Alongside the economic development that has happened in China since Reform and Opening Up began, but particularly since Starbucks entered the Chinese market at the turn of the century, coffee has increasingly become an item well within the reach of the average Chinese person. Tea is still the preferred beverage, however even if it's only a packet of Nescafé 3-in-1, most Chinese have not only tasted coffee, they’ve had at least a cup or two this year.
As a tropical island with deep cultural and economic ties to Southeast Asia, coffee has been an ordinary part of the average Hainan lifestyle for a lot longer than the past 10 or 15 years. Down in Xinglong at the organic coffee garden, their ‘history of Hainan coffee’ exhibit even has pictures of Zhou Enlai inspecting the coffee crop.
One of the greatest things about life in Hainan is the local coffee culture. Just like on the mainland, we have the same proliferation of Luckin and Starbucks and oh-so-pretty cafés where wannabe influencers purchase a cup of coffee mostly for pictures. But—here on the island—we also have so much more.
With the understanding that there are a number of quite promising new shops that are missing from this list, this is the second in a series of more than 20 of the best places in Haikou for a foreigner to get their caffeine fix.
Last week we introduced the laobacha Hundred Flavors and what is quite possibly the cheapest cup of fresh brewed coffee to be found anywhere in China.
More or less the local equivalent of a Singaporean kopitam, laobacha (老爸茶) ‘old men's teahouse’ got its name from the grandpas who spend the whole day here.
This week we'll be looking at a rather more upscale example of a laobacha.
Top Taste 一品味美食园
So far as can be perceived, in terms of food and drink, there are no differences between either of their two locations on Haidian Island.
I personally prefer the one on Fourth Street just south of the east gate of the University for its large outdoor garden space and semi-secluded indoor booths. People who are coming by car rather than taxi or bicycle may find it impossible to grab a parking space near the Haitong Road location.
As is common with all but the most frou-frou of upscale laobacha, even the nominally indoor parts are wide open to the outside. However, the combination of more ceiling fans than you thought could possibly be installed in a single space and a water mister that goes off roughly once every five minutes keep this crowded spot cooler than any but the most aggressively air conditioned spaces.
Unlike Hundred Flavors, the coffee here is brewed to order and does not provide free refills. They use either the coffee sock method of making coffee or a vacuum pot, but in either case they make it fresh for each customer so the flavors are brighter. Sugar then becomes something you add because you want sweet coffee rather than because it would be undrinkable bitter otherwise.
Made with better quality ingredients, Top Taste also has a much wider selection of dimsum than Hundred Flavors.
This ought to be a great thing but the kitchen more or less cooks what they feel like when they feel like it. If you aren't standing at the appropriate service window for whatever you wanted and it got put out on the steam tables, you can basically forget about getting it before it gets snatched up.
If you have a specific item that you absolutely must have, there’s a menu, but since they are such a crowded restaurant, expect to wait no less than 20 or 30 minutes for anything ordered to hit the table.
This is a problem for me as it usually means I've already eaten my fill of more readily available items, but that might not be the case for people who are more patient than I am.
Top Taste 一品味美食园
Daily, 6am-8pm on Fourth, and to 10.30pm on Haitong Road. No. 28, Haidian Fourth West Road, Meilan District and about 30m east of Guangyi new village, Haitong Road, Meilan District. See listing.
translator living in Hainan for 17 of her 19 years in China, Marian
Rosenberg is best known for her annual cycling trips through rural
China. These trips not only have her blogging on Cycleblaze (username:
brucianna) and helping people out on the Travel in China During Covid
groups (Cyclist Translator), they've also landed her in the Washington
Post's travel section and are the reason she has more than 40,000
followers on Douyin (我是凡一).
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[Images by Marian Rosenberg for That’s]
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