Could Ming Taizu Coffee be the Starbucks killer in China?

2014-08-27 — Good Characters (Leave a message)

The other day I was really bored so I posted a silly question on my Facebook page「你知道明太祖最喜歡喝的咖啡是那一種嗎?」 (Do you know what the first Ming Emperor’s favorite coffee was?)

The first emperor of the Ming Dynasty was born in 1328 and died in 1398. His temple name, Ming Taizu (明太祖), means “Great Ancestor of the Ming.”

My friend Angus played along: “Little Tiger Coffee? Mr. Brown Coffee? Beautiful wine and coffee?”

Another friend, Cathy, said, “Did the first Ming Emperor even drink coffee?”

Name 1: Ming Taizu

I said, “Confucius had coffee so how would Ming Taizu not drink have had it?”

Confucius was born 1800 years before the Ming emperor.

Angus then said, “Have you heard that Genghis Khan loved to eat at TGI Friday’s?”

I replied, “It’s well known that Genghis Khan liked to drink Pocari Sweat sports drink from Japan.”

I said that because Genghis Khan’s Chinese name is 成吉思汗 (chéng jí sī hán). 成 means accomplish or success. 吉 is lucky. 思 means think. And 汗 is sweat.

Name 2: Genghis Khan

Then I remembered a Chinese riddle: 「穆罕默德舉頭望明月」(Muhammad lifted his head and gazed at the bright moon.)

穆罕默德 (mù hǎn mò dé) is Mohammed. 舉頭望明月 (jǔ tóu wàng míng yuè) is the third line of a famous poem, A Quiet Night Thought, written by Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai (李白).

Here’s the poem:

靜夜思 — A Quiet Night Thought

床前明月光 — In front of my bed, there is bright moonlight.
疑是地上霜 — It appears to be frost on the ground.
舉頭望明月 — I lift my head and gaze at the bright moon,
低頭思故鄉 — I lower my head and think of my hometown.

The answer to the riddle is 阿拉斯加 (ā lā sī jiā), the Chinese name for the US state Alaska.


It’s because Allah is also transliterated as 阿拉 (ā lā). 斯加 (sī jiā) sounds exactly the same as another term, 思家 (sī jiā), meaning thinking about home or homesick. The name 阿拉斯加, Alaska, sounds identical to the term 阿拉思家, meaning Allah misses home.

So “Muhammad” is “Allah” and “lifted his head and gazed at the bright moon” is associated with “thinks of his hometown.”

Got it?

Never mind.

Then my sister was so creative! She said, “The Ming emperor likes the coffee he brewed the best. Because it's Ming Tai‘zu’ Coffee (明太煮咖啡).”

Name 3: Ming Tai“zu” Brews Coffee


As mentioned at the beginning, the name 明太祖 (míng tài zǔ) means “Great Ancestor of the Ming.” Breaking it down, 明 (míng) is Ming Dynasty; 太 (tài) is the highest or the most senior; and 祖 (zǔ) is the ancestor.

咖啡 (kā fēi) is the Chinese transliteration for coffee.

By changing one character in the emperor’s name, 祖 (zǔ), meaning ancestor, to another that sounds almost the same, 煮 (zhǔ), meaning cook or boil, you get a play on the word that forms the funny expression 明太煮咖啡, meaning “The Great Ancestor of the Ming brews coffee.”

To celebrate her creativity, I made up a logo.

All jokes aside, Ming Taizu Coffee could be a serious competitor of Starbucks in China. For any billionaire reading this blog, send me a message and let’s discuss ways to conquer China.

Ming Taizu’s real name was Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋). He is said to have been both a creative genius and a ruthless killer. I wrote the story of how he used moon cakes to send secret messages and eventually drove the Mongols out of China in “The Cakes That Saved China . . . and Launched a Dynasty.”

The Mid-Autumn Festival this year is September 8, 2014. I hope you’ll read the story, enjoy some moon cakes with fresh brewed coffee (or tea), and have a Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!

And don’t forget about your secret plan of conquering China.

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