CHONGQING — Sandwiching a slim flight of stairs covered by wet moss, two dilapidated residences built in the last century had almost become a forgotten memory in the modern, bustling Yuzhong district in southwest China's Chongqing municipality, until a coffee shop called Shakerato showed up.
Providing coffee and cocktails from 10 am to midnight since October 2021, Shakerato is located in one small home next to the stairs. It has attracted lots of local youngsters who like sipping its fragrant coffee while enjoying the nostalgic view of this once-buzzing neighborhood.
While China's coffee business volume exceeded 200 billion yuan ($28 billion) in 2022, based on a report published by the Chinese e-commerce platform Meituan, a flood of independent coffee shops like Shakerato have become another driving force in the ever-growing sector.
The coffee shops have also provided outsiders a window into daily life featuring local signature characteristics across the country. Chongqing has seen many such shops built in its old communities and making use of the idle bedrooms, balconies and backyards as new spaces for coffee lovers.
"The moment I saw these stairs, I thought to myself, 'This is the place!' The staircase is a very important symbol of this mountain city, as people were often seen walking or taking a break on it in the past," said Ye Yi, the 34-year-old owner of Shakerato.
Ye added that due to the local mountainous terrain, Chongqing has most of its buildings on the hillsides, making paths that descend the hills in a series of zigzags with many staircases dotted around.
"Running my cafe here is my own way of preserving the old memories of the city," he explained.
Now, in Daijiaxiang and Liyuchi, two old communities in the city, a batch of coffee shops have sprung up inside the shabby apartments.
Such a location preference is not limited to Chongqing. Baristas now serve their picky customers in Guangdong's signature "urban villages," Beijing's hutong and Shanghai's alleys.
A coffee industry trend report released by China's Yelp-like review website, Dianping, showed that in 2022, the country saw coffee shops opened in residential buildings soar by 71 percent compared to the previous year.
Lei Xiaowu runs a cafe named Lazy Hazy, which sits on the first floor of an old compound with a big courtyard in Chongqing's Jiangbei district.
"Unlike a traditional Starbucks outlet in a packed mall, such cafes can be found deep in some of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods and have captured the essence of the locals' daily lives," said Darby Cumming, a Canadian living in Chongqing for six years.
While enjoying your cup of coffee, you can check out the scene, as residents may be hanging laundry or tending to flowers on their balconies at the same time, Cumming said.
Such locations have brought fringe benefits, too.
"With relatively cheaper rents, independent coffee shops in old communities can save more money on decorations, lower the prices of their products, spend more on improving the quality of their goods, and so on," Ye said.
"I used to think that selling 50 cups of coffee was something very difficult to do for independent cafe owners like me, but now that figure is our daily turnover. This is the 'spring' for us," he added.