Coffee Culture: Beijing's Best Cafes

Coffee Culture: Beijing's Best Cafes
By Mark Turner ,

The Chinese nation has laid claim to many inventions over time; great inventions such as gun powder and paper as well as more contentious claims such as football and ice-cream. One thing you are unlikely to ever hear a Chinese person lay claim to is coffee. In spite of this, Beijing has an incredibly rich cafe scene with little sanctuaries for MacBook wielding Wi-Fi- and latte-thirsty individuals, local and foreign alike, to sip away, chat and forget, at least momentarily, some of the stresses of modern urban living. Here is a guide to some of the best of the caffeine vending establishments in Beijing.

Sculpting in Time 雕刻时光咖啡馆
Sculpting in Time is a chain coffee shop, however, unlike many of Beijing’s other mainstay chains it is locally owned. For the most part its cafes look quite similar, apart from the Xiangshan branch which is an unusual and picturesque setting. Sculpting in Time offers middle grounds between the Wi-Fi hotspot homogenous chain cafes and the more personalized independent affairs. The food leans towards pleasing the Chinese palate but isn’t badly priced and is quite passable to those looking for a Western food fix. The toasted cheese sandwiches on doorstep-thick sliced bread fill the gap nicely amongst other morsels on the menu. Hot and cold drinks fair well against Sculpting in Times competitors’ and are definitely not to be grumbled about. The clientele at the People’s University and Wudaokou branches are rather unsurprisingly students, although they’re clearly more the kind to enjoy sometime with their laptop, a book or some quiet conversation with friends as opposed to raising hell in a dive bar. This is the “thinking man’s’” Beijing coffee shop chain.

Weigongcun Branch 魏公村店View In Map
Add: 7 Weigongcun Lu (by the south gate of the Beijing Institute of Technology), Haidian District, Beijing
地址: 北京市海淀区魏公村路7号 (北京理工大学南门)
Tel: 010 6894 6825
Opening hours: 08:30-01:00

Xiangshan location 香山店View In Map
Add: 50 Xiangshan Maimai Jie, Haidian District, Beijing
地址: 北京市海淀区香山买卖街50号
Tel: 010 8259 8296
Opening hours: 09:00-00:00

Wudaokou location 五道口店View In Map
Add: Huaqingjiayuan Bldg 1, No. 12, Chengfu Lu, Haidian District, Beijing (west of the Wudaokou subway station)
地址: 北京市海淀区成府路华清嘉园12号楼1号 (五道口轻轨站西)
Tel: 010 8286 7026
Opening hours: 8:30-01:30

Find more locations here.

The Bookworm 老书虫View In Map
The Bookworm is undoubtedly one of Beijing’s most unique coffee shops, indeed it’s one of the city’s most unique venues of any kinds. Providing a service that lies somewhere between lending library, coffee shop, and restaurant and bar, its originality and useful service for the Beijing English language book reading community is invaluable. With high-ceilinged rooms and a simple open plan layout, just sitting and soaking up the atmosphere in the café is a pleasure. The walls of the rooms are lined with ceiling to floor bookshelves; all volumes can be taken out and returned using a library system afforded to members who pay a very reasonable sum of just 300 RMB a year. Membership also gets you a 10% discount on the menu and cheaper access to the Bookworm’s many events. Given that many books are difficult to get hold of in China the Bookworm is a godsend to the veracious reader. The drink and food menus are comprehensive and fairly sophisticated, suiting the tastes of upwardly mobile clientele. The Bookworm is one of the favourite venues of visiting authors to hold readings; these are often packed out affairs, with a wide cross section of local and expat visitors – check their website for upcoming events. The Bookworm isn’t just a coffee shop/bar/restaurant – it’s a Beijing institution. And they have a Chengdu and Suzhou branch as well.

Add: 4 Sanlitun Nan Jie, Chaoyang District, Beijing
地址: 北京市朝阳区三里屯南街4号楼
Tel: 01 6586 9507
Opening hours: 9:00-01:00 every day

The Vineyard 葡萄院儿View In Map
The Vineyard is one of Beijing’s most popular independent cafes – although located in an out of the way hutong a bit of a walk from Yonghegong it is virtually always busy. Popular with the hip but more “grown up” crowd it is well worth trying out. The decor of the cafe is warm, bright and inviting as well as elegant. Popular with patrons, particularly British ones missing their cooked breakfasts, is the English platter which is hearty and well priced. There is also a vegetarian option (The Vineyard does a good job of catering to vegetarians as well). The overall atmosphere of the café is very personal, and its setting, the quaint Wudaoying Hutong, means a visit there offers both contemporary and traditional Beijing flavours. The Vineyard is well known for its quality coffee – not always guaranteed at coffee shops in China – and its courtyard which features heating for winter time guests is particularly popular on weekends in the spring and summer. Because of its popularity it is worth bearing in mind before planning a trip to The Vineyard that a free table may be difficult to find and that service can at times be slow due to demand.

Add: 31 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing
地址: 北京市东城区五道营胡同31号 (雍和宫桥南)
Tel: 010 6402 7961
Opening hours: 11:30-23:30 (closed Mondays)


Cafe Zarah View In Map
Cafe Zarah boasts a sleek and minimal design which helps to accentuate the prominence of the displays of art and photography which are on constant rotation at the venue, bringing another dimension of culture to a leisurely coffee break. It is a smaller cafe than many of its competitors and known to be a little bit pricier. Sitting amongst the area’s tourist favourites it’s a great place to escape from the crowds. Cafe specialities include its authentic Italian gelato and a solid list of coffees which appeal to Beijing’s up and coming young professional international set. Also of note is the cafe’s wireless connection which is extremely fast, a quality which is rarer than would be expected in many areas around the city. Cafe Zarah is recommended to anyone wishing for a taste of the highlife during their stay in Beijing.

Add: 42 Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing
地址: 北京市东城区鼓楼东大街42号
Tel: 010 8403 9807
Opening hours: 09:30-00:00

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