SPR Coffee

I spend an hour or two in a local coffee shop from time to time. The name of the place is “SPR Coffee.” I was a bit curious as to where the name came from, but I didn’t have to look far to find the answer. A sign told me “SPR comes from SPRING.” Yes, that’s right. They took the first three letters of the word Spring for their name. Bizarre.

Once again, Asians show us that they may be learning English, but they don’t have to totally play by our rules.

The store also has an interesting discount system for regulars. You can buy a 200 rmb pre-paid “coffee card.” It looks a lot like a credit card. I thought I knew this system. It would have a magnetic strip and a declining balance, and it would give me a discount. Nope. Wrong.

There is no magnetic strip. The numbers 1-10 are printed at the bottom of the card. Every time I use the card to buy a large coffee, the card is notched appropriately with scissors. Simple, but effective.

SPR Coffee Card

P.S. I’m always a little bit afraid to write about something like this, because for all I know this system is used all across the USA these days. I wouldn’t know.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Sounds like the HK clothing shops called Fancl, named after “Fanclub”, apparently. Don’t ask me where their competitors at Wanko got their inspiration from.

  2. Interesting that they make you pay for it – in the U.S. this kind of thing is usually free, and I invariably forget to bring it when I go out. Also, the ones in the U.S. are just paper, I’m surprised this is credit card plastic, seems very wasteful.

  3. In NC you can/could go to the movie theater and get punches on a card from a hole punch. When you buy 5 admissions you get a free popcorn, when you get 10 you get a free admission.

  4. Wait a minute… I think you guys are misunderstanding. It’s not “buy 10 coffees get one free.” It’s “pay for 10 coffees up front, and cut the card as they are used up.”

    The card is 200 rmb and gets you ten large coffees. Large coffees are 22-26 rmb, so it’s cheaper to get a pre-paid card.

  5. What’s even worse about this seemingly wasteful method of offering customer loyalty discounts is that the coffee at SPR, at least at their branches in Beijing, is absolutely awful. The employees are really nice, and they have free computers with internet for paying customers, at least at the SPR in the lobby of my apartment building, but it really is the most atrocious brew I’ve come across. I wouldn’t be surprised if all their fancy machines were actually empty metal boxes hiding an apparatus that adds water to Nescafé powder. Also, I’ve always thought it looks like a pirated version of Starbucks–their menu is virtually identical, and their logo is suspiciously green.

  6. -“P.S. I’m always a little bit afraid to write about something like this, because for all I know this system is used all across the USA these days.”
    The assumption here being, of course, that if it’s used in the U.S., it must be good because ?

  7. Da Xiangchang Says: November 15, 2005 at 3:36 am

    Well, the name might be stupid but at least it’s original. You go to America, and there’s one thing certain about 90% of the Chinese restaurants; they would have one of the following 4 words in their names: Panda, Dragon, Lotus, or Golden–or a combination of the 4 like “Golden Lotus.” Alas, creativity is not one of the Chinese’s strong suits, which makes me doubtful they’ll ever catch up to the Americans.

    And I have NO idea why people would drink coffee. It’s the nastiest-taking crap! I’ve never drunk one cup of coffee in my life. Tea seems a lot more palatable.

  8. From your title I had thought it would stand for Starbucks (in the) People’s Republic.

    I’ve seen this system, by cards or digital tracking, for car washes, movie rentals, and yes, lunch buffets, similar to the globally (except US) popular prepaid phonecards/cellphones. I presume it’s effective because of the discount and convenience factor offered to customers, what little of either there is, could be big in some instances though. Out of tying up the loyalty bundle, upfront cash flow, reduction in accounting, loss/expiration of balances, etc. the store would more than make up the discount given.

  9. spr for spring isn’t too bad.
    it’s the abbreviation we use
    for most college semesters here.
    like sum = summer.

  10. I lived in Qingdao for four years. Qingdao was until last year a Starbucks-free zone thanks to SPR wining and dining government officials. I can’t imagine how much gift money Starbucks had to hand over to get a license finally. Once a fake Starbucks opened, but was forced to change its name within a week. I’ll bet it was SPR who ratted on them. SPR isn’t that bad, but it isn’t that good, either. Their desserts are yummy, though. The SPR at Shilaoren Beach in eastern Qingdao is favorite hangout with Western, Korean, and Japanese expats. I enjoyed many a cuppa there while watching the waves crash on the sand. Starbucks is now THE expat cafe in Qingdao.

    BTW, SPR originally did not mean spring. It was an acronym for Special People Recreation. Maybe someone tipped off the filthy rich Taiwanese businessman who owns all the coffee chain and all the SPR real estate in eastern Qingdao that Special People Recreation is Chinglish.

  11. Colour, menu, SPR seems like a knock-off of Starbucks (fourbucks) and is in the same price-range (29-kuai drink at 4bucks costs 26 at SPR). I do actually tend to prefer a SPR over 4B, not sure why. Both serve a similar truly-nasty drink (Cafe-Mocha, it’ll kill ya), but SPR has Wi-fi (nice when waiting for a friend to show) and tends to build more “private spaces”, be it the tables with sofas in the one near 北京市丽堵饭店, or the long, narrow, semi-secluded indoor-terrace seats at 北京市五道口地铁站. I hope my horrible chinese characters survive the website…

  12. hi john. i am surprised to have googled into your blog when i am doing some research on the coffee market in China. just thought i’ll share some info with you while i am here – SPR is one of the largest franchised coffee chains from Taiwan. It actually has MORE FRANCHISED STORES THAN STARBUCKS has in mainland China – 200 plus compared to 140. SPR also has a Coffee School built in Qingdao to ‘educate’ people how to appreciate coffee and build chain stores and coffee franchise. interested to know more? http://www.spr.cc

  13. i just browsed in here after reading a bbc article on starbuck’s victory over the rip-off xingbake in chinese courts… i found this hilarious after spending last summer in qingdao, because it was obvious to me at least that SPR was ripping off the logo, menu… everything but the name (mostly) of starbucks…

    china is an amazing place

  14. I can’t agree that the SPR menu is a ripoff of Starbucks. The SPRs in Qingdao had a lunch/dinner menu of sandwiches, pizzas, and rice dishes. They also offered shakes with flavors that were different from the frappachinos at Starbucks. The other company in question was indeed a poor ripoff. Its logo bore the official name of Starbucks in Chinese, but inside the coffee shop did not look like Starbucks at all, and of course, the coffee was horrible.

  15. ovabrilliant Says: May 5, 2006 at 4:30 am

    SPR is short for Surf Plaza Resort. They dont make really good coffee but nice environment

  16. As I see it, the big advantage for the consumer SPR holds over Starbucks is that you can always get a seat at SPR when Starbucks is packed out. Here in Guangzhou (I don’t know about other places) it also has at-seat service, a big advantage if you’re on your own and have nobody to bag a seat while you buy the drinks. As for the coffee itself….well, at least you don’t need to pay for an extra shot. It’s strong enough already.

  17. emm, I still remember the enjoyable days I spent in the flagship SPR near shilaoren, qingdao many years ago. I guess it was the very first SPR in qingdao, or even in China. Only one storey with very pretty decoration despite of the green color. Everybody said it was a ripoff of Starbucks. I liked there though, so did my friends from beijing and shanghai. Coz of the great sea view which you can not even think of it in starbucks bj and sh. And I also liked a big restaurant next to it called New Orleans. There they had many pics of old movies, or cds on the wall, under table glasses. and hundreds of paper-cranes hanging arond the ceiling.Nice~

    Oh, back to the SPR, the flavor was not so bad at that time. Now as many more unqualified SPR pop up as franchisees, they really will be bad to SPR corp. in a long run. I’ve been to several in qingdao these days. and two of them gave me very bad impression. One near zhangzhou rd. a bit smelly. They spend 25 mins on my order of icecream, while only 5 persons in the cafe. and the assistant very reluctantly accepted my vip card, which made me a bit upset. Another one in Hiscense Plaza. I ordered a juice when the coffee powder was used up late near their close time. I guess the true reason was they already cleaned the machine. And later when I left on my way home, I found their juice, was too watery with just a litte orange flavor in it. I feel so disappointed with their service.

    On the contrast, the starbucks really do good on this. When you picky at the flavor, they always serve you a new one and make sure it fits for your taste. That is really unbeatable ~

  18. May 4th Square has a SPR that is a breath of fresh air for anyone homesick for a good sandwhich, pasta or pizza. The Place is either called Sparkies by some or 54SPR or Wusiguangchang SPR is now the home of luigi Pizzeria. They both have their own website http://www.freewebs.com/pizzerialuigi or http://www.freewebs.com/maythspr As far as I know it they are all independantly owned and tend to vary from one to another which makes them intersting. For instance the one in Hong Kong Kong Garden, Zhao Zhou Yi Lu and Shi Lao Ren which is the HQ. Give them a try and make suggestions so they can approve

  19. Whenever I am in Tianjin I drink at SPR Coffee. It’s a lot more comfortable than Starbucks and better coffee. In addition you can have really good food. Well done SPR

  20. Da Xiangchang ~
    “And I have NO idea why people would drink coffee. It’s the nastiest-taking crap! I’ve never drunk one cup of coffee in my life. Tea seems a lot more palatable.”

    So you are making the judgment that coffee is the nastiest “taking” crap without drinking it before in your whole life? Does that sound like a fair judgment? At least coffee drinkers know how to formulate solid arguments.

  21. Estou pesquizando sobre coffee shopps na China, já conheço a Starbucks, alguém pode me ajudar com informações do cardápio da SPR Coffee.

  22. All this talk about copy is slightly wierd!
    You could say Samsung is a copy of Panasonic / Sony or Marriott is a copy of Hilton. So OK, SPR (name taken from Surf Plaza resort in Qindao Resort – SPR) utilized an existing model of coffee shops (Costa Coffee did the same) and launched in Taiwan and China and it has done very well in terms of franchise outlets.

    Starbucks is indeed good coffee but they are slighlty uncomfortable and always hard to get a seat. I personally think SPR is fine, nice service, reasonable food and nice place to sit and relax. As for critics of the coffee…..I have drank a lot worse in hundreds of other places around the world…havent you?

  23. Thanks for writing about SPR, I lived in Qingdao as a kid (2002-2004) and have fond memories living at Surf Plaza which was basically an expat community – and yes, SPR coffee most likely stands for Surf Plaza Resort. In addition to Surf Plaza, there was an SPR hotel, and the SPR Coffee which I remember serving fantastic lasagna. There was a very distinct style of wrought iron and cushions used at both the hotel and coffee shop. The best part was everything was steps from the Shilaoren beach, which was always very popular, lively, people flying kites (and there was an old trampoline that they would sometimes move into the Surf Plaza playground). Ok I’m done with the reminiscence, good old days!

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