UPDATE (11/20/16): Cat.jpg Cafe has moved. I've updated the map above and the information about the cafe in the post below.
UPDATE (5/19/16): Cafe Kafka has closed! :(
"Be careful. Taipei is a petri dish for addiction...to cafes."
No one warned me about this before I moved to Taipei in August 2014 to learn Chinese, but even if someone did, I wouldn't have believed them. I spent the first 29 years of my life indifferent to coffee and the places that specialize in it, and, by God, I had to keep that streak going, for some reason. Taipei's cafes couldn't change that. Not with their cozy decor. And their cool art. And their hip music. And their freshly baked desserts. And their cute menus. And their Wi-Fi. And their air conditioning. And their cats.
Less than a month after living in Taipei, I developed a near latte-a-day habit. Things escalated quickly.
Here's a flowchart that illustrates the inner workings of my decision-making process:
For me, the catalyst of my cafe addiction was taking beginner intensive classes at the Mandarin Training Center. Memorizing traditional characters every day was pounding my brain into a frothy garbage mush of frustration and despair. When I couldn't focus, I'd fall asleep. I fell asleep a lot. I needed a place that would motivate me. Perhaps...a place with cake. And beverages enhanced with sugar and milk. And a closing time before which I have to get my shit done.
I could also blame my friends for encouraging my cafe-going habit, but that would be unfair. I'm not a sheep. I have volition. Or half a volition. I CAN STOP WHENEVER I WANT TO. Because if there's anything addicts are good at, it's stopping.
Many of my friends and classmates thought I was addicted to lattes. BUT NO sort of. The lattes enabled the cafe addiction. I've spent my whole life thinking black coffee tastes like poison sewer drainage. Then, during the developmental stage of my cafe addiction, I found if you temper the poison sewer drainage with a tub of steamed milk and a scoop of sugar, it transforms into something that tastes good to my infantile palate. (I still think black coffee tastes like poison sewer drainage.) And thus lattes became my default drink. There was a week where I dabbled in only ordering non-coffee drinks because I thought drinking coffee coupled with simmering in Taipei's oppressive summer humidity was making me smell extra pungent, but no other drink could match the goodness of a latte. If lattes were making me smelly, then too bad, innocent bystanders who enjoy breathing through their noses, because I'm gonna stink it up.
Taipei is flush with indie cafes, my neighborhood especially. During my ten-month stay in Taipei, I lived in Daan near two major universities, Shida (National Taiwan Normal University) and Taida (National Taiwan University). Where there are universities, there are thousands of students who need caffeine and places to study. I had a mission to try as many cafes as possible, but after a few months I got used to my regular cafes and stopped exploring. There are surely more awesome cafes near Shida and Taida that I never tried.
Although this post is about my favorite cafes, it doesn't have much to do with coffee quality. I don't know how to rate coffee. (It's brown. And it's hot. Or it's cold. It's a brown liquid with a temperature.) I just know how to rate environment, attitude, music, non-coffee food, and opening hours on a super subjective scale. Also, cats. Cats are a factor. I figure the coffee quality at these cafes is all good or better.
Some of the information I list for each cafe might be outdated, like prices or menu items, considering I haven't been to some of these cafes in almost a year. If you want to help update anything, please let me know in the comments!
But First: A Random List of Things Found at Most Indie Cafes
Every cafe has free Wi-Fi (except for the ones I mention that are on school property). The password is often the cafe's phone number. It's usually written on the menu or a sign somewhere.
It's pretty common to find cats in cafes. Keep that in mind if you're allergic.
Most of the cafes I mention, if not all of them, are cash-only.
There's always a section of free flyers, postcards, stickers, and the like. It's a good source of info about cultural activities, or for stocking up on political stickers.
Some cafes have a policy of keeping the conversation volume low. I avoid these cafes because I'm a loud American. :'(
Some cafes have outdoor seating, often utilized by smokers. Or people who like being attacked by mosquitoes. Because from my experience, until you're acclimated to Taiwanese mosquitoes, sitting outside will result in a very itchy you and very happy, bloated mosquitoes.
Most cafe menus are written in Chinese and English. The scope of menus can vary widely, but they at least all offer pretty much the same kind of coffee drinks: espresso, Americano, cappuccino, latte, the option of adding extra flavors, iced or hot, etc. In my descriptions I list what non-coffee drinks and other foods they serve.
My Favorite Cafes
Cafe Kuroshio (咖啡黑潮): The Chillaxed, Awesome Dessert Cafe
According to Foursquare, I visited Cafe Kuroshio 53 times during my nine months in Taiwan, about 1.3 times every week. Excessive? Nah. ...Maybe. But I have my reasons.
1) They have a rotating menu of awesome homemade desserts.
2) They stay open until midnight (except Mondays, when they're closed).
3) They're located just a few blocks away from my apartment.
4) I like the music they play. (Usually. I mostly remember post-rock, Thom Yorke, and Alex Turner.)
5) The staff is friendly.
6) My friends like it a lot, too. I WAS UNDER PEER PRESSURE. (Or was I the one pressuring them? I don't know.)
The location and opening hours reeled me in, but it was the desserts that kept me going back. Every weekend Kuroshio unveils four new homemade desserts, mostly pies, tarts, cheesecakes, and—my favorite—crumb cakes. After I found this out, every weekend became a potential "Treat Myself At Kuroshio Weekend." If you go right when they open, you'll get first pick. And if you go with a few friends, you can pick ALL OF THE DESSERTS. (Or you can eat all the desserts by yourself. There's no shame in that, maybe.)
Another big plus: their dessert chef, Jing, is a fan of Serious Eats, where I had worked for seven years. He's awesome! Not just because he likes Serious eats, but that gives him roughly a jillion extra cool points.
- IT'S MOTHERFRUGGIN CARROT CAKE TIME!
- AND NOW IT'S LEMON CHESS PIE TIME!
- AND NOW IT'S CRUMB CAKE TIME!
- AND NOW IT'S "HANGING OUT WITH YING-LE WHILE EATING CAKE" TIME!
- The squishy seat area.
- The normal tables-and-chairs area.
Regular latte: NT$125
Food: Only desserts and drinks, no savories. More dessert choices on the weekends, but if you get there late in the day they'll mostly be sold out. Also serve alcohol.
Pros: Awesome desserts and reasonably priced drinks. Good music (well, depending on what kind of music you like). Friendly staff. OPEN UNTIL MIDNIGHT!!!
Cons: Closed on Mondays. Not the most well-lit for studying at night. Easily gets full on the weekends. Doesn't ooze cuteness/whimsy. Doesn't have a ton of electrical outlets for laptops and such.
Address: No. 9-1, Lane 141, Section 1, Heping E Rd, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Opening hours: Tue to Sun: 1:00 pm - 12:00 am
Picnic (野餐咖啡): The Cozy, Taiwanese Hipster-Cute Cafe
What is Taiwanese hipster-cute? ...I'm lazy, so I'll just say that to me, it looks like Picnic. Retro lamps and hanging lightbulbs, random colorful knick knacks scattered around, walls decorated with indie music and movie posters, a handwritten menu with playful doodles. In some cases this kind of decor could smack of "trying too hard," but at Picnic it feels just right. The setting is welcoming and cozy. As far as atmosphere goes, Picnic is my favorite cafe.
- Quiche and mocha latte.
- Menu, why are you so cute?
- Main seating area.
- Looking towards the entrance.
- Back room seating area.
Regular latte: NT$130
Food: Quiches, soups, scones, ice cream, some other light desserts.
Pros: Larger than average drink selection. Cheaper prices than most places but quality as good if not better. Adequate lighting for studying. Good music. Variety of seating.
Cons: I wish it were open until midnight instead of 11:30 p.m. What could I do with that extra half an hour? ...I'd probably procrastinate, BUT STILL.
Address: No. 75, Wenzhou St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Mon to Fri: 1:00 pm - 11:30 pm
Sat to Sun: 12:00 pm - 11:30 pm
Pica Pica (喜鵲咖啡): The Less Cozy, Taiwanese Hipster-Cute Cafe
Pica Pica, being run by the same people behind Picnic, is another cute and cozy cafe that makes my heart ache for Taipei. However, Pica Pica's space lacks the nooks and crannies that makes Picnic feel cozier. Also, Pica Pica closes earlier than Picnic, 10:45 p.m. compared to 11:30 pm. I might choose Pica Pica for an afternoon of studying or hanging out, but not after dinner, which is when I did most of my studying.
- Mug mug.
- Cinnamon bun (one bun split in two) + latte.
- Cute old lamp.
- The sign in the bathroom is cute, too.
Regular latte: NT$120
Food: Besides cakes and pastries, also sandwiches, salads, and soups.
Pros: Cheaper drinks than other places. Lots of non-coffee drinks on the menu. Good music. Cinnamon buns!
Cons: It closes too early...for me. Probably not for normal people who go to bed at reasonable hours.
Address: No. 74, Lane 269, Section 3, Roosevelt Rd, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Opening hours: Mon to Sun: 1:00 pm - 10:45 pm
Ecole Cafe (學校咖啡館): The More Refined Hipster-Cute Cafe, With Brunch Goodness
Ecole Cafe is part of a mini cafe and furniture shop empire started by Mooi, a shop that specializes in selling vintage European furniture and household goods. And when furniture is your specialty, your cafes look well designed and cute and stuff.
Ecole Cafe opens at 9 a.m. every day except Sunday (when it opens at 11 a.m), much earlier than my other favorite cafes. If for some crazy reason I wanted to go to a cafe before school, this would be my top choice. It's a nice spot to pop in for a late breakfast or brunch if you want something more special than the cheap corner breakfast shop (of which there are loads). I'm fond of their brunch plate: soft scrambled eggs topped with a strip of bacon, a warm, homemade roll with butter and some spreadable fruit mash, and a light salad. The cakes are good, too.
- Brunch plate.
- A pretty latte.
- Iced condensed milk latte.
- Lemon cake.
- Orange-tuna-egg sandwich with yogurt.
- Cute things for sale.
- Stationery for sale.
- Bookshelf and seating.
- The extent of my Chinese knowledge after a few weeks of class.
Regular latte: NT$150
Food: Brunch plates, sandwiches, and a few other heftier dishes, as well as lots of cakes. A bunch of tea and juice choices besides coffee drinks.
Pros: Open earlier than most places. Cozy sunroom in the back, although potentially too hot when it's too sunny.
Cons: Closes too early for late night studying, tends to be packed on the weekends. I remember almost nothing about the music, which I guess means it's inoffensive but not awesome.
Address: No. 6, Lane 1, Qingtian St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Mon to Thurs: 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Fri to Sat: 9:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sun: 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Rebirth Cafe: The College Town Dive Bar Cafe
I haven't visited Rebirth Cafe that often, but when I did it left an impression unmatched by other cafes. Examples:
1. I was alone the first time I visited this cafe. A young man greeted me at the door with a smile and welcomed me in English after I showed a zero percent command of the Chinese language (hey, it was still my first quarter of school).
2. While doing my homework, one of the waitresses struck up a conversation with me and told me to let her know if I needed help with my homework. Eventually I gave in to her generous offer. She saved me from brain hemorrhaging brought on by writing a simple composition in Chinese.
3. One time after eyeing a tray of freshly baked bread rolls cooling on a nearby table, my friends and I asked the owner what kind of bread they were baking. He responded by giving us a free roll. (I think this happened twice.)
Rebirth is the most laid back, friendly cafe I've ever been to. It's also the grungiest cafe I'd been to, which might be good or bad depending on what you're into. They have loads of bookshelves full of stuff I couldn't read. Probably cool stuff. I'd return here to hang out with friends, not necessarily to study.
- Especially cute menu.
- Potato wedges, mmmm.
- Eric tearing into the aforementioned free roll.
- Me and an army of Pusheen's long lost cousins.
- Contemplative kitty.
Regular latte: NT$130
Cats: Yes!!! As well as fake cats—there are also some huge Pusheen knock-off plushies in the back.
Food: Lots! Rice plates, burgers, and more. But the kitchen is small so you might have to wait a long time for your food.
Pros: Super chill and friendly, open late, lots of food choices (potato wedges!), KITTIES.
Cons: Not the best lighting for studying, not the most comfortable atmosphere, theoretically open until 2 am but I'm under the impression that they close early if they feel like it.
Address: No. 2, Lane 48, Wenzhou St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Mon to Fri: 2:00 pm - 2:00 am
Sat to Sun: 12:00 pm - 2:00 am
(CLOSED) Cafe Kafka / The Crow (烏鴉咖啡店): My Favorite Cafe Off Yongkang Street
UPDATE (5/19/16): This cafe has closed! :( I'll leave my original info up for posterity's sake.
I haven't been to a lot of cafes around Yongkang Street, but I really liked Cafe Kafka so I didn't bother to search for more. It's another cozy, chill spot with cute decor and mismatched furniture. AND CAAAATS (or at least one cat).
As you can see, I'm running out of meaningful things to say about cafes.
- Seats and stuff.
- Mocha latte.
- Mocha latte plus a doodle that was surely a product of procrastination.
- Jorge eating noodles off a potato chip as Eric watches and judges him.
- Christmas book tree!
Regular latte: NT$150
Cats: Yes! At least one.
Food: Some noodle dishes and some desserts. The ice cream-topped waffles looked good, but I never tried them. Also serve alcohol.
Pros: Cats! Chill atmosphere.
Cons: Not a lot of seats. Not the cheapest option.
Notes: Cafe Kafka is the smaller offshoot of the larger cafe/music venue Kafka by the Sea down by Gongguan.
Address: No. 16, Lane 37, Yongkang St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Opening hours: Mon to Sun: 12:00 pm - 11:00 pm
CAT.jpg Cafe (貓圖咖啡): The Tiny Take-Out Cafe with CATS CATS CATS
UPDATE (11/20/16): This cafe has moved to a new, larger location! Here are some photos my friend took of the new space:
- Photographs: Charlotte Toolan
And here's the new address:
No. 16, Lane 5, Longquan St, Da'an District, Taipei, Taiwan (map)
I'll leave the old info below for posterity's sake. END UPDATE
This is the cafe I'd recommend if you want a drink to-go near the MTC and you want to look at cats. I prefer to nurse my latte over a few hours of studying, so I mostly went here with my friend Charlotte when she craved the latte + kitty combination. But since it's more of a take-out spot, the prices are much lower than at a sit-down cafe.
Regular latte: NT$65
Food: Some sandwiches and toasts, but I never got around to trying them. Also sell teas and smoothies.
Pros: Low prices. CATS. Also they have a hot milk and black sugar drink that's awesome.
Cons: Tiny space with just a few seats, not a place to linger.
No. 184-1, Section 1, Heping E Rd, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 10645 (map) MOVED, PLEASE REFER TO ADDRESS ABOVE
Mon to Fri: 7:00 am - 9:00 pm
Sat: 8:00 am - 9:00 pm
Sun: 8:00 am - 7:30 pm
Sugar Man Cafe: The Night-Owls' and Smokers' Cafe
The only reason I can't rate this place more highly is because it smells too much like cigarette smoke inside, judging from the two times I went there. Smoking isn't allowed inside cafes in Taipei, but air from the outdoor smoking area taints the inner non-smoking sanctum too easily. If you can ignore that, it's a nice spot to hang out or study. I like the spaciousness of the high ceiling plus the cozy cushioned booths lit by Banker's lamps. There are also regular tables at at least one couch tucked away in a back nook. Biggest plus: it's open until 4 a.m. 4 a.m.!
Regular latte: NT$120
Food: Dumplings, sandwiches, toast, bagels, ice cream.
Pros: Spacious. OPEN FOREVER I mean until 4 a.m.
Cons: Smells like cigarettes.
Address: No. 87-1, Section 1, Heping E Rd, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Opening hours: Mon to Sun: 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 a.m.
Camo Cafe (卡摩咖啡): The "Run Here During Your Class Break" Cafe
This recommendation is pretty much just directed towards MTC/Shida students. Camo Cafe stands right outside the entrance to the MTC building. If it weren't so close to my school I wouldn't go there, but it is, and thank god. It's quite cheap, the food is decent, and the service is friendly. I've grabbed breakfast here a few times as well as quick sandwich lunches during ten-minute breaks between class periods. Many zombie-like mornings involved stopping by Camo to pick up a caramel latte on the way to class in hopes it would wake me up. It didn't. But it helped me sustain the illusion that Magic Caffeinated Drinky was all I needed to be lucid after sleeping for five hours.
Regular latte: I'm not positive, but I'd guess NT$60
Food: Sandwiches, rice dishes, pasta, and more.
Pros: The most convenient food and drink source at the MTC. Fast and cheap. Outdoor picnic table seating is nice if the weather doesn't suck.
Cons: You're here for convenience, not high quality coffee. Closes early (school hours). All seating is outdoors, exposing you to the elements/MOSQUITOS.
Address: No. 36, Lishui St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Opening hours: (Not positive about the opening hours)
Mon - Sat: 7:30 pm - 5:30 pm
Wen-Hui Hall (文薈廳): The Shida Study Hall Cafe
This is another recommendation that's directed towards MTC/Shida students. Wen-Hui Hall is a large, casual study hall that also serves drinks and snacks. You don't have to order anything to study in there. So if you want a cafe-ish setting to study in without having to pay anything, it's a good choice.
Regular latte: NT$60
Food: Cookies, waffles, brownies, other little sweet snacks.
Pros: Convenient if you're on campus. Cheap. Has a water fountain for refilling bottles.
Cons: Closes early and only open on weekdays. Often very crowded during the afternoon.
Address: No. 162, 和平東路1段, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan (map)
Opening hours: Mon to Fri: 8:00 a.m - 8:00 p.m.
Whatever Comes After "Honorable Mention"
Elsewhere Cafe (生活在他方): The Art Book Cafe
I only got to visit this cafe once, so I don't have a whole lot to say about it. But the one visit was lovely. They sell a bunch of awesome art and design-related books and zines.
Regular latte: ?
Food: Cakes and tarts.
Address: No. 3, Lane 119, Section 1, Roosevelt Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100 (map)
Opening hours: Tue to Sun: 12:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Nom Nom Cafe: ...Another Cute Cafe
Nom Nom is just a block behind MTC campus, but I only went there twice. It's another cute cafe with cool furniture, and it gets loads of natural light.
- Brunch menu.
- Cold sesame latte and regular latte.
- White chocolate strawberry tea latte. Ordered once. Once was enough. Yeaaah.
- Ice cream with espresso. Damn, I should've ordered this instead.
Regular latte: NT$140
Food: Teas, lassis, milkshakes. Lots of bunch dishes, but I never got around to trying any.
Address: No. 137, Chaozhou St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Mon to Fri: 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Sat to Sun: 9:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
這宅咖啡 (This House Coffeeshop): The Quiet Cafe
They have a tatami-style seating area in the back where you take off your shoes and sit on cushions on the floor. Cozy! But they also have a "please be quiet" policy. So I've only been once.
Regular latte: NT$140
Cats: I didn't think so...until I saw a photo of a cat on their FB page.
Food: Hot chocolate, teas, some desserts.
Address: No. 12, Lane 37, Yongkang St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Thurs to Tues: 1:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Xiaomijo (小米酒咖啡館): The Quiet Cafe with Adorable Latte Art
You'd think the cute latte art would pull me in, but I only ever went to this cafe once because they too have a "please keep your voices low" rule. It's a totally reasonable rule...that I am bad at following. I felt so paranoid about being too loud while talking to Charlotte that I didn't feel compelled to return. But if you like cute latte art and speaking in hushed voices, this is the place for you.
Regular latte: NT$130
Food: Tea, sandwiches, bagels, quiche, ice cream, cakes, pavlova.
Pros: ADORABLE LATTE ART!!!@#!@!!!
Cons: You have to be quiet here. Bad for hanging out if you're horribly loud American (points to self).
Address: No. 5, Lane 41, Yongkang St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Tue to Fri: 1:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Sat: 12:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Sun: 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Trediumshim (找點心; formerly Cafe Trouve)
This cafe got a facelift and name change since my last visit, making my info outdated. But I thiiiink it's run by the same people behind Ecole Cafe, meaning it's probably good. It's uniquely located in a beautiful renovated Japanese occupation-era home. And assuming the cat didn't disappear with the facelift, they have a cat.
Cafe Trouve lives on in another location by Taida that I have yet to try.
- Latte with palm sugar syrup.
- Cat who mostly ignored me.
- What the outside of the cafe used to look like.
- The cafe used to share the space with a retro European furniture shop, but my dad told me the cafe now takes up all the space.
NOPE NOPE NOPE
Le Chat (路上撿到一隻貓): The Hostile Cafe
Update (3/19/16): Stephanie Hsu of The Thousandth Girl (a blog you should check out if you want to read more tips about Taipei!) left this comment on my Facebook page that you too should read:
I totally get the eye-rolly vibes towards 路上撿到一隻貓 BUT I have to say - I've been going there for nearly 3 years. In 2014, I left Taipei for the year to study in Stockholm. When I came back, I went to 路上撿到一隻貓. The grumpy hipster dudes mean mugged me hard when I walked in, as usual - but then when I go up to the counter to order, they caved: "Where have you been all this time?! We haven't seen you in so long!" I nearly cried.
I'm happy to hear that the people who work at Le Chat are also normal humans with hearts that feel things, as opposed to being 100 percent made of hostile indifference. :D
And now read on to see why I gave Le Chat the designation of "NOPE NOPE NOPE." END UPDATE
Cafes usually let you sit wherever you want. When I visited this cafe with Charlotte and Eric, not only were we instructed to sit at the bar, we were instructed which seats to specifically sit at. The bar was not full. All right then. If you like your service apathetic glazed with hostility, this place is for you. Luckily we didn't really deal with much of the service because the guys running the cafe spent most of their time sitting outside.
I ordered an iced latte with peanut butter. You could say, "Wow, Robyn, that's a dumbshit drink." I would agree. But the menu lets you customize your drink, and so I did. IMA TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY. YOLO. The road ended with a chunky peanut butter-clogged straw and an innocent drink that didn't want to exist, but it couldn't escape because it couldn't squeeze through the aforementioned clogged straw.
I take responsibility for ordering a stupid drink, but when someone orders an iced latte with peanut butter, you should respond with something like, "Oh...no, that's really dumb, you should order something else. For instance, anything else."
Besides that, the music was good (but too loud), there were a few adorable cats, and the decor is pretty cool in the "there's a bunch of old stuff lying around, like I'm on a treasure hunt in someone's basement. Also, it smells like a basement" way.
...I doubt the cafe is actually that bad. I probably just had a bad first impression. But if you had a similar experience, I'd love to hear about it and reinforce my discontent.
Regular latte: NT$110
Cats: Yes, multiple. The cafe lives up to its name.
Food: Teas, sodas, ice cream.
Pros: Cats. They'll make whatever drink you customize from their menu whether or not it's a good idea.
Cons: Weird service, too-loud music.
Address: No. 2, Lane 49, Wenzhou St, Da'an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106 (map)
Opening hours: Mon to Sun: 1:30 p.m. - 1:30 a.m.