Just 15, 10, even five years ago, coffee in Beijing was drastically different than it is today. But now, more third-wave (read: hipster) coffee shops open per month than we have room for in this magazine.
Marco Costantini picks up our slack. The Italian-New Zealander expat is the founder of Black White Filter, a new online guide to independent cafes in Beijing, featuring stories about the people that make the scene. It’s a love letter to Beijing coffee. We caught up with the Coffee Whisperer himself.
Why did you start Black White Filter?
I had visited Beijing many years ago, and couldn’t find a good coffee anywhere. When I moved here last year, it was a pleasant surprise to find that many cafes had opened and were serving great coffee. But I couldn’t find a comprehensive guide of these small independent cafes, with maps and directions in English, that included all the information I was after – so I created one.
What got you into coffee?
I have been working in hospitality for almost 20 years, and spent most of that time behind a coffee machine, either in Europe or New Zealand. I was born and raised in Italy, where coffee is mainly stovetops and espresso, and usually a quick affair at the bar counter.
I spent more than 10 years in Wellington, New Zealand, where there’s a very strong coffee culture, and it’s possibly the birthplace of the flat white [Ed. note: Australians contest this]. Now, in China, I have become accustomed to light roasts and pour overs.
How would you describe Beijing's coffee scene?
Beijing’s coffee scene seems to be still in its infancy, trying to work out a formula of expansion. It’s a great time to be involved in it, as many cafes are trying to grow and introduce coffee culture to the masses. Most cafe owners know each other, and there is a very tight community, which is a big change from the stiff competition one might witness in Western countries. There is the feeling that possibly some ‘big players’ might get into the market soon, but at this stage there is still plenty of room for everyone.
Which cafes make for a good introduction to Beijing coffee?
I would recommend starting like I did, along Wudaoying Hutong, with either Barista or Metal Hands. They were the first, and are still two of the most popular, offering great service and a wide selection of beans. Barista is where most of [Beijing’s] baristas have actually started their career, while Metal Hands seems to have inspired the aesthetics of other cafes in town, with its Nordic-style approach of wood and exposed concrete.
Which cafes would you recommend to someone who's already got a pretty good handle on Beijing's cafe scene?
Basic Coffee in Guomao brews its own Nitro [cold-brew coffee served on tap], that is well worth trying, along with all the different single origin and blends roasted on site. For a more comprehensive tour, Dashilar offers three of the best: Voyage, Soloist and Living Room. They all roast their own beans, have their very own styles and brands, and are great places to relax.
To see the guide, check out www.bwfbeijing.com
Photos provided by Marco Costantini