A lot of things happened in 1989. The Berlin wall fell, Beijing staged a crack-down on students in Tian’anmen Square, and the first episode of Seinfeld went to air. Kaldi Coffee also started business, capitalizing on the then coffee craze sweeping Taipei.
By Taipei standards, Kaldi has had an illustrious history signaling its ability to withstand the fickle tastes of trendy Taipei consumers. Situated on the top floor of an unlikely building in Xinyi district a few blocks from Taipei 101, Kaldi was fashionable long before the surrounding area was developed. The furniture is now a bit worn, but it still retains a comfortable, at-home-in-your-favorite-armchair kind of feeling. The original proprietor has now ‘retired’, although still roasts and blends his own Arabica beans and has recently upgraded to a new roaster. His daughter, the capable and dedicated Ms Lin, is now at the helm and retains his meticulous dedication to quality. It is thus unsurprising that this small, hidden gem was given an award by Taipei Mayor Hau Long-bin for making one of the ten best cups of coffee.
Kaldi only has a limited range of food, but it is not too bad. I recommend the tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread. It is made Taiwanese-style (i.e. sweet bread and lots of mayonnaise) and while simple is fresh and filling. There is not much in the way of dessert options, which thankfully means not too many temptations. However, judging from the aroma coming from the kitchen, Ms Lin makes a pretty mean (and generous) chocolate brownie with ice-cream. Maybe next time …
But Kaldi is really about the coffee, and there is selection of freshly-roasted varieties to choose from, with bulk packs available to take home. When I last visited, we requested milder coffee beans, specifically NOT as strongly roasted as Starbucks. “Too bad”, Ms Lin replied, “I can choose a mild coffee for you, but I could make one even stronger than Starbucks if you wanted it. That’s what we specialize in”. Being an expert barista, she chose us a coffee that was just right and expertly frothed the foam to perfection. She delights in serving her coffees in beautiful and quirky china.
While coffee is paramount, there are also credible options for non-caffeine drinkers. Citrus (kumquat) tea is robust without being sickly sweet and uses freshly-prepared citrus and other fruit. I had the early symptoms of a cold when I tried this and it worked medicinal wonders. Milk tea made with delicate Earl Grey tea was expertly shaken (not stirred) and served in a giant cocktail glass. It was also not too sweet and provided a good balance of flavors.
Kaldi Coffee is now in four locations in Taipei, but I prefer the shop in Xinyi (Second Floor, No 2, Lane 225, Wuxing Street — 11042台北市吳興街225巷2號2F, phone (02) 2345-1136). Also good is the Tong-Hua store near the night market (No 2, Alley 30, Lane 171, Tong-hua St). Both shops are open until late, and wireless internet access is available.