Savor the Beauty of Kaohsiung through its Coffee and Art
◎Written by Tomoaki Kuramoto ◎English translation: Peng Hsin-yi
◎Photo by Siao Meng-cyu
My Japanese friends always ask me if I drink tea every day in Taiwan. Indeed, it is an inevitable stereotype, when almost every Japanese visitor coming to Taiwan is shopping for souvenir high altitude mountain tea and pineapple cakes. However, they are always surprised to find out that I usually drink coffee here.
Taiwan's coffee shops are representative of its modern culture. They often host various activities, including, live bands, movie nights, author's roundtables and book signings etc. and with the various amenities they offer, they are at the very heart of Taiwan's pop culture. It is easy for guests to feel right at home here and to relax in their own creative world.
Traditionally, Kaohsiung was known as a "cultural desert". However, now I think that only people who are oblivious of Kaohsiung's coffee culture would make that assumption. Compared with Taipei and Tainan, it may appear that the number of coffee shops in Kaohsiung is far inferior, but Kaohsiung's coffee shop comes first in style and innovation.
Mr. Li Geng-hao, owner of Ruh Cafe on Sihwei 3rd Road feels: Coffee shops in Taipei may be new and pristine, but they are just like the people they serve, way too busy! In Tainan, many of the coffee shops are converted from old houses which date back to the Japanese colonial days, thus presenting a unique atmosphere. However, many of Tainan's coffee shops are located in narrow alleyways, making it feel like they are practically on top of each other. Coffee shops in Kaohsiung can be regarded as something in between the two, making it just right!
Having been open for only a year, Ruh Cafe is a fairly new coffee shop. The venue is an old concrete building, which after some renovation it seamlessly blends in with the architecture of the neighborhood. Regular customers love to sit at the bar, sipping their brewed to order coffee. Japanese tatami straw floor mats are located on the second floor, allowing customers to stretch out, just as they would do if they were at home.
I asked Mr. Li about other recommend coffee shops. He momentarily retreated into the kitchen to consult his staff and when he returned, he had a paper full of names and addresses of other coffee shops around Kaohsiung. Most of them were located in historical and scenic areas located between Yanchengpu and the Cultural Center. He then deliberated, "If you are looking to travel back in time, Hifumitei Ryotei would be my first choice". I heartily agreed. Hamasen is housed in an old Japanese building, which reflects the Japanese Showa period. Japanese oldies are played over their sound system, similar to the old-fashioned restaurants my grandfather took me to as a child. In the French novel (In Search of Lost Time), Marcel Proust says "Food and the atmosphere in this coffee shop always took me back to a certain time and place in my childhood." Perhaps, Taiwanese customers can picture their grandparents frequenting these types of places when they were kimono-clad youths.
TaKaoBooks is a bookstore, a coffee shop and a hub for art exhibitions that is located in a renovated old building near Kaohsiung's Cultural Center. On the ground floor there is a bookstore which frequently hosts literary and arts events. The coffee shop is located on the second floor, with the third floor and basement being used for seminars, performances and classes. Many celebrated writers and movie directors frequent this place and host forums with Taiwanese youth who are passionate about the arts and literature.
Other coffee shops included on Mr. Li Geng-hao's list were Days Cafe & brunch which serves really good food and Cafe de Coeur, famous for its coffee aroma. Another popular coffee shop and bookstore is 4 SCREEN PRINTING. However, they don't have regular business hours. The last cafe he recommended was PIEFFEE as they are famous for their delicious quiches.
Mr. Li then shared some advice to those that may be thinking of opening a coffee shop. Firstly, keep it simple. Make sure customers find the space soothing. It isn't a huge money making business, so you must provide a good service and finally, make sure it has a unique personality. There are many unique coffee shops in Kaohsiung, with their tastes and personalities embodying the very heart of this unique and diverse city.