Coffee can be “serious”: a study of Chinese specialty coffee enthusiasts

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Li, Qian (Chinny)
Specialty coffee and the specialty coffee industry is not yet well-known by most people in China. Few studies have focused on specialty coffee enthusiasts and their leisure demands, motivations, and satisfaction with leisure participation. In addition, the eating and drinking activity was classified as casual leisure by Stebbins (2007), because it only can bring a fleeting and short lived sensory stimulation to its participants and requires little effort or knowledge. However, compared to other types of coffee products, participation in specialty coffee involves considerable knowledge, lasting practice, and a sense of aesthetics. The purpose of this exploratory study was to discover whether specialty coffee participation is a kind of serious leisure or causal leisure. Also, gaining a better understanding of specialty coffee enthusiasts‘ leisure motivation, satisfaction, and the constraints they may encounter during their participation was another goal of this research. Using a deductive approach, I conducted semi-structured interviews with twelve Chinese specialty coffee enthusiasts (six male and six female). Serious leisure theory (SL), self-determination theory (SDT), and leisure constraints theory (LST) guided the framework of this research.The finding of this study revealed that the core activity of specialty coffee participation met the six characteristics of the serious leisure framework (SLF): (a) Perseverance, (b) Career, (c) Personal effort, (d) Durable benefits, (e) Identity, (f) Unique ethos, which should be considered as serious leisure. In addition, sensory preference and curiosity and exploration were identified as intrinsic factors that motivated the participation; emotional connection, self-gratification, and social attraction were three main extrinsic motivations for the participants. Participants encountered three main types of constraints: intrapersonal constraints (i.e., negative psychological states, preconceived value, and a lack of confidence), interpersonal constraints (i.e., the conflict with social responsibility, a lack of companion, and organizational constraints) and structural constraints (i.e., financial constraint and a lack of knowledge, skills, or competence) during their specialty coffee participation. The findings of this study provide a new practical direction of serious leisure research and expand the theoretical evidence to support that the eating and drinking activity could also be considered as serious leisure. Meanwhile, the Chinese coffee industry, related organizations and coffee companies‘ management may develop measures to help these enthusiasts according to the results of this research. Finally, this study examined an originally Western leisure activities (i.e., specialty coffee) fit with three Western frameworks (i.e., SL, SDT, and LCT) in Chinese cultural context.
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