A review of the independent cafe, GaBee, in Songshan District in Taipei. Notes are by an amateur coffee enthusiast and shoestring digital nomad. Descriptions are equal parts coffee and remote-work suitability. Most photos are shot with a second-hand Fujifilm X100.
Do a search for “Taipei coffee” and inevitably GaBee, will inevitably pop up. Until the recent coffee boom in the Songshan area, GaBee’s location seemed a bit out of the way, close to Songshan Airport and away from the commercial centres of Zhongxiao Dunhua, Ximen, the universities, or Taipei City Hall.
Now, former Taiwan’s Barista Champion, Van Lin’s establishment boasts a chic futuristic decor inside its plain grey entrance. If you visit on a weekday, the cafe will be mostly quiet since cafe goers have plenty of other places on their to-try list throughout Taipei now.
This place makes for a great weekday remote work location. Wi-Fi is available but no plugs are along the front area. I didn’t check the back seating walls.
The drinks menu was quite interesting. Where more recent roasters have focused on creating the perfect roasts in a cup of simple black coffee, GaBee has embraced complexity and heterodoxy. The sweet drink mixes seemed to play to public tastes (more in the next sections), but I admit more than one cocktail caught the eye of this purist. If I wasn’t on a tasting schedule, I’d have tried two drinks here.
As it is, I went with a standard drink for easier comparison: a cappuccino. I requested a double shot, which was an extra 20 TWD, and the stronger espresso blend. The drink I received had a smooth layer of foam that took up about 15-20% of the total space. The espresso had a strong, nutty punch that did deliver on the promise of Italy (in the Chinese description). The taste profile was designed to be smooth rather than textured, which I readily accepted.
Their Story / What I like About Them:
GaBee was founded in 2004, long before Third Wave coffee became a thing in Taiwan. The owner, Van Lin, became Taiwan’s Barista Champion that same year and has since been a public figure for East Asia’s coffee circles.
Personally, I’m not one for titles. Knowing about them often makes me even more harsh on the apprentices that are now keeping shop for the famous owners. While the three staff in the shop seemed like they could do with an extra hour of sleep, they were helpful enough. Just as importantly, the drink I got was at least yummy.
GaBee is not a place I would want to line-up for, especially when I imagine the volumes that weekend crowds can orchestrate. However, it is definitely a place I would revisit for both the coffee and the workspace.
After visiting, I looked up Van Lin’s approach to coffee, which he summarized at a TEDxTaipei presentation. The talk (delivered in Mandarin), explained the creative drinks I saw on the menu. Lin’s approach was that nurturing interest in coffee first required meeting people where they were comfortable with being met: with familiar flavours and textures. Lin’s winning drink was a wonderful homage to Taiwan: a sweet potato coffee cocktail. The bottom was a sweet potato paste, espresso, frothed milk, potato chip, whipped cream, coffee bean, sweet potato slivers. Lin himself explains that it is more like a dessert and an amalgamation of his homeland roots and a beloved foreign / international drink. Since then, he’s gone on to create coffee drinks paired with watermelon, lychee, and even a tomato.
The cafe’s commercial character is quite apparent, whether it be in the trophies, branded items, or co-branded collectibles. I generally find such things a distraction from the pursuit of the perfect cup. Yet, at the same time, someone has to be the evangelist for the industry. I’m glad to find that its commercial success, and its owner’s reputation, still preserves a certain standard of coffee quality.
- Coffee: Pour-over, espresso, coffee cocktails
- Food: Pastries, measl
- Cafe Space: Approx 30, back enclosed patio and main open space
- Friends: Hangouts, catching up, reading
- Workspace: Individual tables and round tables for 4
- Remote Work: WiFi available, no outlets
No. 21, Lane 113, Section 3, Minsheng E Rd, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 105
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If you liked this post, check out my list of Off-Centre Tokyo Cafes.