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anthonyivey
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Posted Tue Mar 3, 2009, 6:29am
Subject: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Just came back from a one week holiday in Taiwan... I wrote down the cafes I had heard Stephen Morissey had visited on his recent trip and hoped to visit as many as I could... I didn't expect great things - surely not better than what I'm used to back in Melbourne!

First experience was at a place called George House in Taipei... Not one of the cafes Stephen had visited, but one that my girlfriend had been to and had enjoyed. Taipei, or at least the areas I visited, seems to have a higher number of cafes per square kilometre than Melbourne, and most of them seemed to be roasting their own coffee. Gazing into cafe windows I saw most were serving syphon coffee, while others had pretty impressive equipment (I saw a huge number of Synesso Cyncras on this trip). George House served syphon coffee. They do not even store milk on the property, let alone serve it in their drinks. They spent a good 15-20 minutes running through their list of coffees available... They serve the coffee in vintage ceramic mugs and a small brandy/schnapps glass. He then stood around explaining (in Mandarin) why they serve it like this (they serve it in the ceramic mug to retain the heat and a small amount in a glass, to allow you to see the different colours of the coffee and to let it cool down quicker, to give you a taste of what it is like cold) and how to drink the coffee (like slurping). Coffee did not blow me away itself, but the whole experience was great and very comforting to know that people in this part of the world can truly appreciate coffee.

Second day was spent site-seeing - I didn't plan to visit any cafes. We did go to Taipei 101 and there, I had been told, was a pretty good Illy Cafe. They have a chain in Asia, 'Illy Espressamente'. There are a few of these stores in Macau - they look like a typical chain, but with a little more class. I walk past one of these everyday in Macau and once (just once) I saw two guys behind the machine, taste-testing the coffee with a look of serious consideration on their face, as if they actually cared. Every other time I walked past, the staff were staring at the ceiling. I received an email from someone on this site telling me about a good Espressamente shop on the ground floor of 101. I was there, so I thought I'd try it. It wasn't terrible, but nothing spectacular. Coffee was dark and a correct length, but a little ashy and no sweetness to it.

I think it was on the third day that we went to GaBee - also not one of the places Stephen visited. When I went to the 'Coffee Fest' in HK months and months ago, I was watching the Latte Art competition and the winner of the comp (for that day) was a guy from a cafe called GaBee in Taipei. Afterwards, I went up to introduce myself and to get his card. Since that day I had looked up their website and seen that they had written a number of educational coffee books, their staff typically always win the Taiwan Barista Championships and they have a heap of write ups in local and international magazines (coffee or lifestyle - e.g Taiwan's GQ). Very sleek cafe hidden down a back alley - all types of coffee equipment for sale, coffee books and barista championship trophies splayed all over the place. They even had three 3-group espresso machines behind the counter - slightly excessive, but I think that's the Chinese way (always overdoing it, putting on a show). The guy I met in HK didn't seem to be working that day, but the staff seemed enthusiastic. Again, one of the staff members came up to explain their beans - they had two on offer. One was roasted in Northern Italy and the other was roasted in Southern Italy. That seems a little strange to me, when there doesn't seem to be a shortage of roasters in Taiwan to instead have it roasted in Italy and then shipped over. Perhaps something was lost in translation. I asked for a double ristretto and my girlfriend ordered a latte. Latte was served in a tall mug, it had a thick, definite layer of foam on top with a simple heart shaped latte art on top. Strange to drink at first, but the body of the drink was really good (I could not taste any faults in the espresso through the milk). My ristretto was served to me and I found it a little long, with a lighter than expected crema. It was OK - nothing spectacular.

The following day we made the trip out to Trilobites - one of the cafes Stephen had visited. I couldn't find much information online. All I could find were a few images by a food blogger (is there a term for these people now?). The images showed a heap of Mazzer grinders in store - I assumed it meant they sold them - and a Synesso Cyncra. That was enough to get me excited. Cool little cafe. When we got there, there was a TV crew doing a report on the cafe on the ground floor, so we moved upstairs. Awesome fitout. We sat in a vintage leather couch, hidden behind a bookshelf. People sitting everywhere with their Macbooks (which was also the case at GaBee and George's House). Lots of cool old retro furniture. One of the workers came up to us and explained that they do not serve milk based coffees, but only serve ristrettos or espressos. They always have 12 coffee beans on offer - the reason they have so many Mazzer grinders (12 in total) is to show that they have that many beans on offer. Again, they went to great lengths to try and understand what kind of coffee flavours we enjoy and then suggested a blend or origin. My girlfriend wasn't too keen on having just an espresso, so they also offer to serve your espresso (which they serve in a shot glass) with a mug full of steamed milk. Her coffee tasted great - shot had very interesting flavours and the milk was textured perfectly. They served me my ristretto and I was blown away. Just as I finished my ristretto (which was much longer than I am used to - even as an espresso, but which didn't seem to ruin the taste or texture), they put another shot on my table. The waiter explained that because I went to great lengths to explain what I wanted, he had told the barista this and he thought of another one of their blends that I would like and made me another shot, on the house. He then watched me drink it and asked me what I thought - I had to admit, I liked the first one better. Regardless, I do love getting the occassional freebie!

The next day we travelled to Taichung and one of the first places we stopped was Retro Mojo. The coolest cafe fitout I have ever seen - architecture similar to the most impressive Apple stores, but with a warmer feel. Split over three stories with a big communal table on the middle mezzanine-style level, with kids on their macbooks and big headphones, slowly sipping away at their coffees. They had a Clover and a 3-group Synesso Cyncra with all-naked porterfilters. They had a huge range of high-quality coffee beans on offer. They also had a La Esmerelda on offer - one of my all-time favourites. So I had that through the Clover. My girlfriend had a latte which was served similarly to that at GaBee (a big defined layer of foam, but overall a very good coffee). The other couple had an iced coffee and a mocktail (neither of them really being coffee drinkers). I went and had a chat to the owner of the cafe. He explained to me a little about the coffee culture of Taiwan, how he recently went on a coffee tour around the world and how his wife spent 12 years in Melbourne. I'm just amazed that a cafe in Asia can have such impressive equipment, such an incredible cafe and still make a profit. They do charge a premium on coffee. It is a luxury item rather than a daily necessity (as it is in Melbourne). Coffees are typically around AU$6 (at the current exchange rate). You just couldn't charge that much in Melbourne. That's why you see so many people spending their whole day at these places, using their Macbooks and lingering over one coffee. It's still a mystery to me how it works, but I love it. I then bought a whole bunch of their prepackaged drip coffee filters (with preground coffee in them), to give as a present, some 'Malawi Mzuzu AA, Geisha' beans for myself and ordered another coffee - a double ristretto. The shot was close to perfect. Silky smooth, with strong fruit flavours, a dark crema and crisp - you could tell it had been through a naked portafilter. I was in love.

The next day we went for a trip to Orsir coffee. I didn't know much about it - very hard to find anything on the web about them... but I did find their site which was in Mandarin and showed a list of beans they have on offer - mostly CoE (Cup of Excellence) coffees. I was impressed already. Cafe was a little more rustic than what I had become accustomed to in Taiwan. Machine was a little old-school and a lot of staff that looked a little too young to know what was going on (but age can be a deceiving thing in Asia). They again explained to me what coffees they have on offer and I eventually ordered a Kenyan coffee, to be run through a drip. I sat down and one of the older women in the store came up to me and explained that she has a coffee that she thinks I would enjoy more - an Ethiopian coffee from 'kebado'. I hadn't heard of 'kebado' before, but I am a big fan of Ethiopian coffees, so I had that instead. It might just be the way they made it but it was one of the best (if not the best) coffees I have ever tasted. The groom translated the little pamphlet on the table that explained the history of the cafe, and the cafe's owner. I won't go into too much detail but from how he translated it seems they have over 300 coffees being roasted by this coffeehouse and the owner is now one of the handful of judges worldwide for the Cup of Excellence program. At first I thought noone at the cafe really knew what they were doing, but watching them, as I was sipping on my drip coffee, I could see how passionate each one of the staff were - taste testing coffee or intensely stirring and sniffing coffee they were preparing in a syphon. I then wanted to try their espresso. I ordered a double ristretto, but asked the lady (the same one that offered me the kebado) to make sure that it is short. A beautiful shot. Perhaps not as impressive as the shot at Retro the night before, but a beautiful shot of coffee all the same.

There were only 2 other cafes that I had on my list that we never made it to - one was far from where we were staying or going in Taipei and the other was in a whole other city that we were not planning on visiting. All-in-all, I was blown away by the coffee in Taiwan. I would go as far as to say that coffee in Taiwan is better than in Melbourne. Big call, but I think it is justified. I love the coffee in Melbourne (and I love paying half the price I would in Taiwan for it) but what I love about coffee in Taiwan is the culture - not every cafe had perfect coffee, but they were all trying... the majority of cafes in Melbourne couldn't care less about the quality of their coffee (obviously cafe owners that read this site are the minority), but in Taiwan every cafe seems to go to great lengths to make the best coffee to the best of their knowledge/expertise...

(I make comparisons with Melbourne, because that is where I am from...)

....I also understand that Japan has a pretty incredible coffee culture too... Taiwan seems to mimic Japan in many ways - with regards to food, architecture, culture and mannerisms... but I haven't been to Japan for more than 6 years... So I can't compare... They (the locals taking me around) were saying that this attitude to coffee probably stems from the attitude in Taiwan to tea, which they adopted from the Japanese. All very interesting...
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Epic76
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Posted Mon Mar 9, 2009, 7:56am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Brilliant post Ant.  

As I frequent Taipei a lot, I'll be pleased to benefit from your legwork  :)

Case
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anthonyivey
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Joined: 21 Feb 2005
Posts: 99
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Vac Pot: Hario
Drip: Chemex
Roaster: Sensory Lab, Market Lane, 5...
Posted Mon Mar 9, 2009, 8:02am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Then you definitely need to make the effort and head to the cafes I mentioned in Taichung (about 1hr by High Speed Rail and about 500NTD). They were by far the best. I wish I headed to Taipei a lot. I am in love with the coffee there!
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Epic76
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Roaster: Hottop P
Posted Tue Mar 10, 2009, 1:55am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Argh!!

I've been to Taichung over 20 times....only to sit on the apron for 60 minutes before flying back.  So close and yet so far!  Oh well, High Speed Train it is.

Taiwan is great, isn't?  The gentleman's China  :)  Sounds like your Mandarin is far better than mine though :O

Case
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ChineseJia
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ChineseJia
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Location: china
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Posted Tue Mar 10, 2009, 2:37am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

wo dui ni wu yu

ChineseJia: ~3B_IDUQ`(D%3JRQK5@4_]K.jpg
(Click for larger image)

 
Hello, friends. Nice to see you here. I am a barista from China. Because I just start my way ,there is still a lot for me to learn. I will be greatly appreciated for your help. We can also share the love for coffee. Please contact me by my <MSN:jiam0816@hotmail.com> and my Yahoo ID : jiam0816.
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pstam
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pstam
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Posted Thu Apr 9, 2009, 10:21am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

anthonyivey Said:

Just came back from a one week holiday in Taiwan... I wrote down the cafes I had heard Stephen Morissey had visited on his recent trip and hoped to visit as many as I could... I didn't expect great things - surely not better than what I'm used to back in Melbourne!

......

....I also understand that Japan has a pretty incredible coffee culture too... Taiwan seems to mimic Japan in many ways - with regards to food, architecture, culture and mannerisms... but I haven't been to Japan for more than 6 years... So I can't compare... They (the locals taking me around) were saying that this attitude to coffee probably stems from the attitude in Taiwan to tea, which they adopted from the Japanese. All very interesting...

Posted March 3, 2009 link


I can only say that you have not been to many countries and areas in Asia.  So, everyone know what it means.

 
Peter in Beijing
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http://www.kaffa.cn/
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I am looking for the way and the place to extend our trainning courses.
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anthonyivey
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Joined: 21 Feb 2005
Posts: 99
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Expertise: Pro Barista

Espresso: Wega, Synesso, Slayer
Grinder: Mazzer
Vac Pot: Hario
Drip: Chemex
Roaster: Sensory Lab, Market Lane, 5...
Posted Thu Apr 9, 2009, 10:26am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Yep. That's why I chose to put a question mark in the title.

I'd like to know of more places in Asia that serve great coffee.

Cheers.
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pstam
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pstam
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Posted Mon Apr 13, 2009, 7:53am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Sorry, I did not see it.


BTW, in Beijing, there are more (almost from none) cafes can offer better coffee drinks. When have a chance, try it there.

 
Peter in Beijing
-------------------
http://www.kaffa.cn/
-------------------
I am looking for the way and the place to extend our trainning courses.
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Tzuyen
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Tzuyen
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Posted Fri Oct 9, 2009, 9:42am
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Very informative.
I am from taiwan but havent been back alot since I got into coffee.
Will definitely check out the places you have mentioned next time.

Are you sitll in brisbane?

tzu

 
Tzu-yen
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anthonyivey
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Joined: 21 Feb 2005
Posts: 99
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Expertise: Pro Barista

Espresso: Wega, Synesso, Slayer
Grinder: Mazzer
Vac Pot: Hario
Drip: Chemex
Roaster: Sensory Lab, Market Lane, 5...
Posted Fri Apr 9, 2010, 6:58pm
Subject: Re: Taiwan - best coffee in Asia?
 

Hey Case, just spotted your reviews on Beanhunter of Orsir & Mojo... Sounds like you enjoyed them. Great to hear!
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