TAICHUNG, July 3 — When travellers visit Taiwan, most flock to Taipei, its capital. This is all the more true if you are a coffee lover and veteran café hopper: Taipei is home to hundreds of great coffee shops. However, to limit your coffee journey to the capital would be to miss out on another great coffee and café haven — Taichung.
Located in the centre of Taiwan (hence its name which means “the middle of Taiwan”), Taichung is the third largest city on the island and a manufacturer’s paradise. In recent years, though, it has been revamping itself, striving to inculcate a more diverse cultural identity. The first sign of this trend, as it is elsewhere in the world, is a burgeoning food-and-beverage scene, especially specialty coffee.
With this in mind, there is perhaps no better place to start your café hop than at the Factory Roastery, home to local coffee roasters Mojo Coffee. Owned by barista-roaster Scott Chen, the Factory Roastery acts as Mojo’s headquarters so besides enjoying a well-made cuppa here — be it a cappuccino or a filter brew — you can have a gander at some of their beans on display.
The roastery is located on the second floor and goes through approximately a ton of Direct Trade beans a month, both for use in the café below as well as for sale to customers. Enjoy carefully roasted beans hailing from Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The view of the lawn from inside is relaxing, given the spacious interior illuminated by natural sunlight.
The menu is intentionally limited — little more than homemade cookies and buttery waffles — as the emphasis is on the coffee after all, so you’d want to save space for brunch at your next stop.
Juggler Café is run by Australian-educated Jeromy Lin, who returned to Taichung with a dream of bringing authentic flat whites to his hometown. Preferring light-roasted beans from Columbia and Ethiopia, Lin crafts a superb flat white as well as the little-known (in Taiwan) piccolo latte; both have proved to be popular with Taichung coffee aficionados.
Besides coffee from Down Under, Lin has also introduced Aussie-style brunch dishes here. Must-try items include the Stormin’ Norman, which features a poached free-range chicken egg on top of avocado, tomatoes, organic lettuce and crusty slice of sourdough bread, and Vegemite soldiers, which are sticks of toasts spread with Vegemite, ready for dunking into half-boiled eggs. Delicious.
After brunch, it’s time for a little walk... in search of more coffee, of course. Nestled in the back alleys of Jingcheng neighbourhood — also known as Taichung’s Little Europe due to its Western ambience — is Who Together Café. The small café is nearly hidden by the trees in its garden so look out for it by spotting a feline or two.
That’s right: here cats roam free like little lions, lazy and comfortable in their surroundings. One feels immediately that this will be a haven for curious kitties and cat lovers alike.
Outside, the light blue walls and white windows paint a picture of domestic simplicity. Inside, Who Together Café is a pastel-coloured sanctuary, with vibrant illustrations of cats everywhere. You may choose to sit at a low table near one of the windows, for a change. It sure feels different resting on the tatami mat, knowing you’re not here for Japanese food.
Instead, share some refreshing slices of lime smothered with freshly ground coffee beans and sugar while waiting for your coffee. The tartness of the lime and the dark aroma of the fine coffee grounds are a perfect foil for the slightly acidic coffee they serve here, such as beans from El Salvador and Ethiopia. A place made for lingering, with a new feline friend or two.
For a café with a difference, head over to For Farm Burger, located in a low-key double-storey house off Meichun Road. These standalone houses turned into shops are known locally as a tou tian cuo and often maintains the building’s original appearance.
Therefore, once you step in, you are greeted by low ceilings and timber columns. Some of the chairs at the izakaya-style bar are at least half a century old, believe it or not! Country music is played — perhaps not fashionable, but a nice change from the latest radio hits or a litany of jazz standards. Vintage clocks and an earthy palette complete the picture.
For Farm Burger emphasises food and drinks that are as natural as possible. Therefore, in addition to natural-processed coffees, you can also enjoy a menu of burgers made with organic yeast bread and organic vegetables. The calamari burger is popular, as well as the tofu burger due to its subtle Japanese flavours. Here, not only the coffee beans are from the farms; everything edible has a story.
Night falls and the locals are invading the night markets for snacks and supper. To escape the throngs, you can relax in Ino Café, hidden in a tiny alley off busy Zhongxing Street. That seems to be the over-riding theme for good cafés in Taichung; they’re all concealed in little lanes away from the busier main roads where the ubiquitous coffee chains Starbucks and 85°C Café rule.
Located near the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Ino Café embraces the hippie-hipster ideal by doubling as a café is on the first floor and a bed-and-breakfast on the second floor. The café almost feels smoky, though it’s non-smoking, with an abundance of dark wood as part of the décor and dim yellow lighting.
The eclectic bric-à-brac, such as a kitschy black bunny lamp and figurines of The Beatles, lend a deep warmth to the space. Ino Café also hosts regular art exhibits and live music (the latter something the city still lacks when compared to the capital), making this the perfect place to unwind with a late night cuppa after a long day of café hopping in Taichung.
The Factory by Mojo Coffee
22, Jingcheng-liu Street, Taichung, Taiwan
Open daily 9am-6pm
4, Lane 498, Huamei Street, Taichung, Taiwan
Open daily 9am-6pm (except Mon closed)
Who Together Café
3, Lane 16, Jingcheng-jiu Street, Taichung, Taiwan
Open daily 1pm-10pm (except Tue closed)
For Farm Burger
1, Lane 102, Meichun Road, Taichung, Taiwan
Open daily for 11:30am-9:30pm
175, Zhongxing Street, Taichung, Taiwan
Open daily 11:30am-10pm