Hannah Leung goes in search of a fine cup of joe in the celestial city
It wasn’t too long ago that Beijing’s coffee scene was limited to chain stores sporting the ubiquitous green logo. When a Starbucks opened in the Forbidden City in 2000, it was shut down seven years later amidst huge protests that an American coffee chain sitting in the middle of China’s top cultural and tourist attraction might not be entirely befitting. This is a severe example, although one that deserves consideration. For better or for worse— or just somewhere in between —coffee shops are quickly replacing teahouses as a gathering place for work and pleasure. If you’re keen on plunking yourself down somewhere wifi friendly, head to some of these quality destinations. You’ll find yourself next to creative types and harried but well groomed tai tais (housewives) and discover post espresso that the coffee culture here is anything but derivative.
Minimalist and trendy, with an airy blue and white scheme. Perhaps the most concentrated amount of iPads, iPhones and Apple paraphernalia can be found at the small but spacious Fisheye Café, appropriate given its one minute walking proximity to Sanlitun’s bustling Apple store. Though the hard seats leave your bum wishing fluffy pillows went with the décor of this place, other long-dwelling patrons don’t seem affected. West coasters from the United States rejoice: all the coffee is delivered from San Francisco’s Ritual Coffee Roasters. If that means nothing to you, just know that the cup of joe here is very good. The best part though? For every cup of coffee you order, you get a free mini cupcake.
S1-18, 1/F Sanlitun Village, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District, Chaoyang District
Daily 10am – 10pm
The Place Café, 那儿咖啡
Located in the expat friendly, residential Central Park, The Place Café is always filled with busy housewives, nannies and white-collar business people trickling in from the nearby CBD area. There is another branch in Shuanjing, but the one in Central Park offers a warmer environment. Ample outdoor seating makes for good people watching, while indoors is cozy and spacious. This place offers an expansive lunch and dinner menu – try some of the yummy sandwiches and pasta. Kids can often be seen happily slurping spaghetti here during the daylight hours. Electrical outlets are found at half of the tables and are highly coveted, just spy the solitary figure tinkering away on the fully charged laptop and ask to share.
Unit 101A, Central Park, 6 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District
The go-to place for the freelance journalist or freelance anything. Zarah exudes an office-away-from-home vibe, and many make this European style coffee shop their personal workspace. White, wooden and simple, Zarah offers delicious nibbles, sandwiches and healthy granola mixes. Look for eclectic pieces of art hanging from the walls, the pieces change on rotation and are usually the work of local artists. The location – right next to Nanluoguxiang – makes for excellent hipster gawking, if you manage to snag a coveted seat by the window.
Nanluoguxiang / Gulou Dongdajie
42 Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District
Like the demigod this café shares a name with, Hercules has two identities: a sleek and clean venue that serves as a sandwich and coffee grazing spot in the day, and a sexy, pre-clubbing bar at night. Streamlined furnishings make their home in a warehouse-like stone space, and mood lighting with a small bar area sends off a mature attitude. Consistent techno and lounge music is played at a comfortable volume from an enviable speaker system. Hercules has a slew of seating options: beds, couches, chairs, stools, a random table here and there. There are free refills for caffeinated beverages from 2-5pm and happy hour deals every day from 4pm to 9pm; you’ll leave this place feeling buzzed, no matter what your choice of beverage is.
2/F, Tongli Studio, Sanlitun, Chaoyang District
Maan Coffee 漫咖啡
Trendy, stylish, impeccably decorated. Connected to Ai Jiang Shan, the famed Korean restaurant next door, Maan Coffee brings Beijing a whiff of Korean-style inspired waffles and coffee. The theme of this place is, well, waffles and coffee: waffles topped with whipped cream, waffles served up alongside syrup and sausage, waffles bedazzled with assorted bright berries. Personal humidifiers and candles hanging from the indoor trees feel like a page out of an enchanted fairytale, set in a magical forest. AC is not used sparingly during the summer; and the illusion of a waterfall gently trickling over the glass roof makes you wonder why your own home doesn’t feel this comfortable. A variety of seating options range from plush, upper management leather couches to wooden chairs donned with eclectic, animal print cushions. No need to worry about your electronics running out of power as you tinker away here, outlets are readily available at all of the seats, making this one of the most laptop friendly places in the city.
7 Jingtai XiLu
Daily 9am – midnight, 2am on summer nights