Friday, June 7, 2013
The Most Atmospheric Coffeeshops in Taipei
Ya Zhi Lin Coffee on Guiyang Street
A long while back I posted my rundown of the best coffee in Taipei. While it's not a comprehensive list, it's one borne of personal experiences. Those places are still all among my favorites, and I update it regularly.
That said, there are so many other great coffee drinking choices in Taipei that may not warrant making it onto the "best" list on the merits of their coffee, but still deserve a mention for their friendliness, atmosphere or both. From posh to studenty, from knickknacky and warm to cool and minimalist, from fashionable to so uncool it's cool, here's my list of the most atmospheric coffeeshops in Taipei. There is some overlap between these two lists - I think it's justified!
Caffe Libero (or failing that - it can be hard to get seats - any number of coffeeshops in that immediate area).
Jinhua Street Lane #243 #1 (金華街243巷1號), near Yongkang Street's Shi-da end
This one near Yongkang Street also makes my list of "great coffee" and "great desserts", so you know it's a winner. The atmosphere here includes a long porch with outdoor seating, eclectic vintage chairs (think Grandma's Victorian Good Red Velvet vintage, not meet-cute '50s vintage) and old milk glass lights.
Formosa Vintage Museum Cafe
Xinyi Rd. Sec 2 #178 3rd Floor (totally innocuous building)
Really just a few tables in a small space crammed with one guy's personal collection of fascinating Taiwanese antiques and vintage items - free tour with an order of tea or coffee. The only food is basic cookies, but it's worth it to just hang out here among all the old stuff with a cup of something. Great selection of vintage-style postcards for sale.
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 Lane 60 #1
A newer, artier place in Gongguan with odd fashion items hung below faux goat heads, low tables and an achingly hip staff. The food and coffee are good but not excellent, but it's a good place to meet someone for a non-alcoholic drink (although they can and do spike coffee and hot chocolate).
Nanjing W. Road Lane 25 #18-1 (along the park between Zhongshan and Shuanglian MRTstations)
Hipster-friendly cafe with warm, welcoming natural light above a boutique selling handmade-in-Taiwan items. Their best coffee is the India Mysore or the Taiwan coffee and the desserts are pretty good, too.
Old Tree Cafe
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 1 #60
Very old Taipei "institution" full of cranky old people - many of them Mainlanders - old wood furniture from the '60s and '70s, jet fuel coffee, right smack on an unappealing section of Xinsheng S. Road (somewhere in that stretch between Xinyi and Zhongxiao, I think past Ren'ai), but worth going to for the atmosphere once inside. This one's in the "vintage before it was cool" stage of hipster evolution.
Futai Street Mansion (actually tea more than coffee)
Yanping S. Road #26 near North Gate
A very small cafe serving basic drinks and light snacks (think cookies) in, you guessed it, the Futai Street Mansion (Yanping S. Road, just southwest of North Gate, or Beimen - one old-style manse in an area that used to be entirely made up of such architecture. It's been renovated by the government and open as a public space. The wood inside is all Taiwanese cypress, so it smells divine. You can wander the house and have tea, and I think coffee, in the gift shop.
Roosevelt Rd. Sec 3 #308-1 2nd Floor (entrance at the back, in the lanes)
A used bookshop in Gongguan, smack at the end of Xinsheng S. Road where it hits Roosevelt (entrance from the back, in the lanes on the other side of Roosevelt). Small coffeeshop among a sea of used books (English books upstairs). Yes, you can grab books to peruse and order a coffee or tea in the cafe as you decide what, if anything, to buy. Discounted or free drink if you donate books. The coffee isn't great, but it'll do, and I like the verbena herbal tea. I like the old square Chinese-style table.
Cat's Got Nothing To Do Cafe
Maokong - turn left after exiting the Gondola and walk past the first bit of development, until you reach the place with the white umbrellas and great view.
A small outdoor setup on Maokong with a fantastic view of the Taipei Basin towards Guanyin Mountain and Danshui. Look for the white umbrellas (from Maokong Gondola station, the best view is at the tables on the right side of the road).
It's easy enough to find. Exit gondola station, turn left, keep going past the first clutch of stalls until you get to a coffeeshop, not teahouse, like setup of white umbrella-topped tables.
Wenzhou Street Lane 86 intersection behind the Lutheran Church and across from Bastille, near Xinsheng S. Road, Gongguan
I mentioned this before under "best coffee", and am mentioning it again for its atmosphere! With decrepit mismatched chairs, upside-down flower pot pendant lamps, a floor that feels like it'll give out at any moment, a somewhat treacherous bathroom and an impressive collection of LPs (although they often just play music off of an iPod), the studenty vibe of this friendly place can't be beat.
Near the Chongqing/Huating/Tianshui intersections south of Nanjing W. Road
I love this 1970s throwback so much that I wrote an entirely separate blog post on it, even though they have no wifi, terrible jet fuel coffee and very mediocre snack sandwiches. It's in one of my favorite neighborhoods - southeast of Dihua Street, not far from the Chongqing-Tianshui intersection, and shows its age, and the age of the historic neighborhood around it. Really just a retro place, cool "before it was cool", in that it's totally not cool but I think it's cool, which makes me maybe a proto-hipster?
Yongle Market Coffee
Yongle Market, Dihua Street
Head to Yongle Market (that ugly thing that looks like a municipal monstrosity attached to the lovely old brick and wood-screen market on Dihua Street), where the ugly building hits the lovely building there's an outdoor coffeeshop with plastic seats, umbrella-topped tables, terribly saccharine 1950s music, mediocre coffee but pretty good choices of fresh fruit smoothies and milk blends. I like this place because it's smack in the middle of the action on Dihua Street and outside, so you can watch the comings and goings of people who spend time or do business there, and it's a good choice for a pleasant day when you don't want to be behind a pane of glass.
Xinsheng S. Road Sec. 3 #149-11
I also mentioned this one in my "best coffee" post, because it really does have some of the best coffee in Taipei (also, some of the most caffeinated). Situated in an old Japanese house, across the street from another one that's still a private residence, with an open coffee bar that you can sit at and watch your siphon brew be made, it's also got a lot of atmosphere.
Coffee, Tea or Me
Wenzhou (溫州）Street north of Lane 86 and just south of Xinhai Rd.
This spot, across from La Boheme (which used to be great, but their food went downhill and they no longer have a cat) in an area rife with coffeeshops, has a scruffy, studenty vibe with an open-ish, woody seating area, mismatched lamps, an old-skool espresso machine, good wifi, artsy posters and postcards and a very grumpy cat who likes to sleep on that espresso machine.
Red House (Ximen, not the outdoor balcony bar I like in Shi-da - that's cool too, but they don't really do much in the way of coffee)
MRT Ximen, Chengdu Road #10
The famous Red House Theater, with great coffeeshop inside
Everyone knows this historic site near Ximen (MRT Exit 1), but not everyone realizes there's a lovely coffeeshop cafe inside. When I first moved here it was where the gift shop is now, with colorful chairs, the same CD played every day and very good focaccia sandwiches - and the market behind it was unused space. Then it became Cho West, which was classier but less welcoming. Now it's something similar (may still be Cho West actually) but has a more comfortable feel, with vintage tables, crochet throws and knickknacks. When in Ximen and not at Fong-da (which has great coffee, a cheap breakfast and good beans for home brewing) I like to come here to enjoy the atmosphere before shopping in the relatively new market area for entrepreneurial artists and designers.
#42 Chengdu Road, Taipei (just up the street from Red House)
It would be blasphemy not to mention this old Taipei institution with its old school formica tables, huge plastic tubs of snacks, sundaes and delicious coffee (including a very good Taiwanese coffee) - it's modern and popular but with a fun retro kick. Also a great place to buy whole bean coffee, and they sell coffee cups and saucers with their name and logo. I have one!
Fuxing S. Road Sec 2 #349
This is a more minimal, eggshell-paint-and-blonde wood coffeeshop with a friendly, talkative cat just north of NTU on Fuxing S. Road. The music is usually pretty palatable, they seem to be somewhat into photography, the food is not bad - it won't change your life but it's pretty solid as food goes - and their Bailey's latte (not to mention their Cointreau latte) are both fantastic, as is their matcha milk (think like a milky matcha tea). I like the big blonde wood tables, excellent, if you can grab a whole one, for anything involving a group - and also fine to just grab a corner if you're a pair or on your own. There isn't a lot of seating but the place feels spacious thanks to the light colors and pretty minimal design.
Fuxing S. Road Sec. 2 #333
Some of the best espresso in Taipei is brewed here - try the Irish coffee, the iced cognac coffee with ice cream, the iced banana mocha espresso, and for something lighter, the honey cinnamon latte. A total contrast to Mono's sense of space and light, this place is tiny, dark, with soft chairs and tons of knickknacks and arty bits&bobs - and they are practically right next door to each other! Good people-watching from the waiting-or-smoking seats outside. Hard to get seats - often crowded. Great place to hole up on a cold, dreary day.
Lin Family Garden Cafe
Ximen Street #9, Banqiao, New Taipei City (MRT Banqiao or Fuzhong)
This almost obligatory cafe in the Lin Family Garden in Banqiao feels like it was placed here by government decree, but you really can't beat it for outdoor style. You can dip a coffee or tea and enjoy the very (very) historic Qing-era surroundings in the cobbled courtyard. It was closed the last time we happened by, but had plans to reopen and should be in full swing now.
Little Chiu (Xiaoqiu)Cafe, Zhuzihu, Yangmingshan
Sadly, I can't find an address for this place (but I can ask a friend and update later) - it's a lovely, not too twee coffeeshop on a hillside near Yangmingzhan's Bamboo Lake (the one where you can pick calla lilies). It's near, not on, the lake, but the view from the coffeeshop and lawn on a clear day is astounding and lovely. Pretty good sweets, coffee and tea, too.
Yazhilin Coffee （雅之林研磨咖啡)
Guiyang Street Sec 2 #133
You want atmosphere? This place in an old wreck of a shophouse, with lots of local color, is the place to go. With local residents stopping by to drink and talk with their tiny dogs, a market-like area and Qingshui Temple nearby, this Wanhua Guiyang Street stop is one of my hidden-gem favorites. Shhh, don't tell anyone. What I love about Wanhua, Dalongdong and Dadaocheng is running into cool places like this...they're everywhere, but you have to walk by them by chance to find them, you can't usually look 'em up.
I wanted to add Zabu on Pucheng Street to the list, but sadly, they are closed. I blame the reactionary assholes in the Shi-da community (and who must have a lot of guanxi in the government) who got all the best places (except Red House) shut down. Fuck those guys, and fuck Hau Lung-bin, their idiot playtoy who went along with it.
Update: Zabu is back! You can find them at the tippy-top of Tianmu. Go all the way to the end of Zhongshan Road where it terminates in a traffic circle (somewhere above that, past very expensive luxury apartments, is the down-mountain entrance to Tianmu Old Trail) - heading uphill towards the circle, Zabu is on the left just as the road terminates and the circle begins.
#175, Zhongshan N. Road Section 7, Shilin District, Taipei, Taiwan
I also recommend:
Cafe Classic/Flying Cafe/品客經典咖啡
台北市大安區雲和街48之1 - Da'an District, Yunhe St. #48-1 (off Shi-da Road)
This place is not actually all that atmospheric, and they have neither good wifi nor good 3G service, but there are three adorable cats and all of them are basically friendly (one doesn't like to be picked up though). There's a fat grayish-white longhair, a puffy black longhair and a shorthaired folded-ear cat. The coffee's not bad either. But really I'm just a sucker for cats. A great place to study because you won't be distracted by anything on wifi or 3G!
Anhe 65 - a big comfortable space at Anhe Road Sec. 1 #65 (安和路1段65號) in the basement - great for days with bad weather - with two cats - one friendlier than the other, good coffee, excellent sandwiches and a little shop. Sometimes booked for events.
Da'an District, Wenzhou St. #50 (closer to Shi-da and Heping Road than Gongguan)
I can't find a website for this place, but the atmosphere - very European (or at least trying to be, and succeeding more than most places) with polished wood floors and furniture (including tables with delicate chairs that might make you feel like a bit of a hulking mass), a grand piano, one well-placed statement vase full of cut flowers, a long, shining wooden coffee bar and friendly, uniformed staff will make you feel more comfortable than you might at first think when you walk in.
Yongkang Street Lane 41 #26
Comfy, hipsterish place with pretty good sandwiches and coffee. They have lots of big tables and some cushioned seating,
too. Although there is lots of space, you may have to wait at busy times (on weekends, mostly) because its proximity to
the main drag of Yongkang Street make it very popular. There are 2 cats - a big yellow one who hides a lot and a little gray
one who likes to sleep in a specific chair and doesn't mind being petted. Good wifi, good service,
Dihua Street #76 (迪化街76號)
Fleisch has food too, but you can definitely go there and just enjoy a cup of coffee. In a converted shophouse (which doesn't have that much of a historic feel from the inside, although interesting Taiwanese souvenirs - the handmade artsy kind, not the fake Chinese kind - are on sale on the lower level, with more seating upstairs), they're right on Dihua Street near the Xiahai temple, and serve good lattes in large bowls rather than mugs.
Film Studio Cafe
Xinsheng S. Road Section 3 Lane 70 #6
A good option in Gongguan - where all the best cafes have gone ever since those crusty old reactionary jerks ruined Shi-da, with big wooden tables that can seat a group. Bring your Macbook to look like one of the in-crowd, and if you're a large group I believe you can make a reservation.
Heping E. Road Sec. 3 Lane 67 #8 / 和平東路三段67巷8號 between MRT Liuzhangli and Technology Building
A8 Cafe's dark, chic space
This large, brick-walled, wooden-tabled coffeeshop with square windowpanes is run by Bunun aborigines and has basic coffee, alcoholic drinks, juices, meals (which smell pretty good), desserts (not bad) and large tables as well as sofas and cushioned chairs for groups. It's rarely totally full and has a cool aborigine/art/industrial/retro chic vibe that I like. A latte and a dessert (all desserts come with a free little pannacotta with fruit topping along with whatever you ordered) will run about NT300.
Heping E. Road Section 2 #134 on the edge of the National Taipei University of Education campus, MRT Technology Building
This place has floor-to-ceiling windows with a modern-shabby-chic look to it - a small dessert selection and weathered-wood tables of various sizes (some low with soft chairs, some regular cafe tables, some large tables and bartops for groups). I love the thick tables and kind of want one for my house. The "academic coffee" (no idea why it's called that) comes in the coolest two-layered clear glass cup ever.
Covent Garden Coffee
#8 Lane 18 Nanjing West Road - 南京西路18巷8號 - along the lanes bordering the old railroad park that runs along the red line MRT from Chang'an Road up to Minquan W. Road, south of Zhongshan Station (between Nanjing and Chang'an Roads)
This place looks like it was featured in a "Country Decorating - Back In Style!" photo spread in Better Homes & Gardens in 1976 or so. It's '70s retro meets "country" - think lots of dark wood, pumpkins and needlepoint and dried herbs and handmade wooden clothespin dolls and your mom's kitchen chairs.
And I love it for that! It's nothing like you'd imagine Covent Garden to be, but it hits that '70s vibe so well.
Coffee is pretty good, the desserts are "eh".
The Confucius Temple, Hami Street
It's really just a coffeeshop in a temple, and not particularly special on the inside, but it's in the Confucius temple! And the last time I was there (a long time ago; they've since renovated), they had cute napkins with a cartoon Confucius on them that said "Confucius Coffee".
Temple Court Coffee (廟口咖啡）
Yongji Street Lane 517 Alley 8 #12-3 (or, from Houshanpi MRT walking along Zhongpo Rd. to Wufenpu, walk past most of Wufenpu to Zhongpo North Road #50 or so...it's basically right at that temple).
South of Songshan Station you'll run into Wufenpu Fashion Market, bordered on one side by Zhongpo Road, which runs into MRT Houshanpi station, Along that road near Wufenpu is a small temple. In that temple, facing the road, is a small coffeeshop right between carved stone columns. LOVE IT.