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Coffee shops infuse new life to rural community

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: January 19, 2024 L M S


The mining pit in front of Deep Blue X Cafe, located in Hongmiao village, located in Anji county, Huzhou, East China's Zhejiang province. [Photo/hz66.com]

In the midst of a prevailing trend where young Chinese individuals are flocking to bustling urban centers in search of opportunities, Cheng Shuoqin has taken a divergent path, embracing the burgeoning fervor for rural tourism.

Leaving behind his stable urban job, the 30-year-old ventured into the countryside and established a coffee shop – a rarity in the rural expanses, until very recently. 

Setting his sights on Hongmiao village, located in Anji county, Huzhou, Zhejiang province, Cheng embarked on his entrepreneurial journey. In May 2022, within a mere 18 days, he and his six friends transformed a dilapidated factory workshop overlooking a mining pit, which had been idle for over 10 years and filled with rainwater, into the now-famous Deep Blue X Cafe.

The cafe is a joint venture in which the village collective holds a 49 percent stake, while the operators hold 51 percent.

Gaining swift acclaim within the Huzhou coffee scene, the establishment achieved a revenue exceeding 800,000 yuan ($111,169.6) during its inaugural operating month. However, this initial success was short-lived. In June 2022, the cafe experienced a downturn in business, with revenue plummeting to just over 400,000 yuan for the month. Come July, daily sales barely surpassed 100 yuan, resulting in significant payroll challenges.

Undeterred by financial hardships, Cheng, along with a dedicated team of employees, persevered through the scorching summer of 2022, revamping the coffee shop by creating 51 photogenic spots and offering free photography services to visitors.

The efforts paid dividends, as the cafe experienced a substantial resurgence following that year's National Day holiday in October, with daily revenues surging and attracting celebrities. On Oct 2, 2023, it sold a record-high of 7,132 cups.

In Anji, a mountainous county in northern Zhejiang with a population of 580,000, there are more than 300 coffee shops like Deep Blue X, surpassing Shanghai in terms of per capita cafes and being acclaimed by Lonely Planet magazine as "China's Coffee Capital 2022".

The coffee shops are attracting tourists in droves with stunning scenery, situated in rural villages and often even within abandoned mines or built over waterfalls and streams.

"Today's youth not only relish the act of drinking coffee but also seek the experience beyond just the beverage itself. It's about the ambiance," remarked Gu Pingling, Deep Blue X's designer.

Regardless of whether it's a frothy latte or a robust Americano, all coffee offerings at Deep Blue X are priced at 68 yuan per cup. "This cost is akin to purchasing admission to immerse oneself in the rural landscapes, unwind, and capture moments. Coffee serves as the entry pass, while the scenery becomes the main attraction," Gu further elaborated.

Such is the popularity of Deep Blue X that it has not only captured the imagination of local youth but has also garnered attention from young people across the country and internationally, with students from Canada making the journey to witness this rural "miracle".

"I hope that more college students can venture into the countryside, whether to open a coffee shop, a tea house, or a bakery, contributing to the vitality of rural communities," expressed Cheng.

Deep Blue X has attracted more than 120 college graduates.

"Here, I can harmonize my life and ideas," said Cheng Xiao, a fashion design graduate who joined in June. In addition to crafting coffee, Cheng runs his own secondhand clothing studio in the cafe's art center.

"While gaining work experience, I can also engage in creative thinking, contemplate my future aspirations, and prepare myself for what lies ahead," he said.