There has been an unsettling trend descending upon Beijing lately. I’m not talking about the smog (actually it’s been quite beautiful in Beijing over the last couple of weeks). I’m talking about the trend of eliminating the free WiFi at Starbucks.
One of the most frustrating things that we dealt with on our trips to Singapore and Hong Kong this summer was the unavailability of wireless internet access. For travelers in this day in age, wireless internet access is almost a necessity. If I don’t have internet, how will I post pictures on Facebook so my friends can be jealous? More seriously, in both Singapore and Hong Kong, I could turn on my phone and there would be five to ten wireless networks in range, but they were all tied to a local phone company and you needed a local SIM card in order to gain access.
One of the things I really like about Beijing is that most of the cafes have their own wireless router and network. All you need to do is get the password from the staff and log on. Unfortunately, I have observed the beginning of the end.
Starbucks has begun to offer “Free WiFi, brought to you by China Mobile,” which means that now all you have to do to log on is enter in your mobile phone number, type in a CAPTCHA, and in about 2 minutes you will receive your log-in code which you then enter in to get 30 minutes of “free” internet (I put free in quotes because it still costs me hassle and time).
Not all locations have implemented China Mobile WiFi yet, but it seems to be happening at more and more Starbucks around town. It looks like l may be forced to settle for even worse coffee (I know, amazing–worse than Starbucks) at Chinese coffee shops that still offer WiFi.
Speaking of other coffee shops, it looks like Costa Coffee is making a strong bid to be the number two coffee shop in Beijing. They have been opening up branches all over the place. I thought it was very funny that in Shunyi (out near the airport) the new Costa Coffee opened right as Starbucks got rid of it’s free-and-easy internet. It was almost as if the ‘bucks was saying, “Hey, go try out that new competitor down the street ’cause we don’t really like you that much.”
And speaking of Costa Coffee, the jury is still out on their coffee quality. I had a really good cappuccino at the DongZhiMen location but terrible espresso at the Solana store. Costa has made an interesting choice of putting their espresso bar perpendicular to the cash register so that people at the counter can see exactly what the barista is doing when making the drinks. It’s like the open kitchen concept that some restaurants employ. The problem is that people that know a little about making coffee can see when you’re doing it all wrong. I watched the baristas fill the portafilter with pre-ground coffee (it should be ground immediately before pulling shots) and pull my two espresso shots for a full 45 seconds (it should be 18-23 seconds). I could go on a much bigger coffee rant, but I’ll save that for another post.
If you’ve had any other really good, or really bad coffee experiences in Beijing I’d love to hear about them.