Saturday, August 30, 2014

Coffee Culture

Traditionally, Asians have always chosen tea as their caffeinated drink of choice, but it the past few years coffee has grown in popularity in the region, especially with younger people. I think it's both a social phenomenon as well as a change in taste preference. Coffee shops and cafes have become cool places to hang out and study, away from home and school. Students may also prefer coffee because of its extremely high caffeine content to help them keep up their energy (only black tea nears the amount of caffeine as black coffee).

Taipei has an extremely strong cafe culture. There are a few popular chains as well as many small boutique type cafes. In general, I would categorize the ways you can get your coffee into three four levels.

1. Convenience stores: $40-60 TWD ($1.50-2 USD)

By far the cheapest and fastest way to get a caffeine fix is to pop into the nearest 7/11 or Family Mart convenience store. There is usually one on every block, and you can order your drink at the cashier counter. There is a limited range of options, but usually you can find black coffee, cappuccinos, and lattes. There is the choice of iced or hot, and three sizes. The coffee is made with a machine, but the quality is decent, especially for the price. Some stores will have a little seating area but others do not, so be sure to check first if you want to sit down to enjoy your beverage. If you want a 24/7 option for coffee, this will do the trick.

2. Fast food places: ~ $60 TWD ($2 USD)

Many chains, like McDonald's or Mos Burger (from Japan) have "cafe" sections of their menu. The selections are basic but usually include the standard drinks. I think they actually use fresh milk though, unlike the convenience stores, so that's one step up in my opinion. Students will sometimes use the space for studying, though beware there is not always wi-fi.

3. Chain coffeeshops: $80-120 TWD (~$3-4 USD)

One step up from the fast food places are the chains. There are both western and local chains, and two of the most common are Starbucks and Dante Coffee. These are full-service coffee shops, with an extensive menu of drinks and food, and usually a good amount of seating. In Taipei, you have to register a Starbucks card in order to use their wi-fi.

4. Specialty cafes: $120-200 TWD ($4-6 USD)

Small home-grown cafes have proliferated in Taipei, especially in certain neighborhoods with lots of students or expats. These small businesses usually have distinctive character and a hipster vibe. Sometimes there is an extensive menu with foods for brunch or lunch, there is usually limited seating, and some of them take reservations. They are especially crowded during the expected hours (weekend afternoons) and be careful, some of them have a minimum spending per person. It's a pricey but relaxing way to spend a few hours!

The below latte was from "Hi Ryou Cafe" near NTNU. It had quite a fancy presentation, with a little bamboo mat, and the single coffee bean garnish.

They also had lovely cheesecakes! Light and fluffy, and not overwhelmingly sweet.

There are some coffee business that are outliers and don't really fit into any of the above categories. Some bakeries, like the Japanese Gaku-Den, sell a few drinks. There are some smaller chains that sell coffee but don't have any seating, like Cama Coffee. Sometimes the tea shops and milk tea places will also have a coffee drink or two. Regardless of your preferences, your caffeine needs are highly likely to be satisfied in Taipei!

I hope to be able to explore more of these little cafes, but I'll have to try not to splurge too much. $5 here and there doesn't seem too bad, but in Taipei that could be more than the cost of a filling meal! It's hard to justify that cost.

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