Taipei’s Most Interesting Cafes: A Guide

This article was prepared for Medium and re-posted here. 

Modbar and Kalita Wave at IMPCT Coffee Taipei Yanji

As CEO at IMPCT Coffee my job takes me all over the world. In the past year I’ve been to four continents, trying every single specialty coffee joint along the way. I can pretty confidently say that we no longer live in a world where decent (or even downright amazing) coffee is hard to find. In nearly any major metropolitan you’re virtually tripping over places that will serve you up a competently made latte or drip coffee. Herein lies the problem.

Amazing coffee used to be worth a journey. I’d get up with my friends and pick one of my old city’s two great specialty coffee joints and make an afternoon out of it. These days, however, specialty coffee joints are a dime a dozen. Their offerings all great but essentially interchangeable. Meticulously curated and sourced coffees, well-piloted La Marzocco or Slayer espresso machines, and perfectly dialed-in drip pours are now the norm rather than exception. With quality so high across the board quality becomes an expectation rather than a draw; a hurdle to jump over rather than a defining feature.

This is precisely the reason why this article is about Taipei’s most INTERESTING cafes. These are places where you’re going to receive a notably different kind of experience than your average local cafe. The kind of places worth the journey.

Before I start, a little note to those who have never been to Taipei and need some context about the local coffee scene. It’s. Amazing. When I first came to Taipei over four years ago the first thing that struck me is how bizarrely common small cafes roasting their own coffee in-store were. I’m not sure where this practice was lifted from, but everything from chains like Cama to independent stores were roasting in small batches on-premises.

Over the past four years that spirit has led to one of the biggest and best specialty coffee scenes of any city I can name. I can probably name fifty good independent specialty stores off the top of my head, with hundreds more dotting the city. A local preoccupation with latte art means even non-specialty stores will be able to serve up extremely good examples of such, often for under a few dollars.

The point? If you live in Taipei these are the cafes worth making time for. If you don’t live in Taipei? Come. Try everything and keep an eye out for these in particular. Want to find out more about any of these cafes? Click the link in the title.

The List

The OG — LuGuo Cafe

I’ll admit my bias up front. Jie-He Luguo, owner of the 4 (or is it 5 now?), LuGuo Cafes is a friend and one of the most genuine and gracious people I’ve met in Taipei. He also happens to be a true pioneer of the specialty coffee scene in Taiwan. He opened his namesake cafe over ten years ago with a commitment to doing coffee right. That commitment has made his cafes perennial favorites in Taipei.

As a slightly more oldschool roaster, LuGuo prefers his roasts a little more developed than the average specialty roaster. You won’t find any acidic, fruit-forward, cinnamon/city roasts here. What you will find are great examples of Full City range roasts with coffees chosen for their sweetness and balance. This combination of roast and coffee selection makes LuGuo’s lattes especially worth checking out.

With great coffee a given for these appearing on this list, LuGuo Cafe is a standout in its actual physical locations — some of the most amazing places in the city. Locations feature a second floor cafe on the historic Dihua Street, a cozy spot nestled in Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, and a beautiful new location in the underground Eslite bookstore. Being literally anywhere you’d actually want to be in Taipei and featuring great coffee makes LuGuo Cafe almost too-easy a recommendation.

The Upstart — Yaboo Cafe

Taipei’s coffee scene offers a broad spectrum of experiences, from the classic to the modern. If LuGuo is on one end of that spectrum then Emily, owner and roaster at Yaboo Cafe, is on the other. Young, forward-thinking, and female, Emily is a rarity in an industry largely dominated by nerdy men (something I happen to be guilty of myself).

As you walk up to Yaboo Cafe the exterior patio is dominated by a Diedrich roasting machine, signaling immediately what kind of experience you’re in for. Emily specializes in modern, light roasts — the kind you might find at any leading North American specialty roaster. What makes Emily stand out is her ability to choose punchy, flavorful coffees and really bring out those attributes with her roasting. While I’d probably pick up a latte at LuGuo Cafe I’d definitely go with one of Yaboo’s drip offerings.

Whatever you choose, you’ll get to enjoy it in arguably one of Taipei’s restaurant, shopping, and cafe hotspots on Yongkang Street. Some people might recommend it after walking around a bit but I say do it first and harness the power of caffeine to fuel the day’s shopping.

The Ethical — IMPCT Coffee

Ignore the fact that I’m wearing an IMPCT shirt in my profile picture. Double ignore the fact that my profile says I’m the CEO. For the purposes of this article just think of me as a completely impartial coffee fan. To help you I’ll even write as if I’m just a casual fan of this particular cafe. Ahem.

If you run in specialty coffee circles you’ll find yourself in lots of discussions about issues plaguing origin communities. Coffee’s supply chain is, to put it mildly, delicate. The communities that grow coffee are some of the poorest on the planet, receiving pennies on the dollar for coffee sold at retail.

There’s a growing breed of coffee companies dedicated to not just bringing you a better cup of coffee, but one you can feel good about drinking. IMPCT Coffee is one of this genre’s best example with 100% of its profits being re-invested at origin to build schools supporting hard working local families.

Stepping up to IMPCT Coffee’s inaugural location on the now-bustling Yanji Street might immediately inform you that something a little bit different is going on. Replacing the generally minimalist trappings of a specialty cafe is a massive, brightly colored mosaic wrapping the location’s exterior. Peeking inside, the location looks more like a coffee laboratory than a traditional cafe. An espresso machine is nowhere to be found, instead a huge Modbar Pour-over equipped drip bar peers onto the street. Immersion cirulators can be found bubbling away with jars of coffee inside.

Black, drip coffee is the focus here with the triple Modbar setup pumping out affordable hot or Japanese ice drip served primarily to-go. Hang around at the dozen seats inside and you’re sure to try almost everything on the menu as the staff are prone to constantly make and hand out samples of all seasonal offerings. Still curious? Feel free to ask for Taylor — he seems nice enough.

The Japan— Torarakuya Taipei

Do you like coffee? How about delicious Japanese curry? How about whisky? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions then Torarakuya is definitely worth a visit.

Taiwan has more than a little Japanese influence but nowhere is that more apparent than places like this. This is an absolutely tiny restaurant (cafe? bar?) in an older, informal, one-story building on the corner of Guangfu and Xinyi a few blocks away from Taipei 101. How this block hasn’t been razed yet to make room for Taipei’s iconic blocky and utilitarian buildings I have no idea but I’m glad it hasn’t.

Torarakuya has… I don’t know, like six seats? Six seats and an absolutely massive lineup for half the day. Its menu is exceedingly simple and focuses on a very limited selection of Japanese everything. Two or three kinds of curry (Japanese), beer (Japanese), whisky (Japanese), and coffee (darker, Japanese style V60 drip) is all you’ll find. What it lacks in variety it makes up in being, well, delicious. Last time I talked to the owner he explained he only liked things that were strongly flavored and delicious. I guess that sums up what’s going on at Torarakuya.

Special Mention — Provider Dry Goods

I think the inclusion of Provider says more about me than anything else. I’d happily eat Japanese curry every day for the rest of my life, something Provider does an excellent rendition of. Being a few blocks from my apartment in Ximen probably doesn’t hurt it either.

What sets Provider apart is their great, modern space and excellent coffee menu. Rather than being roasters like most of this list, Provider feature a rotating selection of local and imported roasters. Last few times I’ve been to Provider they’ve been featuring Fuglen Coffee out of Norway. Although I’ve never been to Norway, I know Fuglen from their exceptional Tokyo cafe off Shibuya. Want to try Japan’s best coffee… from Norway… in Taipei? With curry? Go to Provider.