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An expat’s picks of the best cafes in Taipei
The distinct, tangible aroma of cafes always brings me back to my days of living in Taipei. Those were the days.
I’m not a coffee connoisseur by any means, and I’m not fussy about the beans. But cafes and me: we have a personal relationship.
Whatever I may experience during the week, I can go to cafes on the weekend as a time reserved for myself to think, contemplate, mull over things, or daydream.
In my last year in Taipei, cafes became my workspace, as I toiled on my grad school application and slowly made plans for a future that would once again take me away from this city. I enjoyed working in the solitude in the presence of students, creatives, or any others seeking refuge from the noises that pervaded the outside world. Occasionally I’d look up and gaze out the window at the people that came and went in a relentless, silent film. In the stillness that was all around me, my mind was the most productive, weaving my thoughts into words that appeared across my laptop screen.
When all is said and done, the cafes that I used to frequent remain some of my fondest memories of my time in Taipei. They saw me through stressful workdays, stinging heartbreaks, and all that in between. At my most vulnerable and elated, they provided shelter for me and my thoughts. It was in fact in one of those moments that the idea of writing a blog was conceived. And I knew that I would have to begin this blog by writing about my cafe days.
Here are my picks of the best cafes in Taipei. Each of them has scored major points in my book for being so wonderfully quirky and unique, and make for great places to spend one of those lazy weekend afternoons.
Table of Contents
Triangle Garden Cafe 角公園咖啡
It’s not so much underrated as it is hard to find. Triangle Garden Cafe is within close walking distance to the bustling Taipei Main Station and Zhongshan Station. Still, few would venture out into this area full of local shops selling miscellaneous goods and supplies.
But if you are reading this, chances are you’ve got an adventurous spirit and are up for a game of I spy.
Following the directions on Google Maps, you’ll turn onto Taiyuan Road. The first clue is a pop of colour. See that wall of bright, tangerine amongst buildings of brown and grey? If yes, rest be assured you’ve found the place. Still don’t see it? Take a couple of steps back and look up, and you’ll see the tall windows that neatly line the angled walls. Take the flight of stairs up to the second floor, and a hidden oasis reveals in front of your eyes.
It’s not uncommon to see cafes converted from old buildings all around the city, but the high ceilings with the exposed beams and hanging light bulbs are rare indeed. In the early afternoon, the orange bulbs glow lazily over the unique loft space.
This city often feels too cramped. I never feel that way here, despite the many tables and chairs, all different in sizes and shapes, that fill up the cafe.
The counter is sprawled with menus, cake stands, and miscellaneous objects. The Chinese calligraphy characters written on red ink paper remind me this is Taipei, but the triangular pendant lights are rather mid-century. In one corner, the stairs lead up to a mezzanine level, oddly the most uncluttered space in the cafe. On this particular afternoon, everyone found their favourite spots and mismatched cushions to sit on. All was quiet, saved for the occasional clattering of the keyboard and whispers of chatter. I sipped my tea while staring at the wall re-purposed from a collage of vintage window frames.
Apparently there is a cat, but I didn’t see it. An excuse to come by another time.
Haowu Spirit Cafe 好物 Spirit 咖啡
Haowu literally translates to good stuff, which quite aptly sums up this cafe. Good food, good service, good atmosphere. Good stuff.
Nestled in the residential streets behind Liuzhangli Station, you’ll spot the red-roof shack with large windows standing in the corner of two intersecting lanes.
Notice how I only mention the MRT station names?
Taiwan’s public transportation is top-notch and makes getting around the island effortless. The MRT and my feet were typically how I got around town (oh, and the occasional Uber). Google Maps is useful, until you get the sections, lanes, and alleys all mixed up. But I think half the fun is in slowly weaving your way through the labyrinth of streets until you find what you are looking for. Give yourself a bit of time to walk around and trust that not all who wander are lost!
Where to begin? The chipped paint on the door, the wood flooring, and the sunlight that poured in from the large windows gave the place a nostalgic hue. In the hazy afternoon, it looked like it belonged to another era, in one of the sepia-toned photos from your grandparents’ time.
I opted for the lemon chicken focaccia (with a side of the street view) from their extensive brunch menu. The yogurt was a nice touch, but I was already filled to the brim from the meal.
Overall, an afternoon very well spent.
Ruins Coffee Roasters
From the team that once ran another of my favourite cafe, Cafe Junkies, Ruins Coffee Roasters certainly lives up to its name. Situated inconspicuously on the side of a busy road that runs along the Xindian River is something that resembles a ruin. You are guaranteed to miss this humble cafe if not for the artworks on the rolling shutter doors as you enter.
I think the charm of the place is absolutely in its remoteness. For those who rely on the MRT to get around like me, Ruins Coffee Roasters is sadly not close to any station. To get there, there are bus stops nearby, but my personal preference is the YouBike. This is a subject for a future post, but I just looooove that the city is so well-connected by riverside bike routes that make for a scenic and breezy ride.
I usually start my journey at Hakka Culture Theme Park and ride along the river for an hour or so until the exit ramp for Muzha. After the workout, it’s a pretty good time to enjoy an iced coffee.
The location never seems to deter the crowd. On a Sunday afternoon, it was packed on the ground floor, so I found myself up in the attic. I love the quirky decorations all around the place. Who would’ve thought they’d see the Moai among flour sacks?
Due to the slant of the ceiling, the patrons in the attic squatted on tiny stools with their drinks served on overturned crates.
Looking down from the attic, you can’t help but appreciate the ingenuity behind the once ramshackle warehouse.
Modern Mode & Modern Mode Cafe
As strange as it is beautiful, I find myself going back again and again because this place is just. so. cool. A cafe as well as a design and concept store, Modern Mode & Modern Mode Cafe brings a whole new kind of aesthetics to the streets of Old Taipei.
Ever since discovering Old Taipei, or 大稻埕 Dadaocheng, I loved coming here to discover the hipster cafes, bars and museums that hide inside the red brick buildings that remain from times of the Japanese occupation.
I don’t know how I found this place, but I’m glad I did. Whatever I was expecting when I first walked in Modern Mode, I was in for a visual shock. As my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting inside the cafe, I didn’t know where to look. A literal treasure trove of European and antique-inspired decors, jewelry, accessories, and apparel, it is easy to spend an afternoon just to check out what they have to offer.
And just as I got to the end of the narrowly shaped cafe, a set of exquisite wooden doors beckoned me. Inside, a beautiful courtyard flooded with sunlight. It’s safe to say I was in love.
Home Roast Coffee 鮮烘咖啡工作室
Discovered while riding the YouBike around the neighbourhood, I happily brought my laptop over for a visit. A refreshing contrast from the visual feast at Modern Mode, Home Roast Coffee is no more than a few tables and bar seats big. Cozy and uncomplicated, it provides the perfect atmosphere for an afternoon of quiet productivity.
Alcohol is served in the evening, from 6pm onwards. Enjoyed with a light breeze from the patio, there are few things that can possibly end a productive day on a better note.