Ratio &C

Some lovely latte art in my latte at Ratio &C, part of the Onibus chain in Tokyo.Ratio &C is part of Tokyo-based coffee shop/roaster chain, Onibus, which started in Okusawa, where it’s still going strong (and which, naturally, I’ve not yet visited). There are now five shops, including the original Nakameguro roastery/coffee shop, a new roastery/coffee shop in Yakumo, and Shibuya’s About Life Coffee Brewers. And, of course, today’s Coffee Spot, Ratio &C, a lovely coffee bar inside a cycle shop.

Ratio &C is a few minutes’ walk from my hotel, which is how I came to visit it when in Tokyo last October as part of my around the world trip. Back then, I’d have described Ratio &C as a classic coffee bar in cycle shop, but on my return last week, I found that the coffee shop had expanded a little, with more seating and less emphasis on the cycling. It’s a very peaceful environment, the ideal post-work spot where I could catch up with things before retiring to my hotel for the evening.

There’s the standard Onibus offering, with the Step blend on espresso for milk-based drinks. It’s also available on pour-over, along with another blend and a seasonal selection of single-origins, one of which is available on espresso each day.

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Rumors Coffee Roasters, Xingguo Road

My pour-over being made at the counter at Rumors Coffee Roasters on Xingguo Road, Shanghai.As I’ve written elsewhere, I love the leafy avenues of Shanghai’s old French Concession, which makes a great change of pace from the bustle of the centre. There’s excellent coffee here too, including a find from my first visit in 2016, Rumors Coffee Roastery on Hunan Road. This is the original Rumors, established in 2011, but there’s a second, larger branch on the nearby Xingguo Road. Since I failed to find it on my return in 2017, I made a point of tracking it down during my latest trip.

In a city where many speciality coffee shops have a western in style/influence, Rumors draws its inspiration from the traditional Japanese kissaten, immediately calling recalling the likes of Tokyo’s Café de L’Ambre and Chatei Hatou. Founded by a Sino-Japanese couple, it’s in some ways a trend-setter, the likes of % Arabica and Chez Black Coffee following it into the area.

Rumors roasts all its own coffee on-site, serving a wide range of origins. If you’re looking for an espresso or flat white, however, you’re in the wrong place, since Rumors only serves pour-over through the V60. Offering full table service, pick your bean from the extensive menu, sit back and relax.

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% Arabica, Xintiandi Plaza

The % Arabica logo from the floor of its latest Shanghai branch in the Sunken Plaza of the Xintiandi Plaza shopping centre.My first experience of % Arabica in Shanghai wasn’t, in fact, the flagship Shanghai Roastery, but instead came two days earlier at the Xintiandi Plaza shopping mall, rather mirroring my first ever experience of % Arabica at Kyoto’s Fujii Daimaru Department Store. This is the most recent of (for now) four % Arabicas stores in Shanghai, located in the mall’s rather pleasant semi-open basement courtyard. As with all the % Arabica stores that I’ve visited, it’s disposable cups only, so don’t forget to bring your own. This is despite there being a reasonable amount of seating, with two window-bars and a comfortable bench.

Turning to the coffee, the offering’s identical across all % Arabica’s Shanghai branches: house-blend (Brazil and two different Ethiopians) and single-origin, both available as espresso or pour-over (through the Chemex), with a limited selection of pleasingly-small sizes for milk-based drinks (4, 6 and 8oz). And, other than some merchandising and a retail selection of beans, that’s it, although there is a food court in the basement, where you’re welcome to take your coffee.

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The Point

My coffee, overlooking the five stone arches of Fangsheng Bridge in Zhujiajiao from the back terrace of The Point.Today’s Coffee Spot was another chance discovery, following on from last week’s unexpected finds during my recent trip to Shanghai. Whereas Seesaw and Mellower Coffee were names I already knew, The Point, in the ancient Water Town of Zhujiajiao, was an unknown quantity. Visiting Zhujiajiao purely as a tourist, drawn by its narrow, winding alleys, canals, and old, stone bridges, coffee was not high on my list. Indeed, before I left, I’d filled up my Travel Press, bringing it with me so that I’d be sure of one decent coffee during the day.

However, as I wandered the narrow lanes, practically every café/restaurant was offering coffee (and practically every other shop was a café/restaurant). Most looked unimpressive, several were interesting, but only one leapt out at me: The Point. The roaster standing proudly at the front of the counter was a clear statement, one which, I discovered, was backed up by some excellent coffee.

It’s also an excellent place to drink said coffee. Long and thin, it consists of multiple, small rooms running back from the street, ending in a lovely terrace overlooking the Dianpu River. Even better, it’s spread over three floors, each successively smaller as you go up.

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Seesaw IFC

My espresso, made with the Giraffe house-blend, and served in a classic black cup at Seesaw in the IFC Mall in Shanghai.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.

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Mellower Coffee, Century Link Tower 1

My Enchanting Yunnan pour-over in my Therma Cup at Mellower Coffee in Century Link Tower 1, Shanghai.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.

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Little Bean Coffee Museum

A V60 of a Costa Rican Geisha being prepared at Little Bean Coffee Museum in Shanghai.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.

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Chez Black Coffee

The logo of Chez Back from the pillar outside Chez Black Coffee on Taian Road, ShanghaiLike 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 sitting on 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.

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.

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BLUEKING Coffee, Nanyang Road

A single espresso made with the house-blend at BLUEKING Coffee on Nanyang Road, Shanghai.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.

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% Arabica, Shanghai Roastery

The % Arabica logo from one of the two pairs of double doors at the front of its Shanghai Roastery.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 cater 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 (Brazil and two different Ethiopians) and a single-origin, both available as espresso or pour-over (through the Chemex), but 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.

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