Since being in Shanghai, I have made a point of avoiding Starbucks like the plague. It is depressingly familiar, unnecessarily expensive and the fact Shanghai’s beautiful Old Town is polluted by its presence is honestly upsetting.
My current lifestyle of too much partying and not enough sleep, however, has made the boycott challenging. And my guilt about spending money and not earning any led to last week’s desperate search for a cheaper, more interesting coffee chain.
85°C Bakery Cafe, a Taiwanese chain boasting 63 branches in Shanghai, proved adept at fulfilling these criteria.
I visited the cafe just outside South Shaanxi Road station and, though bewildered by the abundance of Hello Kitty posters (definitely a Japanese obsession I had thought?!), felt right at home.
Upon entering, you are greeted by a vast selection of pastries, many of which were unfamiliar to a Brit, and to the gorgeous smell of fresh baking. A self-serve bakery, you use a tray and tongs to select what you want and bring it to the till to pay.
It was carb heaven. On display there was everything from Taiwanese Taro cake and matcha red bean sponge roll to the more mundane tarts and breads.
The decor is pretty minimalist, but still comfortable and welcoming. The colour scheme and general feel reminded me of a slightly more upmarket Tim Hortons.
In a move that felt spontaneous, adventurous and terrifying all at once I decided to stray from my classic caramel latte and try the drink that the chain is known for – sea salt coffee.
There were, of course, all the bog standard beverage options, but at only 18RMB I felt my coffee choice worth the risk. It turned out to be mostly an americano, but with the top few centimetres consisting of a salty foam.
It tasted as bizarre as it sounds, but considering my penchant for girly, sweet beverages, it was surprisingly good.
I also picked what was potentially the largest hunk of french toast in the world. Just 7RMB, it was cheap, delicious and demolished in under a minute.
Overall, 85°C Bakery Cafe sports a winning combination of interesting coffees, varied baked goods and decent prices, .
With 478 stores in Taiwan, 385 in China and recent openings in Australia and the US, it is little wonder the chain is growing so quickly.