Indie coffeehouses have popped up throughout Taipei in recent years, but many of them are simply hastily put-together shops trying to cash in on the latest trend. To sort out the mediocre from the exceptional, we asked for help from Mike Sun, a former barista at elite American roaster Intelligentsia Coffee, which takes its craft so seriously that new trainees “can’t even touch coffee for three months.” Now working as a photographer and videographer, Mike also has a good eye for design, so we asked him to recommend some atmospheric cafes as well. Here’s a barista’s guide to the best coffeehouses in Taipei.
A good starting point is the centrally located Coffee Sweet. Mike says he can often judge the quality of a coffee shop just by glancing at how well the equipment is maintained, and this establishment is no exception. Coffee Sweet offers some of the best siphon coffee in town, no doubt because the owner chooses his beans by hand and personally extracts every drink: “he treats each cup like his baby.”
Photo by Michael Sun
Another favorite is Rufous Coffee, where Mike often goes for pour-over coffee. Though quiet throughout most of the day–the place isn’t even open until 1 p.m.–Rufous assumes an almost dive-bar vibe in the evening, when a hip crowd of twenty-somethings gathers inside or out on the patio. Rufous has developed such a following that in October, it closed up shop to move to a larger location—which, thankfully for its loyal fans, is just next door.
Photo via Rufous Coffee
Purists will appreciate Coffee : Stand Up, located near Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. The room is “skinny” and décor is fittingly non-existent, since the emphasis is on the coffee. It’s the sort of place where you drop in and out, but the trip is worth it because here, “everything is good.”
Photo via Coffee : Stand Up
For the single best cup of coffee in Taipei, Mike recommends the cappuccino at Fujin Tree 353. A shot of espresso, if well extracted, develops in three cleanly defined layers; at Fujin Tree 353, the espresso at the base of the cappuccino transitions from sweet notes to caramel notes before rounding out to a satisfying finish. Best of all, the milk that caps off the drink is done right: not too thick, not too foamy, and served at “the kind of temperature that warms your body without burning your tongue.”
Photo via Fujin Tree 353 Cafe
Mike understands that those seeking the indie coffeehouse vibe aren’t always in pursuit of good coffee, so he’s got a few recommendations for establishments that provide plenty of character while still offering a decent cup to drink. Representative of these “ambiance cafes” is Homey’s, tucked away on the second floor. Repurposed from a traditional Taiwanese home–“my grandma has this floor”–with unevenly painted walls and hanging cloth banners advertising local festivals and events, the place has a distinctly local feel that you won’t find in coffee shops in Seattle or Brooklyn.
Photo via Homey’s Cafe
For a date, Mike suggests going to this coffee shop in Taipei’s ever-trendy East District. Compared to an establishment like Homey’s, Costumice offers a “cleaner” look, with more elegant chairs and darker mood lighting. It’s especially suitable for couples with contrasting tastes in beverages, since the menu offers wine and beer for those looking for options other than coffee.
Photo via Costumice Café
If you’re looking for a place to take a friend, try Forgood on Yongkang Street. With tables for two, as well as seating for larger groups, the place is ideal for enjoying a casual conversation with coffee and desserts prepared by a chef from Tianmu; check out what’s on offer on the always-eclectic chalkboard menu. The “flat white” here–espresso with milk that’s been steamed but not foamed–is particularly worth trying.
Photo by Michael Sun
Not everyone has the time to make a journey to one of these coffee shops every day, of course, so lastly, we asked Mike to recommend a place to go for a daily caffeine kick. His solution? Cama Coffee: recognizable by its white mascot that “kind of looks like Snoopy,” the local chain offers decent coffee for less than the cost of Starbucks.
Photo via Cama Cafe