The first thing to notice after you approach the counter is selection; the most “plain” thing you can order outside a chain like Starbucks is an espresso or americano (neither really my cup of tea), with more “gourmet” options more plentiful and seemingly more popular.
Next you notice the price. In the (admittedly hip and trendy) cafe in which I’m currently writing this the cheapest item is the aforementioned americano at RMB21 (little over 3 USD). Stateside Starbucks prices are reasonable in comparison.
There does seem to be a cheaper coffee niche being explored by some; the photo was taken in an on campus coffee shop where a latte will cost you two bucks (compared to the one I just bought for slightly under 5 dollars). Price is consummate with environment rather than quality; there is no difference in taste between the 5 dollar latte and the 2 dollar latte, but I enjoy the experience of the 5 dollar latte more because of where I’m sitting.
Coffee is also a bit more of an exotic and trendy commodity here in China, fitting in with the general fetishization of things Western, which also explains the price (and the insanely tacky Halloween decorations at the moment).
On the other end of the spectrum is the cup of instant coffee that I buy for 25 cents at the corner store near my school building.
I wonder when (or even if) cafes in China will become less of a luxury for Chinese who can afford it and more something that the average person can enjoy (as an example of what I mean by those who can afford it, a guy rolled up to the building in a Porsche convertible.)