Part 1: Temperance, Cough Potions, Mighty MIdgets & War Lords - The unhinged Origins of Shanghai Coffee Culture
Just recently China Daily reported that Shanghai had become the city with the most coffee shops in the world. Close to 7,000 venues, excluding coffee services in convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, serve the 30-million population of the Chinese metropolis. While this news may come as a surprise to coffee connoisseurs in Tokyo, London or New York, Shanghai – the city that famously never sleeps - has in fact an over 150 years history in roasting, brewing and serving the delicious caffeine beverage.
After the creation of the Shanghai foreign settlements in 1843, the earliest venues to offer coffee to its Western residents and travelers were Hotels. Among them "Hotel Richard" established 1844 in what later became the French Concession, moved to the Bund as Richards' Hotel and Restaurant in 1846, then relocated again north across Will’s bridge and renamed Astor House Hotel as well as the Victoria Hotel (aka Commercial Hotel) established in 1850.
A rather curious first attempt to introduce coffee to Chinese consumers was reportedly made by the Llewellyn & Co Drugstore (老德记药店) opened in 1853 on No 1 Park Lane (later renamed Nanking Rd.): British Pharmacist J. Lewellyn originally brought coffee to Shanghai intending to sell it to local Chinese as "cough potion". While the medical benefits alone seemed to not have convinced its customers, the venue turned to regularly selling coffee and pastries in addition to its drugstore assortment, which is why it later also became known as the “Llewellyn Western Restaurant” (老德记西餐馆).
In 1886, the Temperance Society of Shanghai, worried about the fact that foreign sailors from ships visiting Shanghai spend “too much time drinking and visiting loose women”, and proposed to pool funds and organize a coffee house, which became the “Hongkew Coffee House and Reading Room” on 1114 Broadway – probably constituting Shanghai’s first real standalone café. It served "coffee, tea and non-intoxicating liquors" to draw sailors away from those "horrible dens where instead of being comforted with whole-some liquor they are poisoned with vitriol, and petroleum, and all the other ingredients of adulteration."
In November 1895 the Santos Coffee Store, "The first and only coffee dealer from DalnyWostok", (三道司咖啡庄) opened, and later moved to 111 Central Arcade on Szechuen and Nanking Rd. It was one of Old Shanghai's longest lasting coffee establishments famously celebrating its 40th anniversary in 1935 and remaining in business until after the war when it was still mentioned in the 1947 Shanghai Telephone Directory.
Shortly after in 1897, the oldest Shanghai restaurant still active to this day, Cosmopolitan Butchery (Deda Western Restaurant), was founded in Hongkew and settled on 117 Boone Road. After the first World War it changed to Chinese ownership and remains open as 德大西菜社, Although no longer under the same German ownership and at a different location on 437 Nanjing West Road. By the beginning of the 20th century, the number of independent cafes in Shanghai yet was still very small: The 1904 “Handbook for Travelers and Residents” in addition to the previously mentioned establishments, mentions only that “a new coffee tavern is being built near the back of the Astor House - presumably the "Thomas Hanburry Coffee-House" on Broadway in June. A second Honkew coffe shop also appears in 1914 called the "Cafe di Roma" on No. 37 Broadway.
Picture source first from the right: https://xula.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16948coll9/id/170/
The renowned Carlton Café was opened as early as 1910 but after its first incarnation as a night club soon was forced to announce "catering to family trade exclusively". a promise upkept no longer than just in time for the roaring 20s when it was celebrated for "fairylike midget shows" and the even more famous "Carlton Follies". Gone were the days of temperance.
The Ritz café was opened in 1911 by John Johnston. In 1914 it was fined for staying open later than the 2am closing time as allowed by its license and it went into bankruptcy in 1915 - we're safe to assume, that just like at the Carlton, more than coffee was served at the venue. Also like the Carlton it popped up again in 1921 to resume it's gaiety.
German Carl Fiedler opened the "Philadelphia Café Fiedler" on 6 Broadway in 1913. It later opened a second location on 1199 Nanking Rd. and eventually was renamed Café Federal. Also In 1913 The North-China Herald mentions the café Riche, later called Monico on Rue Montanban (Sichuan R.d) owned by Frenchman Mr. Magnan. IN 1915 Shepherd's Café by Mr. C. Shepherd on 35 Kiangse Rd. appears. In 1918 the short-lived "Trianon Café" on 25 Av. Edouard Vii opens (succeeded by the Café Parisien), But According to another 1918 Shanghai guide, "there are 35 Western restaurants in Shanghai, and only one coffee shop is registered”.
Picture sources: Del Monte public domain / unknown, Dinty Moore's public domain / unknown, Eddie's Cafe https://pastvu.com/p/945053, Levy's Coffee public domain / unknown, Tkachenko public domain / Unknown, Wiener Cafe public Domain / Unknown.
It was not until the 1920s that a large number of independent Western style cafés appeared under illustrious names such as the Del Monte Café, Mumm Café (mumm's the word!"), DD's, Chocolate Café, The Welcome Café, Dinty Moore's Café, Tkachenko Bros Cafe-Restaurant, Cascade Café, Mayfair Café, Casanova Café, Moon Palace Café, Sabatier, Star Café, Blue Rose Café, Domino Café, Moon Café, Venus Café, Domino Café, Premier Café (the house of hilarity!), Dreamland Café, Western Café, Dreamland Café, Café Paulista (serving "delicious Brazilian Coffee!", Maxim's Café, The Black Cat CAfe, Western Café, Majestic Café, The Hollywood Café, Browning's Café, Eddie Café, Wiener Café (opened on 287 Broadway by German Mr. Scheineman) or the Palais Café.
The innocent reader should of course once be more reminded that not everything called a Café in Old Shanghai was in fact merely serving coffee (see Exhibits A & B). It was also in 1924 that the first mass production facility for coffee in Shanghai was founded by presumably Jardine, Matheson & Co under the name of Shanghai & Hongkew Wharf Yuji Coffee Company (公和祥余记咖啡公司).
In 1928 the "New Kiessling Cafe" (凯司令珈琲館) on Bubbling Well Rd. (Nanjing Rd.), became the talk of the town as the first Chinese-run Western-style coffee house in Shanghai. It was founded by the foreman of the German "Kiessling and Bader Restaurant" in Tientsin together with 2 other Shanghainese Pastry Chefs. Initial funding was allegedly provided by northern warlord "commander K" after whom the venue's Chinese name was created. Legend has it the warlord later sued for name infringement but lost. (The connection to the original Kiessling Restaurant in Tientsien was never made in Chinese sources...). Be it as it may, writer Eileen Chang immortalized the "new" Café in her novella "Lust, Caution" where she remembers the famous cheesecake. "Kaisiling" still exists today at the very same location on 1001 Nanjing West Road, making it the longest standing coffeehouse of Shanghai!
The confectioners of the New Kiessling also supplied their famed "Kiessling Chocolates" to other venues such as to the German Café Leinemann on 870 Bubbling Well Rd - a go-to location of Shanghai's German community in the 1930s.
In 1928, an article in Shenbao news introduced readers to a café named Shanghai Café on North Szechuen Road in Hongkew and frequented by many Chinese celebrities of art and literary circles, including Lu Xun, Yu Dafu, Gong Binglu, Meng Chao, and Ye Lingfeng. Lu Xun soon also visited another famous café close to his residence – Gongfei, which in the early 1930s would become the cradle of the leftist cultural movement. In another reincarnation Lu Xuns coffee hangouts continue to exist today as the "Old Film Café" on Duolun Road (formerly Darroch Rd.) and gives a glimpse at what the venues had looked like back in the day.
A third wave of coffee shops followed in the late 1930s, started by Jewish refugees – most notably from Vienna, who brought their distinct coffee house culture and traditional names such as Fiaker, Kolibri Café, Café Elite, Zum Weissen Rössl or the Wiener Stueberl famous for its Viennese apple-strudel with them.
Other notable 1940s Cafes founded by Jewish refugees include The Imperial, The Rex, The Roy, The Barcelona, The Imperator, The Windsor on Kungping Road., Café Luis on Ward Road, Boris Sapiro's Boris "Only Cash" Café, the Lion Café located at 125/5 Wayside Road, Mignon Café on 825 East Seward Road and the Express Café.
Another famous Shanghai coffee venue founded by Russian Jewish immigrant Semyon Liberman was the Mars Café, established on 147 - 149 Nanking Rd in 1941 (wrongly mentioned in Chinese sources as opened in 1934!). Like the Cosmopolitan, going through nationalization, closure and reopening, it still exists but under a new name, "East Sea Coffee" (东海咖啡馆), and at a different address on 110 Dianchi Rd.
First two pictures from the Left Source: Baidu, Map www.virtualshanghai.net, Advertisement Google Books.
P.S.: In case you were wondering - even home coffee machines were already a thing in Old Shanghai of the 1930s:
PART 2: The rise and fall of a king, exotic dancers, coffee cigarettes & a multi-millionnaire happy ending - C.P.C. established in 1935
Up to the late 1920s Shanghai coffee consumption was solely driven by foreign residents and a small Chinese intellectual elite, but the 1930s coffee hype finally triggered domestic entrepreneurs to enter the booming mainstream market:
In 1935, Chang Pao Cun (张宝存), a Zhejiang native, founded Desheng Coffee (德胜咖啡行) on No. 22 Broadway as Shanghai’s first large scale coffee roastery and distribution company under Chinese ownership. It imported raw coffee beans from abroad, roasted them and sold them packaged in tin cans to Western restaurants and cafes under the registered trademark of C.P.C..
the Japanese attacks of 1937 forced Chang Pao Cun's company to move and Attached to the new roastery He opened the “C.P.C. Coffee House” aka Desheng Café (德胜咖啡馆) on 1472 Bubbling Well Road (静安寺路一四七二号). What was then part of the International Settlement and close to Jing'an Temple, today is the intersection of Nanjing West Road and Tongren Rd., occupied by the United Plaza building. The young family with their first children moved to the "Burlington Villas" area (沧洲别墅) near the Burlington Hotel on Bubbling Well Road. (now the JC Mandarin Hotel on Shaanxi Rd. and Nanjing Road.)
The C.P.C. venue soon became one of the most famous coffee shops in Shanghai frequented by the so called “Lao Kele” (老克勒) – the first white collar Chinese adopting a Western life style. Drinking coffee had become a symbol of nobility, status and taste among the rising Chinese middle class.
Chang Pao Cun himself was a prototypical Lao kele, given his English language education and early involvement with foreign businesses in China: born in 1913 as the youngest son of the family, in the Dinghai district of Zhoushan, close to Ningbo, Family sources say that both his parents died when he was only 7 years old. he was sent to Shanghai at age 14 to enroll in the English-taught St. Francis Xavier's College. At 16, he got his first job working for the foreign-managed Powers Co., Ltd. (鲍尔斯洋行习业), whose main business was in coffee and fruit trading. These apprenticeship years undoubtedly laid the ground for his later industry success. When he turned 18 Chang Pao Cun relocated to Hong Kong to join the Spike Group (or Sparks - Chinese sources mention both 史派克洋行 and 史帕克洋行) which operated a department store. Two years later, he returned to Shanghai and founded his first business "the Honolulu Food Company" (檀香山伙食公司). Alas, the "January 28th Incident" forced him to close his company in 1932, and he instead joined Henningsen Produce Co. - the American manufacturer of the famous Hazelwood ice cream, where his brother-in-law worked.
In 1934 Chang Pao Cun married Fang Huiqin (方慧琴). Born 1917 in Zhenhai, Zhejiang to a poor rural family, Huiqin had moved to Shanghai at the age of 8. She later worked at a small vegetable market on Seymour Rd. (now Shaanxi North Road) where she was introduced to neighbor Pao Cun. It was the newly wedded couple who would soon after establish Desheng Coffee together. Fang Huiqin was involved in the business from the get-go, personally roasting the coffee beans, controlling the temperature and selecting recipes that suited the tastes of the East.
After successfully operating their family business for several years, Mr. Chang eventually became recognized as the originator of the domestic Shanghai coffee industry and served as the representative of the Shanghai Coffee Association for ten consecutive years. Chinese newspapers of the time referred to him as the "Coffee King" (咖啡大王) and claimed "7 out of 10 Shanghai coffee shops use CPC Coffee". (The title of "Coffee King" was shortly contested in the English language press by S.H. Levy, owner of Levy's Coffee house on 10 Central and the Venus Café, until he vanished to Palestine after the chaos of the Japanese occupational years). In December 1944 Pao Chun opened a second C.P.C. coffee shop, this time in the former French Concession, on No 534 Taishan Road (previously Ave. Joffre, later Lingsen Rd. & todays Huaihai Rd.). The Hehefeng building which housed the café still exists today and is right across the street from... a hipster coffee shop ironically called "No Coffee".
After the boom of the 1920s and 1930s, there was the depression during the Anti-Japanese War, which among others caused shortages and rising prices in imported coffee beans and American brands such as "S & W Coffee" (which briefly maintained a failed coffee shop in the 30s on 889 N. Szechuen R.d). A situation Chang Pao Cun cleverly used to his own advantage as news reports about alleged price fixing, unpaid import invoices, company reincorporations and other shenanigans imply.
Nonetheless, shortly after the war, urban coffee culture enjoyed a big revival, and by 1946 there were 186 cafes registered in Shanghai and all together more than 500 venues serving coffee. Among them Cafe Louis & Confectionary, Seventh Heaven Café, Maxwell House Café, New Dollar Café, renaissance Café, Swan Café, Lady Bird Café, Carnation Café (...), Café Roy, Café Rex, Corso Café, Foch Café and the Vienna Café. By 1949 Desheng, or Crown Produce Co as it was later called, flourished and extended its distribution business to Hong Kong exports including plans to open a branch of the Desheng Café in Kowloon. Finally Desheng also managed a third Shanghai location in the former French Concession on Rue Lafayette - The coffee shop reportedly had been opened by 1930's movie star Lan'gen Han (韩兰根) who failed to successfully run it and asked his friend Pao Chun to take it over.
In addition to his own company Chang Pao Cun diversified his business holdings with investments in Tongcheng Bank (同成钱庄) in 1944 and Fortune Bank (福莱钱庄股份有限公司) in 1945 for which he also served as a director. On top of the coffee production factory, he later also opened The "Chinese United Bakery" factory, producing breads, candies, moon-cakes, chocolates, canned coffee and canned food as well as the "Chinese United Chemicals" factory manufacturing synthesized DDT as insecticide.
Besides all his business endeavors, He was also highly praised by the Chinese press for his charity work: A Shunpao article from August 24th 1944 mentions "hundreds of thousands of yuan" in donations by Coffee Tycoon Chang Pao Cun to two Primary schools (定海旅沪小学) in his hometown of Dinghai. Another reported act of philanthropy was donating the congratulatory money from the opening of the second C.PC. Coffee Shop to student aid activities organized by Shanghai's two major newspapers, Shunpao and Xinwenbao which further helped raise his and C.P.C.'s generous public profile.
C.P.C.'S brand awareness in fact was so high that in 1945 a knock-off brand called C.Y.J. emerged selling ...you guessed it: "Coffee Cigarettes" - imitation is the highest form of flattery as they say. But when it came to real coffee C.P.C. without a doubt dominated the Shanghai coffee industry of the 40s, leaving smaller three-letter acronym competitors such as A.B.C. Coffee and the Brazilian E.B.C. Coffee Company (巴西咖啡公司) in the proverbial coffee dust. It was also during that time that Chang Pao Cun reportedly owned the first Cadillac sedan in Shanghai, which was imported from the USA with the help of the Brazilian embassy.
All in all things couldn't have looked better for Chang Pao Cun in the late 1940s. A Tie Bao news article from November 1946 went as far as calling the C.P.C. brand so famous it was second only to Coca Cola.
The same gossip article however also mentions a lost law suit over rejected advances by C.P.C.'s founder towards an famous dancer. Allegedly this cost Chang Pao Cun three times the 500,000 CRB$ (Japanese puppet government currency) he had intended to gift her. the same year the C.P.C. Taishan Rd. location was closed - a premonition of worse to come: Soon after the communist liberation of Shanghai in 1949, the political and social ethos changed and drinking coffee was increasingly looked down upon as a capitalistic bourgeois pastime.
Chang Pao Cun would ultimately be imprisoned and remained incarcerated for 24 years of his life. In 1950, after returning to Shanghai from a business trip to Hong Kong, Chang Pao Cun was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for "historical counter-revolutionary crimes." Fang Huiqin, his wife was left alone to raise their 10 children. Shortly after his release, Pao Cun was sentenced to yet another 12 years in 1958 and sent to Prison and labor camp in Qinghai. The second conviction was due to a private loan he provided to one of his former employees, but who had become an official in a state-owned company by that time.
In the same year, "C.P.C" was changed to "Shanghai Brand" (上海牌), and the C.P.C. Coffee House became "Shanghai Café” (上海咖啡馆) which remained open under government operation. By 1959 Chang Pao Cun’s Desheng Coffee Company was fully nationalized and renamed to the state-owned "Shanghai Coffee Factory" (上海咖啡厂). For the following years and throughout the times of the Cultural Revolution, coffee consumption was effectively banned and canned coffee produced by the Shanghai Coffee Factory could only be bought at Western style hotels. Ordinary people could not obtain it - only customers with foreign exchange certificates were able to purchase coffee beans or ground coffee.
The greatest luxury available to a few selected Shanghainese was Shanghai Brand “Coffee Tea” (咖啡茶) – leftovers from the grinding of coffee beans mixed with sugar and pressed in cube shape.
But then, in yet another twist “Shanghai Brand” coffee eventually became one of the most recognizable “made in Shanghai” brands during the reforms of the late 1970s and early 80s: popular as a wedding gift and a mark of distinction for locals to have a shiny red can of Shanghai Brand coffee on their living room shelf.
Even after his release, Chang Pao Cun would not permanently return to Shanghai until 1979 fearing further repercussions. After his return and learning of his company Deshengs fate, the Bureau of Reclamation of Yunnan invited him in 1983 as technical consultant for the development of the local coffee industry.
From age 69 to 73, Chang Pao Cun spent three years in Yunnan establishing the Yunling Coffee company, which became the origin of self-produced coffee in modern China. In yet another dramatic stroke of fate, his office was however completely destroyed in a mysterious fire. The incident caused him to leave Yunnan with great sadness and he returned to Shanghai with a payment of merely six thousand Yuan. Only much later he learned that the facility he established and the people he trained there ultimately became Hogood Cofee - now the largest domestic Chinese instant coffee producer and supplier to Nestlé.
After years of struggle, disappointment and after his appeal had been delayed for several years, Chang Pao Cun was finally rehabilitated in 1985 and parts of the family's seized assets were returned. His wife Huiqin subsequently moved to the United States in 1987 following one of their children who had emigrated to California. Pao Cun though stayed behind to give it one more shot at his "Chinese coffee dream": At age 74 he invested all money the government had restituted and gold he had saved in a new coffee business. The intention was to establish another coffee factory with a new partner, but unfortunately the plan failed and Chang Pao Cun, once more, lost all of his savings. Reluctantly he agreed to leave Shanghai and finally moved to California in October 1991.
Around the same time in the early 1990s imported brands and instant coffee began penetrating the market and the Shanghai Coffee Factory eventually stopped producing its hallmark canned coffee under the „Shanghai Brand”. Since 1988 Shanghai Coffee Factory is part of Meilin Co., Ltd. (上海梅林正广和股份有限公司) – the current owner and producer of another old Shanghai brand - the famous Aquarius Soda (正广和) created by British businessmen Caldbeck & MacGregor in 1882.
In 2001 Shanghai Café on Nanjing West Road – the original C.P.C. Coffee House - was closed irrevocably. Remnants of the C.P.C. brand could be found in Shanghai downtown up to around 2016 at Shanghai Coffee Factories showroom on 1527 Yan’an West Road which prominently displayed “Desheng Coffee since 1935” on its signage.
The location has since been closed and Shanghai Coffee Factory only continues to exists as part of a website maintained by Meilin Aquarius, listing a few coffee related products at http://shanghaikafei.spdl.com/. It is unclear if the products are actually still produced and sold since no traces of them can be found in retail these days. Its roots tracing back to Desheng founded in 1935 are still mentioned on the Shanghai Coffee Factory website but no reference is made to its founders Chang Pao Cun and Fang Huiqin nor the original C.P.C. brand.
Meanwhile having settled in the United States, Chang Pao Cun confided in his daughter-in Law Judy: "Let me tell you a secret. I have saved five thousand dollars so far. I plan to go back to Shanghai when I have seven thousand dollars". "Why?" Judy asked. "My dream is to start a coffee company in Shanghai and the seven thousand dollars can be my seed money." he replied.
A dream that regrettably would remain unfulfilled: After suffering from a stroke in May 1992 Chang Pao Cun was hospitalized but according to his son wasn't too worried and instead entertained the nurses in English about his C.P.C. story as well as told them about his plans to restart his coffee business in China. Mr. Chang Pao Cun, the "Coffee King of Shanghai" died in California in July 1992. His wife Fang Huiqin passed away in 2015 at the high age of 98.
Today as coffee culture in Shanghai has become the largest in the world, the former Coffee King and Queen of Shanghai are gone but not forgotten and live on in another part of the world through their son Charles Zhang who emigrated to the United States in 1980 and founded several multi-million Dollar businesses in food & beverage, carrying forward his parent’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic legacy.
Many thanks to Katya Knyazeva, Paul French, Peter Hibbard, Laikwang Pang, Hugues Martin and of course Mr. Charles Zhang for their prior work on Shanghai coffee culture and additional contributions to this article.