Close this search box.
Sexy Tea modern China tea shop

From Changsha to China: Sexy Tea’s journey through Guochao and product expansion

Sexy Tea(茶颜悦色)is a tea brand originating in Changsha, Hunan Province, China. Founded by Zhang Zhongzheng in 2013, the new-style tea chain has expanded its networks of stores, with a strong presence in cities like Wuhan, Chongqing, and Chengdu, although its primary roots remain in Changsha. It’s not just a favorite among Changsha’s residents but has also become an iconic cultural symbol of the city, a must-visit for tourists when exploring this vibrant destination. By the end of 2022, the brand boasted 546 stores nationwide, of which nearly 450 were located in Hunan Province.

Download our guide to Chinese gifting habits

This Changsha-based brand primarily offers tea and desserts, successfully fusing Chinese tea culture with Western flavors, prioritizing the tea’s quality and tailoring sweetness, temperature, and serving size to meet individual preferences. In 2020, Sexy Tea ranked 6th among the top ten most beloved tea drink brands in China

Sexy tea
Image source: Weibo, Changsha-based tea chain has over 313k followers on Weibo

China’s new tea beverage industry is booming and competitive

The success of this Chinese new-style tea brand is closely intertwined with the dynamic growth of the tea beverage industry in China, fueled by the escalating desire of Chinese consumers for unique and high-quality tea experiences. According to iiMedia Research, the market size of China’s new tea beverage industry is expected to reach RMB 333 billion in 2023 and RMB 375 billion by 2025. Chinese tea beverage consumers have high stickiness and purchase frequently, with a weekly purchase rate of 89%. Moreover, the evolution of Internet technology and advancements in online payment technology have made online purchasing more convenient and effectively mitigated the offline business loss of new tea drink stores during the pandemic. Additionally, consumers’ enthusiasm and demand for new tea beverages have continued to rise.

Sexy Tea is surfing the Guochao (国潮) trend

Guochao (国潮) has had an impact on consumption trends in China and the bubble tea market is no exception. Sexy Tea has embraced traditional Chinese aesthetics in its packaging, featuring classical characters and designs. To achieve this, they invested significantly in obtaining the rights to use numerous renowned national paintings such as “A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains”(千里江山图) and “The Night Revels of Han Xizai”(韩熙载夜宴图)which adorn their cups, allowing consumers to appreciate these masterpieces. Moreover, its approach extends to the names of their tea drinks, which incorporate elements of traditional Chinese culture, often drawing from ancient poetry, aligning seamlessly with the Guochao trend.

sexy tea packaging
Image source: Zhihu, the tea brand’s packaging is designed in accordance with traditional Chinese aesthetics

What sets the Changsha-based tea chain apart is its concept stores, which have embraced the Guochao trend by transforming their retail spaces into immersive experiences. These stores not only incorporate traditional Chinese craftsmanship, such as Han embroidery but also envelop customers in an environment that exudes ancient Chinese culture. This creative approach not only meets individual consumer needs but also draws in a significant number of people looking to capture memorable moments with photos.

modern tea experiential store
Image source: Xiaohongshu, Its concept store in Changsha makes consumers feel like travelling back to ancient Loulan

Sexualizing women by labelling them as ‘bargains’

The path of the Changsha-based tea chain has not always been smooth. In 2021, the new-style tea brand released a mug with the following words: jian lou zi (捡篓子) which, in the local slang, means “get a bargain” or finding a good deal. However, in the campaign, they used the term to imply that when going to Sexy Tea stores, customers might not only enjoy a delicious beverage but also have the opportunity to pick up a woman. The expression sparked anger on the internet as it objectified women. The company released a statement acknowledging that they had used an inappropriate sentence and expressing their deep regret for the unintended disrespect toward women. Netizens also pointed out that sexualizing women is a recurrent issue in the advertising industry.

Sexy Tea launched two sub-brands in the coffee and lime & lemon beverage industries

Sexy Tea, renowned for its Chinese style and mid-range price (RMB 10~20), has paved the way for a trend that several other Chinese brands are now emulating. An excellent example is Chagee (霸王茶姬) which has expanded its presence nationwide, emphasizing the Guochao trend and mid-range pricing. By 2023, Chagee had already exceeded 2,360 stores, underscoring the widespread influence of this trend. As a result, Sexy Tea has diversified its product range, introducing two subsidiary brands within the coffee and lime-and-lemon beverage sectors.

Positioned as the “new Chinese coffee & tea brand,” Yuan Yang Coffee (鸳央咖啡), offers a unique blend of coffee and tea, featuring various tea base options like black tea, Zhixiang green tea, and oolong tea. Each Yuan Yang Coffee beverage represents more than just coffee; it’s a “coffee tea drink.” This brand has already established more than fifty stores in 2023, and it aims to increase the total number of stores to 80 by the end of the same year.

Yuan yang coffee
Image source: Jiemian, Yuan Yang coffee incorporates traditional Chinese style

Launched in 2023, Good Morning (古德墨柠), labels itself as the “New Chinese lime tea.” Good Morning has opened five stores by the end of September 2023, primarily in Changsha. Positioned at a pricing range of RMB 15~23, it slightly exceeds the overall customer price of Sexy Tea, sparking some controversy over its pricing strategy.

What we can learn from the success of Sexy Tea

  • Sexy Tea is a tea brand originating in Changsha, Hunan Province, China, which primarily offers tea and desserts.
  • The new-style tea chain successfully rides the Guochao trend by incorporating elements of traditional Chinese style into its product packaging, store decoration, and the names of its tea drinks.
  • However, it was once the subject of controversy and criticism from Chinese netizens for sexualizing women by labelling them as ‘bargains’.
  • Nowadays, Sexy Tea has diversified its product range, introducing two subsidiary brands within the coffee and lime-and-lemon beverage sectors.