Starbucks Corp. is tackling one of its biggest challenges yet--all the tea in China.
The premium java retailer said Friday it will open its first stores in China next year, hoping to wean Chinese off their traditional jars of green tea.
Starbucks aims to open its flagship China store in Beijing by the second quarter of next year, adding to its 1,500 outlets worldwide, said Howard Behar, president of Starbucks Coffee International.
The company also plans to add 500 stores to its current 65 in Asia by 2003.
After four years of selling coffee beans to hotels in China, Seattle-based Starbucks and joint venture partner Beijing Meida Coffee Co. finally decided to invest in an outlet despite Asia's financial crisis.
Behar declined to estimate projected sales, saying only that the company was investing "millions of dollars" in China.
Although China's coffee market is still tiny compared with those of the United States or Japan, Behar said he expects the drink's novelty will quickly hook a new generation of wealthier and more worldly Chinese.
But drinkers of China's time-honored leafy brew won't be left out of the Starbucks experience. The stores will serve the company's line of regular and flavored teas along with its mochas, lattes, cappuccinos and plain old coffee.
Starbucks is a relatively late entry to China's budding coffee market, where Nestle's Nescafe instant is nearly synonymous with coffee for many Chinese.