Shanghai Cafe Diary

Nine years ago was when I last made a trip to Shanghai - it was a school trip and unfortunately, I don't remember much of it. All I do remember was taking the maglev train, buying rolls of sticker tapes and spending a lot of time just trying to fit in. Fast forward nine years and the maglev train is still there, the  sticker tapes are still sitting somewhere in my cupboard (untouched, I may add) and I do believe I worry a lot less about 'fitting in' nowadays. Ah, those childhood days. 

I never really thought about making a return trip to Shanghai until it started making its rounds on social media - I saw images of its cafes and streets on instagram, and I was amazed by how its hipster value has shot up in the years. So when my mom offered for me and my sister to make a trip up to visit our uncle there during our summer break, I was more than open to the idea. 

This post is a few months late, I know, and my memory is a little hazy by now. But thankfully, I took some notes down when I was there so there is a little bit of reliability in what I write and 'remember'. :-) 

A good majority of my days in Shanghai were spent in cafes, inhaling cup after cup of coffee as I tried to keep up with the sheer volume of work I had back then. Coffee became a necessity as I worked through 4am nights and 8am mornings, managing multiple deadlines in a single week. On the bright side, I managed to try out a range of cafes around Shanghai while my uncle and sister went around doing what tourists do! 

1. Seesaw Coffee 

Seesaw is one of the more popular cafe-coffee places in Shanghai, with numerous outlets around. My uncles brought me to the one on the fifth floor of the Reel mall, where a large window on the ceiling lets in an abundance of natural light and peace and quiet abound. The shop itself is small and somewhat dark, but there are seats outside for customers, right under the large window. They do espressos and single origin brews. Food is limited to pastries and cheesecake. Unfortunately, the cheesecake was gone before I could get to it, which I was somewhat upset about as I had heard great things about their cheesecake. Oh well. 

I opted for the Yunnan cold brew because, when in China. According to Seesaw's Facebook, Yunnan is the only place in China that produces coffee! The coffee had a rather earthy flavour to it, and it was rather smooth. I tried my sister's iced latte and it could have been good, if only it had a little less milk. 

Address: Fifth Floor, Reel, 1601 Nanjing Xi Lu near Changde Lu, Jingan District
Opening Hours: 10am-9pm daily 

2. Uncle No Name Espresso 

This cafe is, quite literally, a cozy little place to be. It's rather small - seats are limited - and I would imagine most people simply grab a cup of coffee to-go in the mornings before they rush off to work around the area. Inside, however, there are magazines for browsing and a short row of sofa seats, good for whiling an afternoon away. The staff are even thoughtful enough to leave bottles of mosquito repellent for customers who decide to sit down - for some reason, there are indeed many mosquitoes flying around inside. 

We came here for a quick breakfast and coffee before starting the day, as uncle no name was rather near our apartment. The iced black was not acidic at all, and it had a lovely buttery aftertaste with fruity and chocolatey notes. The croissants were alright - very buttery but unfortunately rather limp as they weren't heated up/toasted to a crisp the way I like them, but they'll do just fine for a quick takeaway breakfast I suppose. The coffee makes up for it. 

Address: 227 Fengxian Lu, near Nanhui Lu, Jingan district
Opening Hours: 8am - 9pm daily

3. Sumerian Coffee Roasters

Sumerian is a bit of a mishmash. The bold colours and bright lights make you feel like you're in a trendy hipster hotspot, but it also feels like your charming neighbourhood cafe at the same time. I took the window seat, and fed off the chill European vibes (Shanghai has some lovely architecture around, heavily influenced by the French) as my ears were fed with pop music. 

Sumerian has a range of coffees available, including some really funky-sounding ones. I ordered a Sumerian iced coffee, not knowing that it came with milk and sweeteners. The caramel and vanilla flavours delighted the 14 year old in me, though I do wish I could have tasted the coffee properly - they are rather well-known for their coffee. 

The owners of Sumerian also run a place called boom boom bagels, and the bagels are boom boom indeed - they're fantastic!! My sister and I shared an egg, cheese and tomato bagel and a peanut butter and banana bagel. There was so much crisp and chew going on at once, and the pairings were on point. I liked them so much I even ate them with my hands. 

Address: 415 Shaanxi N Road, near Beijing Xi Lu, Jing'an district
Opening Hours:  
Mon 730am-6pm
Tue - Sun: 730am-730pm

4. One More Cup 

This was a random cafe that we stumbled upon while my sister was on the hunt for some stationery. On another note, I didn't know that there was a road in Shanghai lined with stationery shops; it would have been my 12 year old idea of heaven. One More Cup is a cute establishment with cookbooks for browsing and coffee served in teacups (see photo above). I had the cold drip coffee made with beans from Guatemala. It tasted faintly of vanilla, and had a bit of a dry aftertaste. It was good company for the two and a half hours I was there. 

Address: 346 Fuzhou Lu, near Shanxi Zhong Lu
Opening Hours: Daily, 930am-11pm 

5. Cafe On Air

Definitely one of my favourite cafes in Shanghai! The ambience and aesthetic is on point, and the vibes were so good! You'll have to walk a little way in to find it though, it's not on the main road. It's tucked into a little side street! It feels like a secret hideaway; a countryside haven - just look at that lovely garden and building opposite. 

The coffee was fantastic - I had two cups.  It reminded me of Liberty Coffee, a nice, homely blend with the milk really complementing it and adding a nice touch of sweetness to the cup. The cheesecake also deserves a special mention; my notes only say that it was a "really superb cheesecake". The blueberry teacake was not bad itself, but I'm more of a cheesecake girl. Cheesecake has my heart. Good cheesecake and good coffee have my heart. I was very productive here. 

Address: 634 Huaihai Zhong Lu, Huaihai Lu Zhongduan
Opening Hours: 
Mon - Fri: 10am - 6pm
Sat - Sun: 10am - 7pm

6. Baker & Spice

This place reminds me of Baker & Cook, and its not just because they both start with Baker... It's pretty common around Shanghai, and they specialise in bakes and breakfast. Like Baker & Cook, they make some pretty mean pastries and the food and coffee's safe and decent. The branch I visited was at Nanjing Xi Lu. My uncle goes there pretty often, and he likes it a lot. I think it's the kind of reliable place you go to when you're a little stuck and don't quite know where to go. 

We went there two days in a row hehe. There's your standard breakfast fare, on the left I had scrambled eggs on toast with bacon and brie. Great combination, and the bacon was extra crispy (which I always appreciate). On the right was eggs ben but I had it with avocado and didn't eat the asparagus, because I don't eat asparagus. Eggs are always a good idea, and the eggs here were done pretty well.

The coffee here was pretty yum, actually. A little on the weaker side, with a subtle aftertaste. A safe, standard iced black. I had it on the both times I visited. 

What really deserves a special mention, though, is this lemon meringue tart. I feel like I need to put it in bold because it was that good! That! Good! It had a shortbread crust but what really made it so special was that it was lined with chocolate. I love biscuits lined with chocolate, and it paired with the tart lemon curd just well. Combined with the lightly torched, fluffy meringue - it was so good, and I really miss it. It's truly my lemon tart goals (speaking of, I think I'll have a go at replicating it sometime this holiday!). 

Address: 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu
Opening Hours: Daily 7am - 10:30pm

7. Kommune Cafe 

Kommune is located in Tianzifang, a hipsterish maze of shops, art studios and food establishments. The area is filled with little alleyways lined with flowerpots and gorgeous architecture. It's located in the French Concession area, so there's no surprise it's got a bit of a European vibe to it. Kommune is like your cool indie-music-playing kinda cafe in the midst of it. I parked myself here while my uncle and sister went exploring (again, what a shame indeed! But there was work to be done).

While waiting,  I decided to try their signature drink - the Kommunest. Basically, it's a double espresso layered with foam. While the espresso was on the acidic side, the foam provided a touch of sweetness which really cut through the acidity. It was quite strong, and it was a good companion while it lasted. 

Address: Tianzifang, room 5, lane 7, 210 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu
Opening Hours: Daily, 9am - 1am

8. Egg

Aha, another really cozy and aesthetic cafe. It's a very workable space, but I didn't do any work here - I just had a really good brunch. The lighting was absolutely gorgeous! Just like its name, you can literally add an egg to everything on the menu (there's a "put an egg on it!" option on the menu, which I thought was adorable). 

I had the coconut cold brew, because I was feeling something interesting. The infusion of the coconut flavour into the coffee was interesting indeed, it tasted like a mixture of coffee and coconut water. I didn't really feel it though, I think I'll stick to drinking my coffee and coconut water as two separate beverages - coffee and coconuts don't really go together. It might be an acquired taste, but its not for me. 

The banana bread was so bomb (as it was, there wasn't a need to put an egg on that). The banana bread was moist and delicious, and the layer of peanut butter on it was perfect. It was topped with beautifully caramelised bananas which had the perfect sugary crunch to them. Every bit of this was perfectly executed, which made for a satisfying breakfast indeed. 

We also tried the cornbread muffin which had an egg inside - how cute! The egg yolk was still slightly soft in the middle, which is always appreciated. The muffin itself had a very strong corn taste to it (well, cornbread, duh) but it seemed a little underbaked in the middle. A little soft and gooey in the wrong way, but not completely inedible.

Address: 12 Xiangyang Bei Lu, near Juju Lu
Opening Hours: Daily, 8am - 6:30pm

Shanghai's actually developed a lot in the last few years, and it's really not the polluted, dirty city that some people may remember it to be. Its cleaned up a lot, and it's even kinda hip now. They even have a Disneyland which has a really great light show at night hehe. I'd definitely head back sometime, and cart out my taobao stuff when I do to save on shipping costs...