Getting Free Coffee in China

Word of the week: zài

Coffee (kā fēi 咖啡) is one of those few Chinese loanwords. As is caffeine (kā fēi yīn 咖啡因). Unfortunately, the quality of kā fēi in China is really hit and miss. What’s worse is when it’s so weak that it doesn’t even deliver the desired kā fēi yīn kick.

Thankfully I’ve discovered a simple solution to this problem: ask for an extra shot. The great thing is that a lot of the small kā fēi diàn 咖啡店 (coffee shops) won’t even charge you for an extra shot. Usually because they don’t really know what they’re doing! So how do you go about getting this free upgrade?

I usually start by asking them how strong (nóng 浓) a small cup of coffee is. xiǎo bēi dūo nóng? 小杯多浓 (literally “small cup how strong?”) Or you can ask xiǎo bēi yǒu jǐ fèn nóng dù? 小杯有几份浓度 which is more like asking “how many espresso shots are there in a small cup?” The unit for “shot” being fèn 份.

Once I get my answer I often say the coffee in China is really weak (dàn 淡) That is zhōng guó de kā fēi dōu hén dàn 中国的咖啡都很淡 (China’s coffee is all very weak) and then I ask if they can add an extra shot. kě yǐ zài jiā yí fèn nóng dù ma? 可以再给我一份浓度吗 (literally “can again add one shot?”) This often does the trick and they add an extra shot of coffee for free.


Small places like this are often a safe bet for a free shot

In the above sentence the word zài  is useful because although it is usually translated as “again” it can often be better translated as “another” when the verb is followed by a noun. So the sentence zài mǎi yī bēi kā fēi 再买一杯咖啡 would literally translate as “again buy one cup coffee” but is better translated as “buy another cup of coffee”. Similarly wǒ xiǎng zài hē yī bēi kā fēi 我想再喝一杯咖啡would be “again drink one cup coffee”, or in other words drink another cup of coffee.

zài can also be used before an adjective and followed by yī diǎn 一点 to mean “a bit more…” If you want your coffee a bit stronger you can say “zài nóng yī diǎn” (literally “again strong a little”) so if you find that the person in the kā fēi diàn is getting confused when you talk about espresso shots you can just try asking kě yǐ gěi wǒ zài nóng yī diǎn ma? 可以给我再浓一点吗 (can you give me a bit stronger) and that should work, but obviously don’t try it in Starbucks. I doubt they’ll give you a free shot there.

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