Café Culture in Taipei

A 2006 look at some of Taipei’s cafes

BY PHILL FELTHAM

Surfing the internet recently, I stumbled across an entry in Wikipedia Travel that pointed out that the beautiful island of Taiwan has changed from a nation of Chinese tea sippers into a full-blown global café culture. And what a selection for us to choose from.

(Note: This article was originally published in 2006. Some cafés have moved or are no longer in business. Also, some information might be outdated. Google search each café before making the trip.)

There are cafés big, small, cheap, expensive, and Starbucks. There are cafés with extravagant character and those that are bland and boring. But whatever your pleasure, Taipei residents and tourists are the ones  who will benefit.

Some foreigners find cafés are a home away from home. Besides seeing a Norah Jones video, there’s nothing more comforting for me than ordering a hot chocolate and checking emails on my lap top while sitting in a comfy chair.

Forget Starbucks, McDonald’s McCafe, or any other well-known brand. These convenient chain stores create instant relaxation at an affordable price, but I urge you to try something new.

Below is a list of my personal favourites, sorted by the nearest MRT (subway) station. Explore Taipei yourself, and you’re bound to find a few personal favorites as well.

STOP ONE: SHILIN (RED LINE)
ORANGE CAFE
302, WenLin Road. Hours: 11 am – 2 am, Tel: 02-2888-1220
Across the road from the Shilin MRT, Exit 2, you can’t miss this extraordinary place. Come here on a Friday, and experience a fire- dancing performance, as Orange’s dance troupe take turns breathing fire in front of a packed audience while spinning and twirling. The dancers start at 10 pm. If you’re not there on Friday, then the rooftop is a must see. Credit cards are not accepted but smoking is allowed and parking is available.

STOP TWO: NANJING EAST ROAD (BROWN LINE)
Upon exiting Nanjing East Road station, you’ll notice the beautiful cobble-stoned court way leading into QinCheng Road. The only dilemma is that many of the cafés are chains. However, on days where you just want to be with the familiar, this stop might be the ideal place for you.

JOYCE CAFE
22, QingCheng Street. Hours: 11:30 am – 11:30 pm Tel: 02-2514-9495
If you walk about five minutes, you’ll come across Joyce Cafe. This place has a beautiful patio and serves expensive wines and delicious Italian food.

STOP THREE: ZHONGXIAO DUNHUA STATION (BLUE LINE)
This stop is a café gold mine. The back alleys behind the ZhongXiao East Road and DunHua South Road intersection are filled with cafés. Just get off at the MRT stop, walk out of Exit 4, turn left on Lane 170 and venture onward.

MEEK
6, Alley 6, Lane 170, ZhongXiao East Road, Sec. 4.
Hours: 11:30 am – 10 pm
Tel: 02-2711-1829
This café is worth trying. The walls are covered with Coke paraphernalia. Beverage prices include one refill. Afternoon tea time is between 2 and 5 pm.

ZUMA
14, Alley 6, Lane 170, ZhongXiao East Road, Sec. 4.
Opens 11 am – 10 pm, Fri/ Sat. until 10:30 pm
Tel: 02-2741-5050
A few steps down the road from Meek (and, I find, a lot friendlier) is another home-styled café. This place is very homey with what I call ‘mother’s choice’ of decorations. It’s very relaxing and the home-style bread is a highlight. The prices are low. Afternoon tea is between 2 and 5 pm with two specials. You can get a NT$160 meal (pasta or meat) or pay NT$130 with just cake.

ANADOLU
12, Alley 6, Lane 170, Sec. 4, ZhongXiao East Road
Tel: 02-2776-3328
Opens at 11:30am
Patrons will enjoy the two-level patio at this Turkish restaurant/café. You can chow down on some Shishkebab outside or enjoy the homey inner smoke-free interior. The owner lived in England and fell in love with Turkish food. If you get a chance to meet him, ask about his experiences. Coffee is served in traditional Turkish fashion. It comes in a small mug with a saucer for NT$120. This might prove to be a little steep for the regular coffee enthusiast, but it’s worth a try.

STOP FOUR: GONGGUAN STATION (GREEN LINE)
I SWEAR CAFE
3, Lane 283, Roosevelt Road, Sec. 3. Hours: 11:30 am – 10:30 pm
Tel. 02-2363-2011
This place is outstanding–both inside and out. The front entrance is breathtaking and  the inner decor is amazing. There is a café garden with a lot of growing vegetation and potted plants. Inside, the chairs are soft, white and cozy. The staff urges you to relax in this setting for as long as you want. The decor is overwhelming and, dare I say the word, “luxurious”.

Drinks and food are reasonably priced. This is also a good place for lunch. If you want something to munch on, try I Swear’s handmade Italian cream cheese pudding. Afternoon tea is 2 to 5 pm.

It can be a little difficult to find I Swear without a map, but you can contact the manager, Vicki (02-2363-2011), who speaks English and she will give you directions. It’s about a 15 minute walk from Gongguan Station, Exit 3, but the trek there is worth it.

For somewhere a bit closer to the MRT station, try We Care café. Leave Gongguan MRT station by exit 3, and simply walk straight for about five minutes and you’ll find it. It looks like a bakery, but just go in and you’ll see a beautiful variety of cakes. Choose your pleasure and then go upstairs. The café is small but comfortable.

This is just a short selection of personal favorites. The countless coffee shops that have sprung up around Taipei city in recent years offer something for everyone. Whatever your beverage preference, cafés have attracted backpackers and expats alike for years, and from this traveler’s point of view, always will.

Travel writer Phill Feltham lived in Taiwan for two years. He has traveled to South Korea, China, Japan, the United States, and all over Taiwan.

This article was originally published in the December 2006/January 2007 edition of Centred on Taipei. (Note: Some cafés have moved or are no longer in business. Also, some information might be outdated. Google search each café before making the trip.)

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