What you need to know
Hsinchu perhaps deserves the nickname "Taiwan's fika capital," perfect for coffee lovers who like to enjoy a cozy afternoon.
By Lauren Ku
Whenever I return to Hsinchu on the weekends, I feel as if I'm running away from Taipei's hectic subway commute. Although Hsinchu is home to Taiwan's youngest population, this city feels lazy and sluggish somehow. If you walk out of the historic train station and stroll along the city moat, you can often spot children playing around or people sitting under the trees to enjoy a soft breeze.
In Hsinchu, you don't really need a scooter to get around. You can walk to most of the places aimlessly and just stop in a cafe when you're tired. You can spend the entire afternoon listening to the high-schoolers' gossips or observing the old couples who just mind their own business. Hsinchu has a surprisingly high density of coffee shops, with customers of all age groups. When I was a kid, my dad also brought me to a local coffee shop frequently, where we each read our own books.
I always joke to my friends that Hsinchu, despite its sleepiness, is Taiwan's capital of Fika — the Swedish concept of taking a cozy coffee break. Here are some of my favorite coffee shops, each quirky in its own way.
In The Shadow of Gleam | 暗室微光
Located next to a busy underground tunnel, In The Shadow of Gleam (暗室微光) is like an isolated glass island among the scooter noises; once you open the door into the cafe, you're in a different world. The floor-to-ceiling windows invite ample natural light into the space, where the owner's cat would always move along with the sunlight for the best nap possible.
Aside from home-roasted coffee beans, this coffee shop offers other beverages like tea and flavored milk. Staple dessert items include cheesecakes and biscuits, with seasonal surprises. There is a small space on the second floor where you can work on your laptop or host a small gathering.
Address: No 97, Shengli Road, East District, Hsinchu City, Taiwan
Like its name, Hidden Off is not just like a typical store hidden in an alley, but you have to walk past a construction site, over the metal fence, into a fashion boutique where you would tell the staff that you'd like to have coffee upstairs. They would then open a door near the front desk, walk you through the zigzag space, and drop you off in a seating area decorated by retro furniture.
A lot of coffee shops would remove the partitions to create a bigger interior space, but Hidden Off has kept the original layout of this old building. If you wish to explore the coffee shop, sometimes you'd have to open the door into another seating area as if you're going into someone's room.
For the menu, Hidden Off offers light meals like toasts and curry over rice, in addition to desserts and coffee. It's best for friends who want to catch up over lunch and spend time in a cozy environment.
Address: No. 135, Ximen Street, North District, Hsinchu City, Taiwan
Jiang Shan Yi Gai Suo | 江山藝改所
When Jiang Shan Yi Gai Suo first opened in the former red-light district, its neighbors were playing mahjong all day; the clanging of mahjong tiles remained as my fond memory of the coffee shop.
A few years ago, Jiang Shan Yi Gai Suo was moved to a new location with a bigger space, but the owner kept the "old Taiwan" atmosphere. You can even find books and vinyl records on the second floor now, and the owner is happy to play the records if you're interested.
This cafe features fair-trade pourover coffee as well as Taiwanese craft beer. Although there's not a lot of options for dessert, you can try the vegan beef pie and other unique dishes that incorporate local produce from Hsinchu farmers.
Address: No. 1, Xingda Street, East District, Hsinchu City, Taiwan
微生 Float Dept.
Opened at the end of 2019, Float Dept. has already become one of the most popular coffee shops in Hsinchu. In the historic building, the first floor features a bar area with single seats, while the second floor provides communal tables and a wooden-floor seating area for customers to laze around.
Besides its attractive space and quality coffee, Float Dept. gained popularity from its meal sets featuring rice balls that are placed into a quaint bamboo basket. The rice ball flavors would change according to the season, and the homemade side dishes are also different every day.
If you get up late on a weekend, you can also come here for other lunch items like curry, pan-fried dumplings, among other Japanese-style dishes.
Address: No. 23, Lane 111, Minquan Road, East District, Hsinchu City, Taiwan
Absolut Klassik 舊是經典咖啡館
Abosolut Klassik, or "absolute classic," was originally a Nordic furniture store with a collection of Danish designs from the 1940-1970s. Since Danish furniture is usually too expensive for average consumers to purchase and rarely found in Taiwan, the owner decided to turn the space into a coffee shop to share his collection with the customers.
The soothing interior features various iconic pieces, including Gorenje's retro fridge, the classic Eames DSW chairs, Jean Prouve's Antony Chair, and Louis Poulsen's pendant and table lamps. Abosolut Klassik is a paradise for design fanatics.
This coffee shop features homemade yogurt without any added preservatives, as well as freshly made cakes and light meals. The quiet atmosphere is best for people who wish to read or work alone on a relaxing afternoon.
Address: No. 5, Jianmei Road, East District, Hsinchu City, Taiwan
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This article was originally published in Chinese on Every Little D.
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)
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