Beijing-style bubble tea: time-honored food brand infuses classic beverage with a new retro taste

By Xia Peiyao, Zhong Wenxing (People's Daily Online) 15:58, September 29, 2021


"It'll take 2 hours," a staff member said, preparing the customers for the long wait as they snaked slowly in batches into a newly-opened Daoxiangcun store. Set up along 152 Dongsibei Street, near blocks of archetypal Beijing hutongs, the outlet is situated at the exact same location where it resumed operations back in 1984.

"Same venue, same pastries. It's like a dialogue with the past," the project manager of the store, Cao Siyuan, told People's Daily Online. That's probably why they named it 'store zero', a place to begin afresh with surprising new products.

For the first time, Daoxiangcun, a time-honored food brand from Beijing, set up a bar counter in its store and rolled out pastry-flavored bubble teas.

Daoxiangcun bubble tea and pastries.

Adding pastry flavors into milk tea was not an easy mix. "We had to find the most representative and the most suitable pastries among the 600 plus products we have, and then after countless taste tests, we chose four different pastry filings to achieve specific flavor combinations," said Cao.

Niushebing, literally an ox tongue-shaped cake, is a beloved Chinese pastry that's stuffed with salty sesame paste and Sichuanese pepper powder. Now this classic delicacy of Daoxiangcun, together with five nuts filing, jujube puree, and sugar rose paste, are used as bubble tea toppings to enhance customers' palate.

"At first try, the grainy cinnamon-like taste will make you frown in surprise if you have never tried Niushebing before, and then after a few sips, it becomes more and more toothsome and zesty," a customer said.

For some who have tasted a Niushebing, it might be more of a textural play on a familiar food, with extra sugar to excite your brain reward system. "Niushebing is my favorite pastry at Daoxiagncun. I've eaten it all my life. Now Niushebing tastes like a familiar stranger to me, but it's still delicious," said another customer.

The innovation is quite a success, at least for now. For the past few weeks, the queue of people lining up outside the store has shown little signs of shortening. "It's a new breakthrough. Not only did we develop our specialty with our most enduring pastries, we also managed to expand our customer base," Cao said.

Such nostalgia and retro marketing also seems to be right on the point. As a pastry chain usually frequented by older individuals, it now has many young customers who are eager to try these Instagrammable thirst quenchers. "It's a local recommendation on apps, and my parents have also loved it since childhood, so it's kind of a must-try for me," said a high school student waiting in a queue with her friend.

Changing customer demographics is still a challenge facing all time-honored brands in China. The new products of Daoxiangcun are clearly an effort to reach out to the next generation of customers.

Mooncake molds and pastries are seen at the Daoxiangcun store.

"In recent years, Daoxiangcun has also been developing new products based on Chinese culture. We've made special pastries for the 24 solar terms, the Mid-Autumn Festival and so forth," said Cao. "At store zero, we are trying to integrate folk culture, food, and the city's memories together."

Bubble tea is now the new staple and new social currency among the young. When nostalgic cues of local pastries are repackaged and transformed into bubble tea, a retro craze is formed.

"The brand is surely a part of the city's culture. I think this kind of innovation would also create a sense of continuity," said a young female customer. "I missed my first cup of bubble tea on the first day of autumn, so here I am to get myself a special Beijing-style bubble tea to get ready for the fall."

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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