Forget tea, that most traditional of Chinese drinks. For Shanghai folk, it’s all about the bean. Over the past few years the metropolis has become one of the world’s coffee capitals, with a number of cafés sprouting up across the city.
Coffee Shop, Coffee
Claiming to be among the first venues to bring speciality coffee to China, Seesaw started back in 2012 as a single store in Shanghai’s Jing’an district. Now a major chain across the country, Seesaw continues to provide great coffee, predominantly sourced in China’s Yunnan province, an up-and-coming coffee-growing region. The chain’s stores are modern, cool and uniquely designed to reflect the neighbourhood in which they’re located, while its brews are among the best in the city.
1984 is a homely and well-stocked bookstore that serves coffee and encourages lingering over a good read. That, combined with the cute cats that doze on the comfortable furniture, makes this an inviting place to spend a lazy afternoon. The courtyard outside is tastefully furnished with wooden tables and cane chairs – perfect for flicking through some a tome while sipping on a fresh brew. It’s a little tricky to find – look for the inconspicuous black door.
This cute dog café is home to 35 pooches of all shapes and sizes, and for a ¥50 ($7.50) minimum spend you can play and feed them doggy treats while you sip on a latte. Keep a look out for the white west highland terrier who is something of an internet celebrity in China, with more than 100,000 followers on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter). The café is housed in the industrial 1933 Old Millfun, an imposing building that was once an abattoir. Nowadays it’s home to various trendy shops, restaurants and art spaces.
With vintage sofas and ceilings covered with English newspaper clippings, Marienbad Café evokes a homely environment for guests, in sharp contrast to many of Shanghai’s more minimalist cafés. Coffees here are brewed using secret recipes, with inspired flavours such as the sea salt latte. Its coffee beans are selected from different plantations from all over the world, according to customer demand. The café is located on one of the area’s quieter streets, and there are a few seats on the front terrace where you can watch the world go by.
EGG is an all-day breakfast café offering a delicious variety of food and beverages, all prepared in its unique semi-sunken kitchen. The short but select menu includes some interesting cakes, such as the chocolate brownie with sichuan peppercorns. Drinks are good here too, with coffee beans roasted locally in partnership with another neighbourhood café. The dining area is bright and appealing, with clean lines and a fresh, white interior. A large shared table takes up the majority of the ground floor, while the mezzanine area is the perfect spot to while away a few hours.
This spacious concept café is located in residential area of Shanghai’s Hongkou district. It is a little hard to find – walk into the lane from Huayuan Road and keep a look out for the unassuming brick house hidden by trees. Inside, MO+ Café sports modern, minimalist interiors, with grey-washed walls forming the perfect backdrop for its gold bar stools and pastel-pink couch. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in a design studio rather than a café. Luckily, the coffees are just as carefully considered as the decor, with seriously good brews and special pour-overs that need to be reserved beforehand. Enjoy your drink on the sunny rooftop terrace.
This French-style bakery offers a wonderful assortment of pastries, desserts and breads at affordable prices. The interior is beautiful, with golden-hued walls and plenty of natural light giving it an air of calm sophistication. The ample seating makes it a good fit for an afternoon with a laptop or book. The café is housed in a huge building that was once a watch factory.
This chain of coffeehouse/bakeries has branches across the city, meaning there’s likely to be one near you whenever you need a pick me up. As well as well-made coffees, Baker & Spice offers some delicious fruit teas and juices, plus a range of delectable cakes, biscuits and breads. It even offers various high-quality wines, which you can buy by the bottle to take home. All the stores are modern, clean and bright, offering Wi-Fi and plug sockets.
The owner of Cafe del Volcán is so serious about offering the best coffee possible that a huge roasting machine takes up a significant amount of floor space, limiting this tiny café to no more than eight customers at a time. Coffee is prioritised above all else, so tea drinkers should go elsewhere. You can have your brew made by machine, or select from pour-over or french press. High-quality beans are sourced from around the world, including places like Yunnan, Guatemala and Sumatra. The focus on coffee continues through the interior design, with latte-coloured walls creating a soothing place to hang out – that is, if you can get a table.
This is one of the largest Starbucks stores in the world – representative of China’s love affair with the mega-chain. With a Starbucks on almost every corner in Shanghai, what sets the Reserve Roastery apart is its sheer spectacle. From the beautiful two-storey bronze cask at the store’s centre to the transparent tubes whizzing coffee beans to and from the roasters, the place feels like a gleeful amusement park celebrating all things coffee. It remains packed from morning until closing, with people coming from all over to experience it all.