This is my summary of the coffee culture in Taiwan. It is based on my personal experience (although I got the idea from the Coffee Review, June 2012). I have provided an indication of prices as well as comments relevant to each section. At the end I add some further observations and then provide some thoughts on the Japanese-American influence on coffee in Taiwan.
Coffee in Taiwan: My Summary
- American espresso chain coffee at a very high price
- High to Very High prices (NT$90-180)
- Starbucks Taiwan
- Cup of Excellence, training available, many varieties of beans – in short, excellent quality coffee. They have many single origins, their own blends and roast their own coffee.
- They sell beans (roasted and green) per half/pound.
- All have a mixture of espresso and brewed coffee (syphon, pour over, etc)
- Baristas are experts and know their coffee passionately
- Medium to High prices (NT$60-150)
- Examples: Orsir (Taichung) / Mojo Coffee (Taichung)
- Specialty coffee (limited number of regional coffees), roasted on site, Taiwan or city based chain.
- They sell beans (roasted and green) per half/pound.
- Focus on espresso, but have limited brewed coffee options
- Trained baristas
- Low to Medium prices (NT$30-70)
- Examples: Wilbeck Cafe (Taipei) / Cama cafe (across Taiwan)
- Serve a variety of coffees from different regions.
- They sell beans (roasted, but usually not green) per half/pound.
- Mainly syphon (vac pot), but also pour over and espresso
- Owned by a single owner/barista and roasts in small batches. Often they have been in business for a long time (over 15-20 years). They sell their coffee to a small group of loyal customers.
- Brewing coffee is their job and life. (But I’d avoid their espresso…)
- Medium to High prices (NT$70-120)
- Example: 梅花咖啡 (台中市北屯區興安路二段142巷9號)
- Serve a single, unannounced blend of coffee with no choice (e.g. 85 oC serves Guatemalan coffee locally roasted in Taiwan)
- Espresso (but some may have offer a drip or brewed coffee)
- Chain cafes which often serve baked goods as well.
- Baristas maybe receive training, but it’s variable… (It’s a job, not a life.)
- Low to Medium prices (NT$35-75)
- Example: 85ºC Cafe and Bakery (worldwide)
Other observations and thoughts:
» The largest regional influences on coffee in Taiwan are from Japan and North America. This is contrast to the European, South-East Asian, Australian/New Zealand, and other regions coffee cultures. (See the separate section below for more about this…)
» Latte Art (as an art form and an object of passion) is limited. Expect hearts and simple leaf patterns in all but some of the top specialty Cafes.
» Convenient and quick espresso‘s dominate in the chain cafes (both local Taiwanese and Specialty chains), Convenience Stores and Starbucks. Brewed coffee (syphon, pour over, etc) is preferred in local Taiwanese cafes and some Specialty Coffee cafes.
» Espresso machines are expensive in Taiwan. Expect to pay around 20% (or more!) higher prices than Europe, Britain, North America or Australia/NZ. Taiwan’s electricity (110V/50Hz) is slightly lower than the USA (120V/60Hz) but uses the same power plug. This means espresso machines (which are often hand-made in Europe) are exported to North America, and then imported to Taiwan. So travelling around so much of the globe means much higher prices! If you love your espresso machine, and are moving to Taiwan from the States, bring your machine with you…
» Coffee bean prices in Taiwan are high. Expect to pay around NT$300 per half pound (230g) for a blend and from NT$300 and higher per half pound for Single Origin beans. In fact, coffee prices are much higher than tea shop prices in Taiwan (generally NT$20-50). I take this is because of importing the coffee beans and that it’s seen as a foreign and/or trendy drink. (Another reason is that the preference is for milk-based espresso drinks and milk is quite expensive in Taiwan.)
The influence of Japan and North America
As mentioned above, Japan and North America are the dominant influences on the coffee scene of Taiwan.
The Japanese influence brings the syphon (vac pot), pour over and other filter coffee methods to the foreground. These result in a coffee that’s more favourable to the tea-loving Taiwanese palate; clear, clean and has bags of flavour. Japanese influence has been around a long time (probably since its occupation) and is the foundation of the coffee culture in Taiwan.
The North American influence means that, generally speaking, coffee is seen as both a daily ‘hit’ for on-the-go and a social drink. The recent wave (link: Third Wave on Wikipedia) of Specialty coffee in the USA and worldwide, has also made an impact here. (Although the expression of that Specialty coffee wave is distinctly American.) The American expression is seen in espresso coffee being a more narrow group of drinks without the wide range of passionate artisan cups. For the Australian/New Zealanders: no Flat Whites, Piccolo Lattes, or Long Blacks, whilst Latte Art is strictly a functional affair. For the majority of new cafes opening, the focus for an espresso drink is following the Starbucks tradition; espresso coffee with added flavours served quickly and without passionate knowledge behind the cup (both in barista work and the beans which is often a cheap, bulk buy blend).
What does this dual Japanese-American influence mean in essence? I would say that the artistic emphasis is on the brewed coffees rather than espresso. So both the depth and breadth of espresso drinks are missing.
On the other hand it does mean that syphon/pour over coffee is expertly brewed and the variable flavours of coffee are exalted. Syphon and pour over equipment are cheap to buy and well worth experimenting with for a cup much different to an espresso.