Like many things in China, the Shanghainese coffee culture is a little.. off. Drinking coffee in China is a rather bizarre experience, and I’m not quite sure whether it lags behind or somehow surpasses its US equivalent (probably the former). Below are some of my encounters with coffee in Shanghai:
This Jingan coffee shop, which shares a wall with Dogtown – a bar serving hot bourbon and tacos (my favorite of combinations) – is simultaneously everything that is wrong and right with coffee in this country. Sumerian Coffee is sustainably-sourced (sustainability!), locally-roasted (environmentally-friendly!), and only uses organic (bGH-free!) milk. That, however, comes with a price. A latte sets you back about 38RMB per cup (roughly 6USD). In China, that’s a tad ridiculous. Actually that’s quite ridiculous, because most days, 38 RMB could be the price of a dinner, or even two lunches (now you can see why I get food poisoning so often in this country). At the same time, Sumerian doesn’t quite have the PSet-fueled atmosphere of Blue State or the faded-couch vibe of Koffee (and its 747 tub of espresso). It’s far too packed on most weekends, too hurried, too filled with girls taking selfies with the (albeit adorable) dogs. While it tastes like coffee in the U.S. should taste like, the forced vibe sometimes leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
YuanYang NaiCha (鸳鸯奶茶)
Fine, yes, I’ve talked about this magical (no exaggeration) drink a fair bit , and I still believe that it deserves its own paragraph. Nay, maybe its own book (or at the very least – its own post). I want to meet the brilliant mind who decided that mixing coffee and tea, then adding irresponsible amounts of milk and sugar would be a good idea. Why does this combination, which on the outset sounds so gross, taste so amazing? My money’s on the sugar.
Confession: I never liked Starbucks back in the US. In high school, it was the place to go to at the mall (but with Dairy Queen, why would you choose Starbucks?) In college, during the summers, it was entirely too full of EXPLO kids; during the school year, the bathrooms always smelled like bums. In China, I still don’t really like the Starbucks. For one – it’s overpriced and exalted like other random Western brands (seriously China, why do you think it’s okay to pay 10USD for two scoops of Haagen Dazs?). Secondly – in all honestly, the coffee is not that great. It has too much of an oil-slick and for some unknown reason takes absolutely forever to make. Their saving grace? Green tea cheesecake (although to be fair, cheesecake can save virtually anything.)
More so than any other place in Shanghai, this makes me feel like I am back in New England. Case in point, the crappy excuse for a rural hometown where I grew up had just one McDonalds, but about three Dunkin Donuts shops, if that is an indication of my shameless dedication. In New Haven, the stores were always disgusting and filled with.. questionable people (yep, that one by State Street in particular), but there was still something nice about ordering a large cahffee that was bigger than your head. In Boston, there is a DD on virtually every block. In Shanghai, I’ve been lucky to find a single outpost. And I’ve made it my home.
Family Mart Coffee
I sort of shamelessly love FamilyMarts. FamilyMarts, along with Lawsons, Haodes, and Kuaikes are convenience stores, if convenience stores were spotless and stocking absolutely anything you could possibly imagine. In the US, 7/11s are gross, but in China, these stores have everything – warm chocolate soymilk? Yes. two-liter bottles of beer? Yes. Peanut M&Ms? Hell yes. Three different flavors of lube? Yes, Yes, and Yes. And I guess they also have coffee, which is pretty okay. But let’s face it, if I’m in a FamilyMart, I’m getting a Tsingdao.