But First, Coffee

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As expats and travelling teachers we often see comments like, “do you ever work?” or “you’re always on holiday,” on social media. These are not the only misconceptions around living in China, expat life in China and teaching abroad and I would like to use the odd post here and our anecdotal stories, adventures and misadventures to address some of those.

If you have any ideas or questions about life in Shanghai, please send an e-mail or comment below and we can include it in an upcoming post.

But first,


Ah, coffee, one of the many misconceptions about living as an expat in China is that there isn’t any good coffee.

During our pre-Covid explorations around rural-ish China we met an American tourist on a solo travel mission around some of the major and minor cities. She was gulping at an Americano she’d bought from a caravan on the old city wall in Xi’an. Between gulps she was groaning about how difficult it is to find a decent cuppa in China. She was only half right with regard to Xi’an, it is a second tier city and the coffee spots require street smarts, savvy and following the right hashtags on social media.  

Shanghai, on the other hand, is a coffee lover’s dream. There’s something for everyone, and I’d like to tell you a little bit more about it.

We’ll start real close to home. A quick 15 minute scooter ride from our apartment is the West Bund Riverside Park. Now, before I tell you more about it, let me give you some insight into this Shanghai staple: The Bund.

Image by Steven Han - Getty Images

Image by Steven Han – Getty Images

The Bund is Shanghai’s waterfront. The North and South Bund are the parts popular with tourists who would like to see and take in the impressive Shanghai skyline on one side or appreciate the preserved old, historic buildings on the other. These parts are separated by the Huangpu River. Closer to where we reside and away from the tourists but popular nonetheless, is the West Bund. The riverside promenade runs for more than 10kms and includes museums, art centres, outdoor basketball hoops, climbing walls, unofficial skate ramps and it is the largest dog park in the city. It is our second home.

For the longest time the Starbucks there was the only option for a cuppa but a smaller franchise, Manner, recently opened and we felt obliged.

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Admittedly we don’t go for the coffee which is an average big brand blend. But the service is great, you’re right on the Bund with your pup and they give a generous discount if you bring your own reusable mug.

Shanghai is also home to the largest Starbucks Roastery in the world. Well, it was until the end of 2019 when Chicago was added to the elite group and their site surpassed our local by just 500 square meters. So close! Size ranking aside, it is a great place to take visitors for a multi sensory experience with their bean juice.

During their last visit to Shanghai – before China suspended tourist visas – we had the stupendous priviledge of sharing some butterscotch javas and fresh from the oven pastries with my parents.

Please Covid, go away so we can enjoy some more liquid gold in the second largest Starbucks Roastery in the world!

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If, like me, you like to walk on the more adventurous side of beverages Piu Piu is a must.

Hidden through an alley and frequented by a mix of online influencers and vloggers Piu Piu offers the standard cappuccinos and lattes as well as the most beautifully created mochas, matchas and other more exotic mixes.

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Shanghai has a fair number of good looking cups of lightning and there is an unprecedented number of award winning foam artists in the city. Yes, foam artists, it’s a whole thing. My favourite foam artist (a girl’s gotta have one) is resident at Kaffeine. He is an artist at the national level and competes on various platforms. I didn’t get a picture of him – I was too taken by the foam art. And the coffee isn’t bad either.

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These and other coffee spots have fueled many adventures and we’re thankful to have these comforts. We have our fail-safe go to where they know our order and accept our own cups, we also love stumbling upon new ones some with great atmosphere, some with great coffee and others with cute cups and art. Do you have a home favourite?



We also love finding out and experiencing the coffee culture when we travel. There’s nothing like a moer koffie brewed on a gas stove on the side of the road or overlooking some 4×4 only pass in the Western Cape or finding a tiny café to take cover from the relentless rain in down town Rio de Janeiro.

And then there’s Hanoi, Vietnam. We were fortunate to visit in 2019, before you-know-what curbed international travel:


The noisy streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter are filled with cafes where we enjoyed far too many cups of the local brew served in a glass lined with sweetened condensed milk. You’ll notice on the menu something called ‘egg coffee.’ Now this isn’t a pre-workout raw egg and caffeine concoction it’s actually quite lovely, more like a dessert than a beverage – a delightully sweet and strong blend the taste resembling Portuguese egg tarts.

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On our last day we thought we’d have our coffee with a side of adventure.

We headed to the infamous Train Street. Train Street is a narrow thoroughfare with a number of cafes on either side of a functioning train track.

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The seats are light and easy to fold and good thing as you’ll need to pack up quickly when the train interrupts your coconut milk latte:

I’d love to know about your favourite coffee spots, experiences and adventures.


Until next time,

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