China customers bring basins for 'free' Starbucks coffee? Photos revealed to be staged stunt

What do a medicinal pot, a metal basin and a bucket have in common?

They've all been used to hold a cup (or more) of coffee at Starbucks outlets across China. And not for free, unlike what social media sites might have you believe.

It started off as a simple experiment by a Chinese blogger, who goes by the pseudonym of Zha Bao. When he first found out Starbucks China is offering customers a 3 yuan (S$0.60) discount for bringing their own cups for the whole month of April, he and a group of friends took it upon themselves to find out if the discount applied regardless of container size.

They started with a small teapot, which the barista said would only hold half a tall iced latte. The other half was poured into a paper cup for them to take away.

A tall iced latte, split between a paper cup and a teapot.Photo: WeChat

Next came a vinegar bottle and a Chinese medicinal pot, much to the increased bafflement of the barista and Starbucks crew.

The vinegar bottle was painstakingly filled with a Venti iced lemon tea, while the Chinese medicinal pot was filled with three venti matcha frappucinos and was topped off with five cups worth of whipped cream, wrote the blogger.

A vinegar bottle, given a new lease of life with a venti-sized ice lemon tea.Photo: WeChat
This Chinese medicinal pot contains 3 venti-sized matcha frappucinos.Photo: WeChat

Then, Zha Bao brought out a metal basin, which he asked to be filled with latte. The barista and crew, now already familiar with the blogger's antics, had to figure out how many cups the metal basin could contain, and even managed to add latte art on top of it all.

Here comes the... metal basin.Photo: WeChat
The barista filling the basin with coffee.Photo: WeChat

Despite the challenging size, the staff still delivered - with eight venti lattes and 19 additional shots of espresso. And yes, he still had to pay. The beverage cost a whopping 327 yuan (S$66).

That is a lot of coffee.Photo: WeChat

But Zha Bao had one last trick up his sleeve. He handed an empty water dispenser container to the Starbucks staff, and asked that they fill the large tumbler to the brim with Americano coffee. It is unknown how many cups of Americano were used to fill the container, but one Grande cup… was hardly enough.

A whole new level of coffee consumption.Photo: WeChat
One grande-sized Americano... only fills this much of the container,Photo: WeChat

After seeing the antics of Zha Bao and his friends, more images began circulating on Chinese social media, supposedly of other customers who began bringing odd-shaped containers to Starbucks outlets in China. In the photos, customers holding bowls and pails can be seen.

Photo: Internet
Photo: Internet

Photos from the original stunt later went viral when certain websites alleged that free-loading customers had brought along the large-sized containers to store free coffee, as part of Starbucks' Earth Day giveaway on April 22.

However, China's state media Xinhua news agency warned that all was not as it seems. It reported that the free coffees were being given away to those who brought their own mugs, and were venti-sized (355ml), regardless of the size of the container. And apparently, no Starbucks staff members interviewed saw customers bringing in anything out of the ordinary that day.

pariel@sph.com.sg