How Ritual Coffee Got to Be the Thing in Beijing
Headed to China soon? Worried about where you can get a decent caffeine fix while you're there? Contemplating ways to pack your favorite coffeehouse in your luggage?
Save your $50 luggage fee because Ritual Coffee Roasters has gotten to China before you have. FishEye Café, located in the Village, a luxury shopping center in the middle of Beijing's hot ex-pat area Sanlitun, sources their beans once a week from Ritual. The Chinese baristas make the cappuccinos and lattes with the same love, care, and craft as their American counterparts. And the complex flavor profile, texture, and sweetness are consistent to what is served at Ritual in San Francisco.
FishEye is the project of Fish Sun, a former Apple employee who decided to trade in the corporate life for the more casual hustle and bustle of running a café.
"I had realized my American dream by [age] 31," said Sun, who spent a decade working at Apple as a Sales Engineer. After a fulfilling career and a little soul-searching, the dots connected back to his passion for coffee.
"I didn't want to work anywhere else. But I'd hit a personal growth ceiling; and so, I will go work for myself," Sun said.
Sun first fell in love with coffee while studying computer science at the University of Washington. He and a friend opened a small shop next to a bus stop near a community college. They rented a studio apartment and served coffee from their ground floor window to pay for school.
In 2006, Apple asked Sun to help set up the company's online store for China. Sun said goodbye to good coffee, and back to Beijing he went.
China's coffee culture is dominated by Western chains like Starbucks, Costa Coffee, and Lavazza while independent local cafes proliferate mostly without a clue about coffee.
"Starbucks did a great job of introducing coffee to the masses in China, but as more Chinese can now afford to travel and taste better coffee from around the world, they realize Starbucks is just another fast food chain, serving average Joe," Sun said. "I want to bring high quality coffee to Beijing."
In 2009, Sun flew back to the United States for a three-day coffee marathon that included tours in Seattle and Portland. On his last day, he tried 23 cups of coffee around San Francisco, a record for him. His last coffee tasting was at Ritual, and he immediately loved the natural sweetness and fruit-touched taste.
Six months later, Sun flew Eileen Hassi, who owns Ritual, and her quality control manager to train FishEye's staff as he prepared to open his cafe. They had the beans and the know-how, but still lacked a crucial ingredient ― the milk. They tried more than 30 brands before settling on Wondermilk, a local brand that has gained a reputation for its high-quality dairy products.
After all the hard work, Sun wondered if the Chinese could taste the difference. FishEye opened in August 2010. For the first month, Sun did not provide sugar to encourage his customers to taste the coffee first. They did, and they took notice and loved it. Now, a year later, FishEye is humming with regulars and attracting new customers daily. To further encourage people to learn the art behind coffee, FishEye also holds a class every Saturday to teach customers how to make a cup of coffee and coffee history.
Sun is now planning to open two more coffee shops in China.
S1-18 Sanlitun Village, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100027
Village S1-18 100027