When I first came to Shanghai in 2016, the first speciality coffee shop I visited was Sumerian Coffee where I enjoyed my first taste of Chinese-grown coffee, from Yunnan Province in the south of the country. What I didn’t realise at the time was that, not far from Sumerian Coffee, stands Lanna Coffee, which embodies the whole farm-to-cup principle that I first saw in Vietnam, where Oriberry Coffee is probably the best proponent. You see, Lanna Coffee doesn’t just serve Yunnan coffee, it grows, processes and roasts it in Yunnan. Coffee doesn’t get much more direct trade than this.
Lanna Coffee occupies a small spot at the end of a row of equally small coffee shops (and one barbers/coffee shop). The majority of the seating is outside, in a sheltered, semi-enclosed area, with the coffee shop proper at the back, behind glass double doors. In all, you might seat 14 people if everyone shuffles up.
Despite this small size, Lanna Coffee serves a decent, western-style breakfast/brunch menu, plus a small selection of cakes, to go with its coffee. There’s the Red Lantern blend on espresso and a range of single-origin/single-estate Yunnan coffees to buy or to enjoy as a pour-over.
Finding out about new coffee shops, particularly when bereft of my usual tools of twitter and Google Maps, can be tricky. Under these circumstances, I tend to fall back on Method #1: word of mouth, which is how I found out about today’s Coffee Spot, The Corner. Having tracked down Soloist Coffee Co., the barista there put me onto Metal Hands, while the barista in Metal Hands told me about The Corner. So it goes in Beijing, and China in general.
Pleasing located on a corner, The Corner is an interesting spot, all concrete floors and industrial, metal interiors, spread out over three floors, connected by a staircase at the back. It’s also the first coffee shop I know of that’s located within a car repair workshop!
The offering is based around a simple, espresso-based menu, although there are no flat whites or piccolos, rather it is lattes and cappuccinos. This is backed up with a large selection of single-origin coffees which are available on pour-over, which seems to conform to the standard in Beijing, where a (often darker-roasted) blend is offered on espresso, with single-origins on pour-over. There’s also a limited selection of very tempting cakes if you’re hungry.
Welcome to another Brian’s Travel Spot. In case you’ve not been paying attention, I’m in Shanghai, having flown out two weeks ago for a week of work, followed by a week of sightseeing and Coffee Spotting. Having visited Shanghai last year, I was keen to explore a little bit more of China and, buoyed by travels by train in both Japan and Vietnam earlier this year, I contemplated taking the train to Beijing.
A little bit of research on the ever-useful The Man in Seat 61 showed that the train was considerably cheaper than flying and a lot more convenient. Not only that, as long as I caught the right train, I would be travelling on the world’s second-fastest passenger rail service, which appealed to the geek in me, especially since I’d already travelled on the world’s fastest passenger rail service when I caught the Maglev train serving Shanghai Pudong airport.
After further research, I decided to catch a regular high-speed service from Shanghai to Beijing on Saturday, the day after my meeting ended, returning four days later by sleeper, leaving Beijing on Wednesday night, arriving in Shanghai on Thursday morning, giving me three days to explore before flying home.
Soloist Coffee Co. was my first experience of speciality coffee (or any sort of coffee, for that matter) in Beijing, unless you count the coffee I was making for myself in my hotel room. I’d tracked it down on the internet, picking it largely for its location, near Tiananmen Square where it would provide a useful break from the hard work of being a tourist.
Located on the narrow, straight and surprisingly low-rise Yangmeizhu Byway, the whole area around Soloist is worth a visit for its own sake, representing a slice of old Beijing, albeit one which is being rapidly gentrified by the likes of Soloist. The coffee shop itself occupies a two-storey building on the north side of the alley, catching the sun, which, during the winter at least, bathes the interior in a warm light. There’s plenty of seating both downstairs and in the delightful upstairs room, plus there’s a large balcony at the front overlooking the street.
The coffee’s all roasted in-house at Soloist’s other site, with an espresso blend and several single-origins available on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a western-influenced all-day brunch menu, although all-day is stretching it since Soloist doesn’t open until noon!
Finding today’s Coffee Spot, Little Bean, was a combination of good luck, guesswork and determination. I first came across Little Bean’s coffee at AUNN Café & Co. on my last trip to Shanghai in October 2016. Back then I was told that the roastery/coffee shop was in Pudong, so when I found myself back in Shanghai, staying/working in Pudong, I was determined to track Little Bean down.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, Little Bean occupies a unit in an outdoor mall on Jinyan Road, across the river from Century Square. Downstairs is a spacious coffee shop, complete with a dinky Probat roaster behind the counter, while upstairs there’s a training school and on-site bakery.
Turning to the coffee, Little Bean has a pair of single-origins on espresso (it also has two espresso machines, but I never worked out if the machines/origins were paired in any way) and another five on pour-over through the V60, plus you can buy the beans. As well as freshly-roasted coffee, you can have freshly-baked bread, with a wide variety to choose from, including croissants and various pastries. Finally, there’s a very tempting array of cakes/desserts to choose from if you want something sweet.
This, my final trip of the year, sees me heading back to Shanghai for work. It also involves flying both legs in business class for the first time. This is largely down to self-preservation: due to prior commitments, I was busy the preceding weekend, so I had to forgo my normal practice of flying out midweek the week before my meeting and giving myself three or four days to get over the jetlag. Instead I flew out on Sunday night, arrived on Monday afternoon and went into a four day meeting starting at nine o’clock on Tuesday morning. Therefore, sleeping on the flight became a necessity, which meant flying business class…
Most of the speciality coffee shops I visited in Shanghai in 2016 were very western in style/influence. In that respect, Rumors Coffee Roastery, in the old French Quarter, stood out from the crowd, drawing its inspiration from Japan, where it is reminiscent of the likes of Tokyo’s Café de L’Ambre.
Rumors roasts all its own coffee, serving a wide range of single-origin beans. If you’re looking for an espresso or flat white, however, you’ve come to the wrong place since Rumors only serves pour-over using Kalita-style ceramic filters. Pick your bean and the barista will make it there and then behind the counter.
Talking of which, Rumors has counter seating, another typical feature of a traditional Japanese coffee shop. It’s a fairly small place, so the seats are limited. Like many of the small places I visited in Shanghai, Rumors has no air conditioning, so it can get very hot and humid inside, despite the best efforts of the ceiling fan. If it’s too hot, you can sit outside, although it’s unlikely to be any less humid!
You can, of course, buy any of the beans to take home with you and, if you’re hungry, there’s a range of cakes.
AUNN Café & Co (an abbreviation of All U Need Now), which opened in early 2015, is a café, lifestyle store/design showroom and gallery space spread over three floors underneath a hotel on Shanghai’s busy West Nanjing Road. I was tipped off to its presence by Jennifer, a Shanghai resident who I met in And Coffee, and who gave me a long list of places to try.
AUNN café itself is the largest of the speciality coffee shops that I visited on my trip in 2016, spread across the ground floor of the building, the entire front given over to windows, complete with a coffee terrace outside on the busy road. When the weather’s warm but less humid than the October day I was there, the windows can be pulled back to create an open terrace.
The coffee comes from Little Bean in Pudong, with green beans sourced from Nordic Approach. There’s a standard, espresso-based menu, plus cold-brew and what AUNN calls “naked” coffee, filter to you and me. There are two single-origins available via the V60, as well as batch-brew if you’re in a hurry. There is also a small selection of western-style cakes and pastries if you’re hungry.
My first experience of speciality coffee in Hong Kong was at the Causeway Bay branch of roaster/coffee shop chain, 18 Grams. Two days later, I found myself in Times Square (opposite Café Corridor) and decided to pop into the 18 Grams there. Although “pop in” might be over-stating things since it took me almost an hour to find it!
18 Grams’ Times Square branch is inside the City Super super market, which itself is in the basement of Times Square. Occupying a simple, triangular stand, with seating along two sides of the counter, 18 Grams only serves coffee, plus the usual retail selection of beans and coffee-related kit. There’s a more limited offering than at Causeway Bay, but that’s to be expected, with just espresso (a house-blend), several single-origins on V60 and cold-brew. What surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere, making it the ideal place to linger over your coffee.
That I found the Café Corridor was down to a tip-off from Andrea Burton. Even then, I walked along the street four times before I found it! In Causeway Bay, in the heart of Hong Kong, it’s opposite the gleaming towers and soaring halls of Times Square, hidden in plain sight in the manner of Newcastle’s much-missed Flat Caps Coffee on Ridley Place. The only indication that it’s there is the sign above the entrance, which, fittingly, is a long corridor leading you to the café in a basement-like structure at the rear of the building, complete with outdoor seating in an enclosed courtyard at the back.
Café Corridor has been going since 2001, a forerunner of Hong Kong’s growing speciality coffee scene and, like many such coffee shops, it has a western-inspired menu/coffee. It’s part of small chain of five co-owned independent coffee shops, which includes N1 Coffee & Co. Roasting is provided by its parent (which I’ll call Barista Academy), although each coffee shop has its own beans. In the case of Café Corridor, this includes a house-blend and five seasonal single-origins which can be had as an espresso or filter through V60/Syphon/Aeropress. Iced versions are also available.