes it is an awesome name (I didn’t know about the translation. Thank you!) At the end of the annual meeting last Wednesday, they were giving out one pound bags of the SOC to shareholders. I was one of the last to leave (having waited a long while to pounce on HS) and a partner gave me a larger quantity of it. I still have 3 of them that I haven’t mailed anywhere. Some of those bags of coffee went out in Saturday’s mail to US partners and coffee enthusiastic customers. Some are going to Canada, and if you trust me with your identity, I will be happy to send you a bag of South of the Clouds too because you should absolutely try it.

    Send me an email to Sbux206@StarbucksMelody.Com.

    In another thread you mention this site being the mostly positive opposite to Jim’s site and I just want to thank you for being on here, being a part of it, and saying that. Though in the big scheme of things, there is no way that I can ever really compete with the incredible traffic that Jim gets. It’s interesting to me that most people on SG just want to stay there, but ah well, it’s home to them.

    Reply

  10. Kelly
    Mar 29, 2010 @ 12:41:28

    Hi Melody! I love the great pictures and info in this article. Thank you for taking the time to post beautiful, professionally photographed images that link to the full size image and hyperlink text to other interesting and relevant reading. That effort makes your blog all the more valuable!

    Reply

  11. Kelly
    Mar 30, 2010 @ 19:34:28

    one of my favourite things was when one of my co-baristas went to tawain. he brought us back the strangest and coolest retail stuff! little tins with gelly candies in them, and the tins were pink carousels. it was awesome.

    Reply

  12. camspi
    Apr 04, 2010 @ 18:20:18

    Mel,
    thanks for the package in the mail. Skooter was not there when I checked the mailbox, but Casey and @JB_LOLWTFBBQ, @kathyhotze, and @Chacodude88 were. (I plan on tasting some with Skooter next time I see him, and sharing some with more customers.)
    Our small group debated whether it was sweet like cocoa or earthy-herbally. It had a nice initial sweet flavor, and then a soft herbal taste with some acidity. It didn’t linger on the tongue, but there were deffinitely different stages of tastes as we slurped it. At times I even thought it was kind of roasty, although the body was pretty medium. Thanks for the awesome treat!!!!

    Reply

  13. Enlightened Coffee Sage
    Apr 06, 2010 @ 11:47:16

    Melody:

    Thank you so much for sending this coffee! It’s amazing.

    I got it a few days back, but I was holding onto it until I got some time off, so I could do a proper tasting (which is nearly impossible to do on the job). I have three days off, so I’m coming in each day to do tastings of it so that the entire crew (and any of our coffee-drinker regulars) can try it.

    I just finished our first tasting. Since everyone mentioned that South of the Clouds had distinct herbal notes, I picked up a Chicken Cobb Salad with some kind of sesame dressing from Panera Bread, as well as some Deerfield Farms Savory Pub snack mix. I also grabbed some of the Peeled Snacks dried apples we had in the back. Another one of our partners, picking up a nutty aroma, chopped up a piece of our Banana Walnut Loaf, and I grabbed some of the Sahale Snacks cashews with vanilla and pomegranate. This was our spread with which to sample South of the Clouds.

    The first thing I noticed when I tasted South of the Clouds was how incredibly smooth it was. It’s probably the smoothest coffee I’ve ever had. I was seriously awed by its smoothness.

    While the coffee is labled as a bold, upon first taste, I considered it a medium. It got bolder as time went on and we got deeper into the french press, but that’s standard for french presses, it seems; the closer you get to the bottom, the stronger it tastes (which I suppose makes sense). It seemed to have a very mild acidity, and had a good amount of body without it being too thick or syrupy.

    As for the taste, Clark Kent and WO summed it up pretty nicely; complex, with soft yet distinct herbal notes. There was also a bit of nuttiness to it hidden behind the herbal taste (although some of the other baristas said they tasted the nuttiness more prominently).

    South of the Clouds paired incredibly well with the cobb salad; coffee and salad aren’t two things that one normally thinks of together, but these two went together wonderfully. The body of the coffee balanced out that sort of thin, vegetative taste of the lettuce; it was kind of like having a refreshing drink to wash down a satisfying food, except in reverse. This time, the satisfying drink was washing down the refreshing food. And the vegetable tastes of the salad complemented the herbal notes of the coffee quite well. The sweetness of the dressing offset the coffee bitterness while complementing it.

    South of the Clouds also paired very well with the savory snack mix, with the herbal flavors really springing to the front. The bread-y nature of the snack mix brought out the full body of the coffee.

    (I highly recommend Deerfield Farms savory pub mix for pairings with any sort of herbal or savory coffee, by the way; it paired beautifully with Thanksgiving Blend, and quite well with Christmas Blend. I’m gonna have to try it with the Peru Chanchamayo when I get a chance.)

    The Peeled Snacks dried apples fell flat with this one. I really like the Peeled Snacks (I’m the one who ends up buying and eating most of our store’s supply), but the flavors, rather than complementing or accenting each other, kind of canceled each other out.

    The banana walnut loaf, as WO mentioned, kinda smoothed everything out. It brought out the nutty flavor in the coffee’s background, as well as accented its smoothness, while the South of the Clouds Blend brought out the sweetness in the banana loaf.

    The vanilla pomegranate cashews had a very similar effect; one of my fellow baristas said it was like adding cream and sugar to the coffee, but better. The coffee smoothed over the nuttiness, while bringing out the sweetness, whereas the nuts brought out the coffee’s smoothness.

    All in all, everyone agreed that this was an absolutely amazing coffee. I’m not entirely sure if it surpasses Kenya as my favorite…but it matches it. It’s definitely in the top three, along with Kenya and Ethiopia Sidamo.

    I really hope that this one is made available worldwide in the near future. I would love to see this for sale in our Starbucks.

    Oh, and as a final note, everyone commented on how cool and pretty the bag was. I may see if we can keep the bag on display in the back.

    Thank you again for sending us a bag of South of the Clouds for an amazing coffee experience!

    Reply

  14. CJ
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 00:37:36

    This coffee is remarkable! I tried some on a recent trip to Hong Kong and was going to bring some back home with me in my carry on luggage, but Hong Kong airport security confiscated and destroyed it because of the no powder rule on flights into the United States! I was so sad!

    Reply

  15. Melody
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 10:18:33

    Hi CJ! Thank you for finding my site! Yes I too have enjoyed South of the Clouds! That is sad that yours got confiscated at the airport. The “streetlevel” Starbucks received a small supply of South of the Clouds but I think they’re out now. Now the only way to enjoy it is go to China! If I have confused you with mentioning “Streetlevel” Starbucks, be sure to check out this link here:

    http://www.starbucksmelody.com/2009/12/12/streetlevel-101-there-are-two-mercantile-non-branded-starbucks/

    Hope to see you back at the blog again!

    Reply

  16. jason
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 23:32:09

    I drink this stuff everyday over here in china just about…it was a special buy, but now is sold in the stores just like all the other starbucks coffees here in China, sumatra, gold coast, etc….. price is also the same 95rmb…..overall a good coffee

    Jason

    Suzhou, China

    Reply

  17. Patrick Mooney
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 07:33:28

    I picked up a bag of this today! It’s still on sale and available in China. I haven’t tried it yet. The packaging is beautiful. I’ll open it when I get home next week.

    Reply

  18. Melody
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 07:41:00

    @PatrickMooney – That is awesome! Were you just in China? I wrote this blog article about a year ago, and I didn’t know enough about the South of the Clouds coffee. It is no longer offered at either Roy Street or 15th Avenue Coffee-Starbucks, so it truly is a rare coffee! You pretty much have to go to China to get it. I have had it several times from being able to get it for a while at the 2 experimental Starbucks (Roy St, 15th) and I do like it. It’s a cousin to Komodo Dragon in flavor profile but different. I am totally impressed that the Yunan province is a great coffee growing region – it is not a place normally thought of as a coffee growing region!

    Reply

  19. Galina
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 05:58:52

    Melody, I want to thank you so much for your posts! I’m a partner from Moscow, Russia and I’ve learnt so much about coffee from your blog! This is just awesome! You are such a Starbucks fan!

    The friend of mine ‘ve been to China last month and brought me bag of South of the clouds beans. It’s such a great feeling to discover new beans you’ve never tried before! We were even more lucky cause I’ve just come back from USA and brought a bag of Komodo Dragon Blend We did coffee tasting at our store compared Komodo with South of The Clouds and it was just amazing! The taste of herbs and spices, this earthy aroma is crazy! We paired them with toffies, cream cheese and, rucola and crackers. just WOW!

    Reply

Leave a Reply