I am a big coffee drinker, and I also love to work in coffee shops. I think I’ve spent more hours reading, preparing for classes, writing papers, grading papers, etc. at Shenandoah Joe’s than at the library at UVa, so one of my concerns coming to Beijing was to figure out how I could get my daily coffee fix, as well as to find a good place to work close to the University. I have already written how I am spending quite a bit of time at the National Library but, as beautiful and charming as that place is, I still need to be able to drink coffee while I am working.
The coffee situation was also a concern of mine since fourteen years ago, when I came for the first time to China, instant coffee was a precious commodity and cappuccino was not only a foreign word, but also an alien concept (incidentally, I love the Arrested Development joke about the arrival of the cappuccino craze to the States, see below).
Well, to my surprise, coffee is not only easily available, it is practically everywhere. Tea is still king in China, but coffee is not a “foreign” or unusual thing anymore. Around the university there are, literally, dozens of small tea and coffee shops that serve pretty decent coffee at a good price (around $2 a cup). Most of these shops offer their drinks only to go, and have a variety of drinks that put any coffee shop in the States (or anywhere else for that matter) to shame. You can see sample menus in the gallery below, as besides your traditional Cappuccino or Caramel Latte, you can also get Red Bean Pudding Tea, Immortality Tea, Osmanthus Milk Foam (not sure what that is yet), Language Lime Green (also a mystery). Dylan and Sophia have been really obsessed with the Hot Chocolate with Pudding and Pearls from Coco (we get one on our way home from school almost every day), a Taiwanese chain that it is also very popular in Beijing. You can see Sophia and Dylan posing in front of a lot of the local coffee shops while holding one of those Coco drinks.
While the décor in the coffee shops is quite similar to the ones in the States, the people working in them are definitely not. In the U.S., particularly in independent coffee shops, your Barista may be a cool looking, tattooed and pierced, coffee connoisseur, an I-prepare-coffee-as-an-art-experience type of guy or gal, but here most baristas wear a uniform, and would not know the difference between Sumatra and Colombian coffee (neither do I!). The clientele is also more mainstream…I still have yet to see a person walking into a coffee shop with a parrot on her shoulder (there is a lady who regularly wears hers to Shenandoah Joe’s).
Speaking of coffee shops, there is a particular cafe that has been on my radar since I came to Beijing, but that, unfortunately, I still need to visit: the Central Perk Cafe. For those of you who don’t know (or pretend that do not know!), the Central Perk is the fictitious coffee shop made famous in the TV Sitcom, Friends. There has been recent media coverage about the cafe since it seems to represent interesting cultural developments in contemporary society in China (at least among urban middle class young people): the Chinese portrayal (interpretation) of western culture, the new ideals of the youth… As a big fan of the show (like many Chinese I practically learned English watching it…I am serious!), I will make sure that I write a future post about but, for now, I better stop writing and get back to my coffee…and my work!