This year has been a good time to be a coffee drinker in Shanghai. In 2018, I’ve seen an improvement in standards at many of the city’s cafes, with better quality milk and beans sourced from more interesting places, like Ethiopia, Panama and Guatemala. At the same time, the skills of local baristas have also gotten better; many of them previously worked for bigger brands that taught them good habits and how to make a proper cup of coffee. Now they are branching out on their own or moving to smaller, more idiosyncratic and independent cafes. Basically, 2018 -- what a damn fine time to be alive. Here’s the best of the newest crop of shops.
Hands-down favorites for the attitude, knowledge and black coffee – the focus of the store. The concept here is to bring in coffees from all over the world (hence, Compass), so that means beans from: CoffeeCollective from Denmark, HASBEAN from the UK, Intelligentsia and Stumpton from the US, Industry Beans from Australia, Supreme from New Zealand/Australia, Urban Coffee Roasters from Hong Kong... The list grows, changes, and evolves. For espresso-drinkers like me (don’t judge), they only use Urban Coffee Roasters for the moment.
They opened in fall 2017 but moved from Jing'an Villa to the second floor on Nanjing Xi Lu in August, so let’s consider them part of this year’s crop. Wonderfully, you can now step out on to the balcony overlooking Nanjing Xi Lu and run your hand through the leaves on the plane trees.
Mico, the owner, has been another favorite of mine, with two previous coffee shops (Danke and Hallelujah, both now closed). This one is the best of the three. The obvious question is about the name. Why tequila? Because Mico likes it, not because this is a coffee/bar.
Design is simple with a few vintage touches, and handsome, with dark green accents and mahogany chairs. The order here should be something espresso-based, with Fancy Blend beans, which absolutely bloom when you drink them.
Rejoice, Jiangsu Lu station, the reign of the dueling Starbucks shops is over. Gregorius is a very personal project. Start with the name, for example. There is a strong vintage feel, with cups and saucers from the 1980s, chair and stools (which serve as impromptu tables) from the 1970s and 80s.
The beans are more modern: Gardelli Beans from Italy for drip coffee. WARNING: this place is hot on social media, so if you don’t want to drink coffee with a bunch of selfie-seekers crowding the spacious backyard, then come off-peak.
The owner of Chez Black is Dutch. But, no, it’s not that kind of “coffee” shop. Instead, it’s a very Italian-style shop, all espresso-based drinks and no hand drip. Do not expect advanced latte art, either. Sorry, progressive third wavers.
Come for interesting coffee-based drinks, like the Ice Cube Latte -- espresso frozen into ice cubes, with milk -- or espresso-lemonade. Chez Black’s beans come from a sourcing company in Norway and are roasted in Nanjing.
Also of note, the design of the espresso machine is rare for Shanghai: it’s sunken into the counter, so the barista is not hidden from the customer behind a huge piece of gleaming machinery. That means you can actually talk to the people making your coffee. Imagine that. So very Italian. Or Dutch.
The kids of Onirii have expanded into Fuxing Park as the Wild And Wicked Youth. I haven't sensed anything particularly wicked, but a bit wild -- that it is. WAWY is achingly hip, from its coy Japanese designer coffee cups to the art books to the avant-garde cylinder seats at the cocktail tables. Yes, cocktail tables. Love it or hate it. I love it.
Why? It's Onirii related, the baristas are nice and friendly, watching photoshoots is fun, watching the fountain and ladies dancing in Fuxing Park is even more fun, the coffee is not bad, and I like the crazy designer chairs. The downside is the price, at 38rmb for a latte.
If WAWY is for hip girls, then Wish Me Luck is for hip guys. Good at coffee. Serious. Big into analog audio equipment. When I went, the barista asked me all the right questions, like: do I mind a paper cup (yes I do), is the temperature of the milk right (it was), and did I like it (a lot). He was still concerned about machine settings, showing the heart and soul of a true barista.
The soundtrack is American pop and jazz, a welcome contrast to the modern design, and the customers all seem to know each other.
Small Company Coffee is like sitting in a hot tub on vacation. The layout is, ahem, unusual. The entrance is through a set of black glass doors, and the seats are arranged in a long rectangle with everybody facing each other. That makes it easy to spark conversations with your neighbors, which I like.
There are quite a few signature coffee drinks to explore, like the Sea Salt Pepper Cream coffee and Ginger Beer Black coffee, but I found a regular latte more enjoyable. Pleasant, not strong enough to make your heart race, good for the afternoon or early evening. At night, it turns into Lotus Bar.