Sumerian Coffee

A lovely cappuccino in a handleless cup from Sumerian Coffee in Shanghai.My first taste of speciality coffee in Shanghai came from a chance discovery on twitter/Google maps when trying to find a coffee shop that someone in Hong Kong had recommended to me. I’ll say this for the Shanghai coffee scene: there are lots of great places out there, but they take some finding. I was very reliant on people that I met helping me out with directions and suggestions.

Sumerian Coffee is a roaster and coffee shop, which also specialises in bagels. Like most of the roaster/coffee shops I came across, Sumerian does its roasting in an off-site facility. The coffee shop itself is a fairly spacious, bustling spot, kitted out almost entirely in wood. While it wouldn’t have looked out of place in London, there was something of the local character about it.

Turning to the coffee, Sumerian has a house-blend on espresso, a very impressive-looking La Marzocco Strada taking pride of place on the counter. There are five single-origins, including a decaf, available as pour-over, plus cold-brew and various coffee-over-ice options. For food, there are the aforementioned bagels, plus a range of (western) cakes and homemade cookies. You can also buy any of the beans in 200g bags.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

Sumerian Coffee is a well-established player in Shanghai’s speciality coffee scene, having opened in early 2012. It’s on the busy Shaanxi North Road, just north of the major east-west arterial route, Beijing West Road. On a street lined with cafes, bars and restaurants (plus a pop-up ice cream bar), it stands out from the crowd, particularly during the evenings, when the light spills out onto the pavement.

It has a simple, rectangular layout, with the door in the centre, and half-height windows to either side. The bottom part of the windows fold up, opening the window-seats to the street outside, although there is a lot of traffic noise, plus, of course, the heat and humidity. Alternatively, you can go the whole hog and sit outside, where the projecting window-sills make for a useful table/bar.

Inside, the counter is at back, with the seating on either side. The right, there’s a small table in the window and a five-person bar along right-hand wall, which extends around to the counter, where a couple of stools let you perch and watch the pour-over being made. There are also two two-person tables in the space between the counter and window.

On the right, there are two more two-person tables in the windows, with a smaller, three-person bar against the left-hand wall. Between the counter and window stand two rows of three two-person tables with chairs on one side, stools on the other.

The counter has an interesting design, with what’s best described as a kink in the middle. The Strada is placed here, so that it sits at an angle of about 30⁰ to the room. To the right is the brew-bar, while to the left comes the till and cake selection.

Sumerian is beautifully decked out in wood, including a gorgeous herringbone-tiled floor, again in wood. Illumination comes from some very on-trend bare light bulbs which hang from the exposed rafters. Sumerian’s main drawback is that it can be very noisy: it seems to be a very echo-filled room and, when it’s busy, the chatter, combined with the music and the traffic noise from outside, can be overwhelming.

I started my Shanghai speciality coffee journey with a smooth, creamy cappuccino in a rather delightful handleless cup. The coffee, the house-blend, was a mix of three beans, while the milk was excellently steamed, holding its pattern right to the bottom. However, as pleasant as my cappuccino was, I couldn’t really taste any particular notes of the coffee, which left me wanting more. Fortunately, Sumerian has a choice of five single-origins available as pour-over. Unfortunately, a couple had run out; the roasters were away on a trip to origin in Kenya and would be back roasting the following day.

However, the one that had caught my eye was still in stock. This was a Chinese coffee from the Yunnan province and Anna, my barista, said that this was the first year that Sumerian had bought it. It turned out to be quite a dark roast, but not over-roasted, giving it a strong smell. To be honest, I was a bit sceptical, but the resulting cup was actually very mellow and drinkable. To accompany it, I was given one of Sumerian’s home-made chocolate and nut cookies. This was also very good, chewy and not too sweet.

Update: I was so impressed with the Yunnan coffee that I bought a couple of bags to take with me. I started on the first of these at my friends’ house in Chicago this morning and am pleased to report that it makes excellent coffee in my Travel Press! I’m looking forward to drinking more of this as the week goes on.

For more on Chinese/Yunnan Province coffee, see Lanna Coffee, a Shanghai coffee shop which offers a farm-to-cup experience, growing, roasting and serving Yunnan coffee.

Finally, I’m indebted to my barista who told me about a number of other speciality coffee shops in the area, including Manner Coffee and Seesaw 433.

415 SHAANXI NORTH ROAD • JINGAN QU • SHANGHAI • CHINA 200041 +86 135 6475 5689
Monday 07:30 – 18:00 Roaster Sumerian (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:30 – 19:30 Seating Tables, Bar
Wednesday 07:30 – 19:30 Food Bagels, Cake
Thursday 07:30 – 19:30 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:30 – 19:30 Payment Cards, Cash, QR Code
Saturday 07:30 – 19:30 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 07:30 – 19:30 Power Limited
Chain No Visits 30th September 2016
7th December 2017
5th March 2019

For a different view of Sumerian Coffee, try local blogger, Sugared & Spiced.

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