Seesaw’s one of Shanghai’s speciality coffee pioneers. The coffee shop/roaster started in 2012, and now has 12 branches in Shanghai, three in Shenzhen, two in Suzhou and one in Beijing. My first introduction to Seesaw was at the flagship Seesaw 433, but sadly this has recently closed, the landlord requiring the building back. Therefore, when wandering Pudong’s IFC Mall in search of the Metro Station, I immediately changed my plans on seeing Seesaw on a list of shops.
Tucked away at the far end of the mall, next to the cinema, Seesaw occupies an open, triangular space. The back wall forms one side, while the two-part counter, along with a square pillar in the corner, forms the remaining two sides. There’s limited seating, with tables along the back wall and stools along the counter, but despite its modest size, you get the full Seesaw treatment, including proper cups for sit-in customers (something Shanghai’s other chains could learn from) and a full range of coffee, with the Giraffe blend on espresso, where it’s joined by a single-origin, another seven available on pour-over through the V60. There’s also a retail selection, small breakfast, lunch and afternoon menus, plus a generous cake selection.
I set off one murky Sunday evening in Shanghai with the aim of catching a basketball match, but armed with the knowledge that along the way there was a branch of my favourite Shanghai roaster, Little Bean. Located in the lobby of the Century Link Tower 2, it was right above my destination, the Century Link metro station. Sadly, Little Bean appears to be closed at weekends, but while I was looking for Tower 2, I wandered past Tower 1, where, glancing through the window, I saw Mellower Coffee in the lobby.
Mellower Coffee is a local coffee shop/roaster chain, with multiple branches around Shanghai. In this case, there’s a simple counter tucked away in a corner of the lobby, with nine two-person tables providing seating in the lobby itself. The choice of coffee is impressive for somewhere so small, with two blends on espresso and nine single-origins on pour-over through the Chemex, plus various signature drinks and a small selection of pastries. Unsurprisingly, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own.
I first became aware of Little Bean on my first trip to Shanghai in October 2016, when I tried its coffee at AUNN Café & Co. On my return in December 2017, Little Bean’s flagship, Little Bean Roastery, was one of that trip’s highlights. These days, there are five Little Beans, but back then, there were just two, the second being the Little Bean Coffee Museum, located in the basement of the K11 Mall, right in the heart of downtown Shanghai.
I managed to visit in 2017, but didn’t get a chance to write it up, so on my return in 2019, I made a point of visiting, even though modern shopping malls are very low on my list of places I want to spend any time in. However, the lure of Little Bean, tucked away in the basement, was too much to resist (and the good news is that you can get there straight from the Metro, so you can bypass K11 altogether).
What you get is the usual Little Bean offering of a Brazilian single-origin on espresso, plus another Brazilian single-origin on pour-over through the V60, where it’s joined by a selection of single-origins sourced from Nordic Approach.
Like yesterday’s Coffee Spot, BLUEKING Coffee, Chez Black Coffee was a chance discovery, something seen through a window once again drawing me in. I was wandering the leafy streets of the old French Concession, perhaps my favourite Shanghai district, when the awning, with its single word, “Coffee”, caught my eye. I crossed the road, more in hope than expectation, but then, glancing in the window, I saw the most amazing-looking espresso machine behind the counter. A modular design, akin to the Modbar and Mavam systems, this looked like it had been designed by a Steampunk enthusiast, who’d crossed it with a lever machine, the result all angular lines and brass cylinders. Naturally, I had to go in.
The espresso machine aside, Chez Black is a lovely spot, a cross between a coffee shop and a library. There’s plenty of seating options, each one cosy in its own particular way. You can sit at outside, at the counter, chatting with the baristas or at the back with the books, where there’s a delightful mezzanine. The coffee is from Shanghai’s Yûn Coffee Roasters, with a single-origin on espresso and two more on pour-over, backed up by a small but delightful cake selection.
BLUEKING Coffee was a chance discovery while hunting down Manner Coffee on the same road on my first visit to Shanghai in 2016. It’s part of a cluster of coffee shops, including Lanna Coffee to the southwest, Sumerian Coffee to the north and, on the same east-west stretch, both branches of Manner Coffee. It also has the distinction, along with Sumerian, of being the only Shanghai coffee shop that I’ve visited on all three of my Shanghai trips.
When I first discovered BLUEKING, it had only been open for six months and, despite its small size, was roasting all its own coffee in the front of the shop. By my return a year later, it had a second shop (just past Manner Coffee on Fengxian Road) and a dedicated roastery, the original branch now forming a cute coffee bar, serving espresso and pour-over, plus a small selection of cakes.
My first experiences of % Arabica were in department stores/malls, initially in % Arabica’s hometown of Kyoto in 2017, where I visited its Fujii Daimaru Department Store branch, then last week in Shanghai, in the newly-opened Xintiandi Plaza branch. In both cases, it was disposable cups only: disappointing, given that both catered to sit-in customers, but forgivable, given the location/style of service. I was therefore looking forward to visiting % Arabica’s combined Shanghai roastery and coffee shop, in a prime location just off the Bund.
I have a rule on the Coffee Spot never to write negative/critical pieces. Today, I’m partially suspending that rule. Never have such high expectations been met with such bitter disappointment. Don’t get me wrong: the coffee was excellent, while the setting has so much potential. However, counter-service and disposable cups just don’t cut it for me, not when you could do so much more.
Talking of the coffee, there’s a house-blend and single-origin on espresso, plus a selection of single-origins available as pour-overs through the Chemex and that’s pretty much it. You can, of course, buy the beans, while there’s a limited range of merchandising on sale, but don’t forget to bring your own cup.
When I first visited, at the end of April 2014, Edinburgh’s Fortitude was the new kid on the block, having been open for all of four weeks. When I returned, at the end of last year, it had been going a bit long than that, but at first glance, not much had changed, particularly not when viewed from the street. Even when you go inside, the layout and décor is much the same, a small, high-ceilinged space, single window at the front, counter at the back, with the espresso machine tucked away around the corner.
However, look more closely and you’ll start to see the differences. The shelves on the right-hand wall, once lined with retail bags from the likes of London’s Workshop and Glasgow’s Dear Green Coffee, the bags now say “Fortitude”. That’s right, Fortitude started roasting. In 2017… That’s what I get for not visiting Edinburgh for over three years…
UNDEF/NE is inside an art gallery (Brownie) in a complex full of coffee shops, art galleries and coffee shops inside art galleries (Shanghai Art District M50). It was one of many recommendations I received from Joyce of Beijing’s The Corner when I visited in 2017. It had the additional merit of being close to my hotel, itself chosen for its proximity to Shanghai Railway Station, the terminus of the sleeper service from Beijing. This was one of the hotels I stayed in on my return to Shanghai in 2019, so naturally I made several visits to UNDEF/NE over those two trips.
UNDEF/NE occupies part of the ground floor of what was an old factory building. It’s a series of multiple, interconnected spaces, including two mezzanine levels, which is part café, part gallery, the distinction between the two sometimes blurred. There’s a standard espresso-based menu, including flat whites, with each drink available hot or over ice, all made using a house-blend. There’s also a range of flavoured lattes, plus a small selection of tea. Alternatively, several single-origins are available as pour-overs through the V60. If you’re hungry, UNDEF/NE has a selection of panini and filled bagels, plus a range of cakes.
Not that long after the Coffee Spot began, a speciality coffee shop, The Wren, opened inside an old church in the heart of the City of London. I was (and am) extremely fond of it and therefore am rather annoyed with myself that I’ve overlooked another coffee shop in a church, Host Café, which predates The Wren.
That I discovered it was purely by chance. Looking for the newly-opened Rosslyn Coffee last summer, I stumbled across the church, St Mary Aldermary, home to Host Café and just around the corner from Rosslyn. I vowed to return, but such has been my hectic travel schedule that I wasn’t able to keep my promise until just before Christmas.
Whereas the Wren feels like a church given over to a coffee shop, Host Café feels like a coffee shop in the back of the church. It makes for a magnificent setting, putting the church right in the heart of the community. When it comes to the coffee, there’s a blend plus decaf from Mission Coffee Works (another unsung hero of London’s speciality coffee scene), served from a standard espresso menu, along with an Aeropress option, plus sandwiches, soup and a selection of cakes.
In keeping with the best Edinburgh coffee shop traditions, you’ll find Cairngorm Coffee in a basement, occupying a pair of joined spaces under a row of houses on the steeply-sloping Frederick Street. This is one of two branches, the other, on Melville Place, having opened in April 2015. This, however, is the original Cairngorm Coffee, having first opened its doors in March 2014, which means that it celebrates its fifth birthday this month.
Cairngorm Coffee started life as a multi-roaster, showing-casing coffee from across Europe. However, in April 2018, Cairngorm started roasting its own coffee. For now, the roastery is based in the family-owned café in Kingussie, just off the A9 in the heart of the Cairngorm mountains, but there are plans to move it to Edinburgh.
The coffee operation at Frederick Street is fairly simple, with a single-origin on espresso and another on batch-brew, although you’ll find a wider range at Melville Place. The coffee options change on a monthly basis and are served from a concise drinks menu, where they’re joined by an equally concise tea selection. If you’re hungry, there’s a short breakfast/lunch menu, heavily biased towards sandwiches and toast, plus a selection of cakes and pastries.