First: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE BEST FATHER IN THE WORLD, MY DAD!!!!!!!!!!!!
And now for something completely different…
Before I arrived to Taiwan I often imagined myself sipping high-quality oolong tea in various small tea houses, enjoying some green tea on the way to school, pao-chaing some jasmine tea in my room. Finally, I thought, I would kick my college-created-caffeine-concentrated coffee addiction and move on to healthier things in life.
Flash forward ten months later and I STILL find myself drinking cafe lattes all too frequently. It’s no secret, starting from the beginning of the past decade Taipei has gone coffee crazy and is developing an industry poised to dominate the national beverage market. From imported brands, such as the ubiquitous Starbucks, Illy Coffee, Barista Coffee, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc. to home-grown phenoms like 85 Degrees, Dante, and Ikari; then the mom-and-pop shops like Fong Da (which has their own roasts); as well as every convenient store: 7-11, OK Mart, Family Mart, and so on; a cup of caffeine is never farther than a two minute walk.
The strange this is, there is no similar sort of convenience factor for tea drinking. This is most evident in that convenient stores do not have tea on the drink menu (they do have tea lattes, but that’s not quite the same…especially when you’re looking for something less calorie laden). This I understand to an extent–for the Taiwanese, tea is meant to be enjoyed in the company of friends or companions, slowly, unhurriedly, and appreciated for it’s body and flavor. Selling hot tea in a quickie-to-go cup for your morning commute doesn’t quite have the same effect. The tea shops that do exist in Taipei (that do not also sell coffee or that are marketed primarily as a tea shop) are more conducive to a few patrons at a time, often to sip tea with the owner and chat the day away. Ambiance is generally lacking (often the shop is the front of someone’s home) and if you are a newbie to the tea scene and don’t speak much Chinese, these places may be a little daunting to navigate.
Finally, a cup of tea is *expensive* and I am not entirely certain as to why, especially since tea here is home-grown and coffee beans are imported (generally). Perhaps people place a higher value on tea than coffee here?
Of course, I do feel very fortunate to attend a school that happens to be on the base of Taipei’s main tea-producing mountain. So, if I really have a hankering for some freshly brewed tea, I can hop the Brown 15 bus and in around twenty minutes be in one of Maokong’s many tea houses. Obviously, though, this is difficult to do on a daily basis and Maokong is designed more as tourist destination– for local residents and foreign guests alike– simply for an occasional visit because it is hard to access.
Last semester I did a short research project on coffee in Taiwan with my former roommate (hi Virginia!!):
It was a good excuse to visit a lot of coffeeshops in Taipei.
And finally I will list and detail some of my favorite (and not so favorite) locations for a comfortable cup…
This little gem is situated nearby ShiDa night market. Unlimited wireless internet access is available for $20NT, electric outlets available. Best bagel sandwich (and vegetarian) I have yet encountered outside the US. They have a wide variety of coffees, teas and juices, as well as beer and liquor. My only gripe is that the chairs are somewhat uncomfortable, but the windows are large and there is always plenty of sunlight. The bathroom is also super-cute!Yung-Kang Street, Lane 33, No. 23 (02) 27411170
The Wooden Drawer Cafe
A friend recently introduced me to this place and I’ve already been back twice. They make the most awesome green tea latte I’ve ever tasted! Wireless internet is free. Also a full selection of coffee, tea, beer, and liquor. The furniture is quite comfortable here and there is even a small covered outdoor seating area. There is also a large bookshelf full of books and magazines. I like the music.台北市安和路一段141巷15號 02-27000588
Stumbled upon this one with a group of friends after wandering around ShiDa for a long time. The decor is very…well, Anne of Green Gables haha. Countryside-sheik. Wireless internet is free. Very bright and cheery. They offer an assortment of coffees and teas, as well as a full pasta and dessert menu. The chairs here also aren’t too comfortable, but there are some couches in the back. Also has a comfortable covered outdoor seating area on a rare patch of very green lawn.413-2, XinYi Road, Sec. 4 (02) 2729-8239
A little hole-in-the-wall also located just outside the main Shida night market area. There are many tables, couches, and a bar all squished into this tiny establishment, but it’s very comfortable. Wireless internet is free. Coffees, teas, juices, beers, wines, liquors, liquors in the coffee (or is the other way around 😉 ?). My one complaint: the air con was up much too high. After about twenty minutes I was freezing and my capuccino was already cold. They also offer a good assortment of snacks, as well as a huge collection of books, magazines, and manga.台北市泰順街60巷20號 20 Lane60,Taishun St.,Taipei City,Taiwan 2:00 pm-4:00am (02)23677714
Fong Da is one of the oldest cafes in Taiwan. Established in 1956, it’s been brewing its own roasts for foreigners and locals alike in Ximending. This place is definitely old-fashioned and even still uses an old siphon pot to brew the coffee. It smells amazing! Fong Da also serves tea and some small pastries. A recommended respite after shopping in Ximending with friends. Not a place you want to bring a laptop and work, however.42 Chengtu Rd., Taipei 臺北市成都路42號
This place has free wireless internet and makes a decent latte, but I wouldn’t really recommend it beyond that. The cafe is very dark and the furniture isn’t too comfortable. Located in the ShiDa night market area.
Couldn’t find the address, sorry.
Espressament Illy Cafe near NTU
Was not a fan of this cafe. A group of friends and I went here after a great dinner at Sababa Pita. The place was mostly empty and there plenty of seats to choose from. Coffee, tea and bar selections. It is very dark inside and there aren’t many options for snacks. The time we went, I did not want to order anything, but the waitress insisted I had to in order to stay there–even though there were seven other girls who all ordered food and drink. This is an odd and rather ridiculous rule in many eateries in Taipei. Thankfully, we managed to talk her out of it…but honestly???
The most successful cafe chain in the country–and it sure is pure-blooded Taiwanese. Full selection of coffee and espresso. Limited tea selection. The chain really capitalized on it’s “grab-and-go” set up, fashioned very much similar to the bubble tea shops you find here, however most 85 Degrees shops also have small sitting areas. I’ve heard mixed reviews on their baked goods, but I never miss a chance to eat with my eyes each time I pass by the shop across the street from where I live. 85 Degrees is also known for their “salt coffee”. Basically, it’s a latte with sea salt mixed into the foam. One word: YUCK! But the Taiwanese apparently love it; it has been 85 Degrees’ best seller here since it was introduced about a year and a half ago. 85 Degrees Cafes can today be found all over the world, including China, the US and Australia.
The bane of my existence. And the one place I can always go to and feel like I just stepped right back into the US. Prices are just the same and they make you pay for internet through Taipei’s WiFly service. I go here all too often–especially so when it is part of 7-11’s sticker book promotion and I can go with friends and get any drink buy-one-get-one-free. I do really like their black sesame green tea latte…that is one thing I cannot find back home!Too many locations in Taipei
Taiwan’s version of Starbucks at half the price, though Dante also makes you pay for wireless access through the HiNet service (disclaimer: I can sometime access a free wireless network at the Dante Coffee nearest to my apartment, but it’s a little shoddy). They also serve full “American” breakfasts and other set meals.
Anywhere a person exists in Taipei
I went to the Barista Coffee in the Taipei 101 Mall once while waiting for a friend. I was *so* excited to see chai latte on the menu, so I immediately ordered one. Big mistake. Obviously it was from a powdered mix and I ended up with a horrible stomach ache…and…well…I won’t go into it…So, I can’t judge their other offerings, but I would advise to stay away from the chai latte. Ambiance is standard large-coffeehouse-chain design.