Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best Coffee in Taipei


Everyone who reads this blog even remotely regularly knows about my semi-fanatical obsession with two foodstuffs: 1.) sea urchins and 2.) coffee. With coffee, I'm sort of like this.

I've written extensively about coffee before, but haven't really come out with a post that clarifies where good coffee - the best coffee - can be found in Taipei. This is that post.

You can get coffee anywhere in Taipei, from 7-11 to one of the myriad Starbucks, Dante Coffees or Ikari chains, as well as in department stores and other smaller chains (such as Artco and Is) and independent operators. It can be as cheap as a 40NT 7-11 latte (which is not your worst choice, I have to say) or as expensive as a 500NT cup of Kopi Luwak or overpriced but still substandard coffee at a lot of chi-chi cafes (Bastille, I'm looking at you).


Unfortunately, most options, as in the USA, are mediocre at best, and Charbucks is Charbucks everywhere, with their over-roasted jet fuel.

The key to a good coffee is a light hand with the roaster (even medium dark roast is fine, but many dark roasts - not all mind you - are just bitter and charred), even grinding and scrupulous preparation, although I'm the first to admit that I use a regular old coffee machine at home. The best coffee comes from a siphon brew, but it is possible to get good espresso and non-siphon coffee.

I'm not interested in listing out the millions of places in Taipei where you can get a brain-smack of caffeine - I'm talking about genuinely good coffee that one can savor, that wafts down the street with its strong scent and turns heads when you carry it away in a to-go cup. Yes, you can find it in Taipei.

Get your cup of awesome beans (the kind that hipsters and yuppies would say have a "great flavor profile") at:

Xinsheng S. Road Section 3 Lane 76 #1 (the entrance is on Xinsheng Road, not the lane)
I've praised this place to the moon and back, as you can read in the link above.

2.) The Best Roasted Coffee (TBRC)
Taipei, Shilin District - Jingshan Road #18: near the Wenhua University bus stop heading up Yangmingshan, and not far from the top of Tianmu Old Trail
This place is fantastic - you can buy a pound of coffee for NT500, and their home blend (a medium-to-dark roast) is only NT100 per cup, which is a steal. It's really tasty and goes down smoothly, so you don't need to drink it with milk (which is good, because the owner really will lecture you if you ask for milk or sugar). You can also buy cheesecake, cookies and other light fare here - the cheesecake is tangy and homemade without being too sweet.

Jinhua Street #247 - closest bus stop on a major route is Xinsheng/Jinhua along Da'an Park, also walkable from Yongkang Street

This place offers coffee that packs a flavorful punch - they take it very seriously, allowing you to smell the grounds several times to highlight different smells and potential flavors, and then serve it to you both in a standard coffee cup, which brings out darker, earthier flavors as well as in a small stemmed cordial glass, which brings out more syrupy, flowery liqueur-like flavors in the coffee. Not cheap, but totally worth it.

They also have branches in Taizhong and Tainan.

Guangzhou and Huanhe Rd. intersection near Longshan Temple
Try the "Ma Gao" coffee (馬告) at the booth selling Taiwanese local coffee here for NT90: the cup is small but it packs a strong punch of flavor, and best of all it's grown in Taiwan an (according to the vendor) is grown on aborigine-run farms, so you're doing good for the local economy and you get to try a Taiwanese local product not often found in stores.


#405 Sec. 1 Neihu Road Taipei (02)2799-4966
#123 Songde Road Taipei (02)2726-6085
#336 Jinhu Road Taipei (02) 2634-8803
#7 Lane 243 Jinhua Street Taipei (02) 2322-3830
B1 #14 Nanjing West Road Taipei (02) 2522-1681
This place is my new favorite find that you absolutely have to try. They're your best source of Kopi Luwak, if you've ever wanted to try it, and they'll brew it to perfection for you (I haven't tried it yet, but I will). I had a cup of coffee from Nicaraguan beans (can't remember which type) at their Songde Road location and I was blown away by the depth and spirit of the earthy, slightly smoky, addictive flavor. They siphon brew their good beans (lattes and other coffee types are also available) and there's a large choice of global beans, with a lot coming from Central America.

They also keep Jameson on hand, at least at Songde Road, which means they know how to make good coffee with whiskey.

Call ahead if you want a cup of Kopi Luwak - they'll make sure they have the most, ahem, fragrant beans for you to try.

Seriously - I love my Drop Coffee but this place is really just amazing, too. It's probably going to tie for 1st place in my list of favorite coffee shops, along with Drop.

6.) Black Bean Coffee
Zhongshan Road in Shilin, just south of the Zhongzheng Road intersection past Skylark and some other businesses
This place makes a good brew, if a little on the dark roasted side for my taste. A cup costs an average of NT150 - I strongly recommend the earthy but soft Monsoon Malabar coffee from India. They also sell handmade cookies.

I'm not sure if this place still exists - I haven't been there in years - but will check back soon to see if they're still around.

7.) Shake House (listed second in the post, after Red House)
Wenzhou Street / Lane 86 corner, across from Bastille, Gongguan
I usually praise this place for its homey, studenty feel and good selection of Belgian beers, but haven't mentioned how good their coffee is. They do not-too-bitter lattes, Americano and espresso, they make ice coffee in batches in a giant machine similar to a siphon, and their specialized beans are packed with flavor (try the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe or the Guatemala Huehuetenango). They can alcohol-ify any coffee order (just ask for it on request - I usually get a latte with a shot of alcohol added - I am fine with alcohol added to espresso drinks but would never add it to a good brew of quality medium-roast beans.

You can also buy the amazing Monsoon Malabar coffee here to brew at home.

#3 Lane 93 Shi-da Road, Taipei
I normally don't go for espresso, opting instead for larger servings of more expensive siphon coffee, but My Sweetie Pie makes a not-too-bitter espresso that I can really get behind. It's still darker and more bitter than I normally prefer, but it cuts through the sweetness of their delicious cakes so well that I can forgive the extra roasting time!

9.) Fong Da
#42 Chengdu Road (near Ximending)
This place is wildly popular with both coffee enthusiasts and people who love old Taipei institutions. They still use vintage equipment and have a 1950s vibe going, and lots of different beans to choose from. I have to say that I find their brews a bit overpowering (not like the deeply but not jarringly flavored siphon brews I normally go for), but hey, that doesn't mean it's not good stuff! The brew at Fong Da acts like jet fuel to the brain and still gets my vote!

10.) Update: Rufous Coffee
Fuxing S. Road Sec 2 #333 / 復興南路2段333號
02-2736-6880

I was tipped off about this place by another expat, and realized it's basically just down the road from where I work. Fuxing S. Road south of Heping and north of Xinhai boasts three coffeeshops and a tea shop. The first is Tiamore, which has good (but not the best) coffee, is a bit down-at-heel and boasts a bevy of semi-friendly cats - or at least they did, it seems the owners don't keep cats there anymore since my last visit. The final one is called Mono, and I haven't actually gotten coffee there yet, but they serve it in glasses, not cups, and there's a shy but sweet cat there. Their mint and pomelo tea is great and they do a good brownie with ice cream.

Update: read below re: Rufous's siphon brews, but really what you want to be getting at this place is an espresso drink. For a very mildly flavored coffee, try the honey and cinnamon latte. For a luxurious experience, try the Irish coffee (with real sweet foamed milk, not whipped cream, to cut the bitterness of the whiskey-flavored coffee below). For a hot or stressful (or hot and stressful) day, get the iced dark chocolate banana latte. Their cold brewed iced coffee is also fabulous.

Only just today I continued on to Rufous at this person's recommendation, and the coffee was pretty excellent (I had a syphon-brewed coffee from Panama). The atmosphere is completely different from Tiamore, where I go for a friendly, very 台neighborhood feel - Rufous is smaller, more upmarket, more expensive. No cats, but the coffee is better. I did find the Panama to be lacking some of the depth of the coffees I've tried at Shake House (see above) and Drop (also above) - especially both shops' Sumatra coffee, and the Kona at Drop, as well as the Nicaraguan coffee at Coffee Family Roaster. The Panama coffee - ordered because I don't see beans from Panama on menus very often - was roasted a bit darker than I like it, as well.  However, it was quite good, and I intend to go back and try not only the house blend but also ask them to make me a light roast coffee, and see what they can come up with.

11.) Gold Diamond Coffee (金鑽咖啡)
Zhonghe, Xinbei City, Liansheng Road #41
新北市中和區連勝街41號

About a 15 minute walk from MRT Jing'an (walk up Jinping Road and turn at Liansheng) and near the 262, 275 and various other bus routes, this place is a good bet if you're stuck in the wilds of Zhonghe. A good place to rest after a hike to Yuantong Temple or if you are otherwise in the area.

This tiny coffeeshop nestled among a huge slightly higher end apartment complex (but not inside it) on a quiet side street was a surprise find for me: I happen to know a family who lives in the complex - I play with their kids in English once a week (I'd be hard-pressed to call it a class as it's very non-traditional) and have gotten coffee here. The lattes are strong and flavorful, with lots of bold character, but the thing to get here is light roast drip coffee. I was blown away by what the guy made for me, and they have many choices of bean.

12.) Cafe Booday
Nanjing W. Road Lane 25 #18, 2nd floor above the shop (very close to MRT Zhongshan)

While the food at Booday didn't blow me away - the desserts were good, though - the one cup of Monsoon Malabar I had there was pretty delish. They have a selection of high-end coffees including this favorite of mine for approximately NT140 per cup. On the high end but not impossible, and your best choice among all the cafes in this area for a good cup of something comforting, caffeinated and well-made.

13.) Other places I haven't tried yet

There are a ton of places I haven't had the good fortune to drink coffee at, but are probably on par with the places listed above. There's an especially large number of cafes in the lanes around Yongkang Street, and some of my favorite places to drink beer also make pretty good coffee (not included here because I wanted to highlight the best of the best, but that doesn't mean they're not also good).



If you have a favorite stop for high-quality coffee - the kind you savor, not gulp - leave it in the comments!

You can also buy great beans to brew your own coffee at home at most of the places above, as well as at:


- 里仁: organic food store in Gongguan (go to Roosevelt Rd. Sec. 3 Lane 283, and it's just down the lane from So Free pizza) - you can buy organic coffee beans from southern Taiwan here - very flavorful!


If you want to brew South Indian or Thai/Vietnamese-style coffee (that is, coffee with chicory, and add condensed milk for Thai or Vietnamese or just tons of sugar and milk to make it Indian) go to Trinity Superstores and pick up a bag of "Bru". It's not "good" coffee in the yuppie sense but it is the real thing.

4 comments:

mocheesepls said...

Hi Jenna! Thanks for this great post -- I'm about to move to Taipei for 5 months and wanted a list of decent coffee places. Can't wait to try them all :)

Anonymous said...

What's the best place for syphon coffee in your list for Taipei?

From the research I've done, it seems like the best coffee in Taiwan might be in Orsir in Taichung but that's too far from Tapei.

I'm going to Taiwan in a month or two just to Tapei, and really wanted to try syphon since that's still pretty rare in the US.


They've recently begun a world syphon championship, and I would have tried out the Taiwanese representative. But, I couldn't find the location of Trisum Corp (also known as) Finca Tres Soles where Chia Wei Liu worked. It also doesn't help that I can't read Chinese. But, you might have better luck finding it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. Heading to Taipei soon & love good coffee. Staying near Shilin. Jennie

J said...

First off, thanks for this great list! I was here for just a week but was really dying to have some real coffee, whether it be v60 or siphon and this list definitely helped.

A few minor changes though.

The roaster coffee site listed last is now defunct. I think it has been replaced by an Ueshima Coffee Lounge which is in some way affiliated with the giant company UCC; that being said, their coffee is still pretty damn good and made by the cup through a cloth bag. So just a different form of pourover if you will. The taste is closer to a chemex/v60 hybrid but a bit softer.

Lastly, Black Bean Coffee is still there and still fantastic. It seems to be family operated but the quality doesn't seem to suffer.

(I tend to believe that it is hard to make good coffee without caring about coffee and thus if you're just working to work, it's difficult to make good coffee. This isn't the case here.)

They probably have the longest list of single estate coffees I've seen thus far and the prices are more around the 100-300 NTD range. Worth it in my opinion for the eclectic post-war new world old world feel.

Thank you so much for the list.