The Wudaoying Hutong in Beijing, northeast of the centre near the 2nd Ring Road, is a hot bed of speciality coffee. Home to last week’s Coffee Spot, Metal Hands Coffee Co, as well a second branch, Metal Hands White Space, which is a few doors down to the west, if you head a few doors east, you’ll come to today’s Coffee Spot, Barista Speciality Coffee & Roasters. And if you thought that Metal Hands and White Space were small, then Barista Speciality Coffee is even smaller, by some considerable margin!
Despite this, it still manages to offer a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus four single-origin pour-overs, all roasted in-house. There’s also cold brew, plus a choice of croissant, bagel or fruit cheesecake. All of this is served in a long, thin space with just enough room for the counter on the left and a small corridor on the right!
Metal Hands Coffee Co is a small Beijing roaster/coffee shop chain which started in July 2016 with this, the original. When I visited, exactly a year ago in December 2017, following a tip-off that morning from the barista at Soloist Coffee, it had already expanded to four coffee shops, all in a small area in the Andingmen Residential District, centred on Wudaoying Hutong, a narrow old-fashioned alley which is home to Metal Hands.
There’s not much to Metal Hands, just a simple store front, with the counter on the right, and seating on the left, plus a small seating area in an annex at the back. However, that doesn’t stop Metal Hands offering a standard espresso-based menu using a house-blend and four single-origins, available either as cold brew or through the V60. The espresso by the way, is pulled on an old-school lever machine after which the shop/chain is named.
On my recent trip to China, I spent a few days exploring Beijing, taking the high-speed train from Shanghai, which I recounted in an earlier Travel Spot. In today’s instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, I recount my return journey from Beijing to Shanghai. Having gone up on the world’s fastest inter-city passenger service, I decided to do things a little differently on my return, instead taking the overnight sleeper. Although a little more expensive than the train up, when you consider it saved me a night in a hotel, it was still very cost-effective and far more efficient than flying!
Once again I’m indebted to the ever-useful The Man in Seat 61 for all my pre-trip research. There are four sleeper services from Beijing to Shanghai each night, once conventional service which leaves first at 7.31, and arrives some 15 hours later in Shanghai, and three high-speed services, which take 10 hours. One of these leaves at 7.34, while the other two leave at 9.16 and 9.23. I decided to catch the last of these, allowing myself a leisurely evening in Beijing after a day spent visiting coffee shops, and arriving at the civilised hour of 9.13 the following morning.
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!