Living abroad offers so many exciting experiences. Often, I walk out of my apartment and think to myself, "What on Earth is going on here?!" and those are the moments I live for. But, between the random firework displays at 7am or the levitating buses, there are times when a cup of cha just doesn't cut it and all I really want is a good cup of coffee.
So, look out tea! Quality coffee CAN be found in Shanghai and I know just where to find it.
Coffee cupping. What's that?!
This weekend I changed things up a bit. Instead of the dime-a-dozen wine tastings around town, I ventured over to Sumerian on Shaanxi Bei Lu for a coffee tasting (known as a "cupping"). Who knew? You can slurp down spoonfuls of coffee from around the world at this cozy little pebble-floored coffee joint conveniently located next to Egghead Bagel—FYI, a bagel makes for a good base before the caffeine frenzy. Read on for more....
Every Saturday afternoon from 12-2:30pm up to six people can book a coffee cupping for RMB 98 with Dave, the owner, a laid-back coffee aficionado from San Diego, CA. Dave will give you the low-down on the caffeinated fruit (yes, coffee is a fruit) and his little dog, Do Do will greet you at the door, tail wagging.
Your afternoon cupping (is it me, or does that sound a bit saucy) starts with your favorite type of coffee—I chose a latte, Jerome an espresso and Aimee a cappuccino. I'd advise you to skip your morning cup of joe because that's just the beginning. Dave gives you the history of the plant (a goat herder in Ethiopia noticed his animals acting a little strange after nibbling on the berry, so the story goes), then you learn about the two main types of beans—80% of the world's coffee is Arabica and 20% Robusta—along with processing, roasting and brewing techniques. I found it interesting that the darker the roast, the less caffeine, and that most coffee chains like Starbucks and Costa serve dark roasted coffee because the taste is more consistent.
Coffee from around the world
We sampled a decaf from Peru, caffeinated single bean coffees from Guatemala, Sumatra, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya and Panama and a blended Moka-Java. I never knew, but it seems I prefer African coffees because of their fruity flavors.
So how does a coffee tasting work? Everyone gets a sheet of paper and rates each bean on everything from aroma and flavor to aftertaste and feel in mouth with dozens of adjectives like hidy (as in animal hide), leathery, berry, earthy, musty, etc. It's not as easy as you think to pinpoint the smells and flavors, but there's no pressure, Dave's friendly attitude and love for coffee make you feel right at home.
The best part of the experience (apart from the buzz!) is after you've learned about one of the world's most consumed beverages, you get to create your own blend to take home. I choose 1 part Sumatra and 1 part Kenya and I started my week off right—with hints of blueberry.
Even though the Middle Kingdom is primarily tea country, the coffee culture in Hong Kong is rapidly developing and there is more of a buzz about coffee in China than ever before. So why not book yourself a Coffee Cupping this weekend and discover your favorite flavor!
In need of a pick-me-up? Check out:
Sumerian415 Shanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu Shǎnxī Běi Lù jìn Běijīng Xī Lù, 陕西北路415号 近北京西路 (86) 136 2174 0969
Bright, cozy vibe with great coffee, friendly and knowledgeable baristas and a furry little dog, Do Do, who greets customers.
Boonna1690 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Hunan Lu Huáihǎi Zhōng Lù jìn Húnán Lù, 淮海中路1690号近湖南路 (86 21) 6433 0835
This always busy little coffee shop has a courtyard off the main road, free Wi-Fi and serves a decent cappuccino.
Noah Café3 Gao'an Lu between Huaihai Lu and Hengshan Lu Héngshān Lù Gāo'ān Lù hé Huáihǎi Lù Gāo'ān Lù zhōngjiān, 衡山路高安路和淮海路高安路中间
This hidden gem is around the corner from the Shanghai Library. The backyard is perfect for warm weather (and the parrot occasionally talks to you). Not only is the staff friendly and the cappuccino good... but they also play Coco Rosie on the radio.