For all you non Canadians, Tim Hortons is the ubiquitous coffee shop in Canada. They have stores on almost every corner, and I’ve never seen one close – except maybe for renovations. Hockey dads and moms hit it up before early morning practice, sleepy eyed office workers make a pit stop there before work, hung over students stumble in prior to class – pretty much every coffee drinker comes by for their daily dose of caffeine – even soldiers posted overseas look forward to when the Timmys kiosk will open on base. The coffee shop is and probably always will be Canada’s darling.
So obviously, it’s something I missed when I first came to Taiwan. Being a predominantly tea drinking culture, coffee shops are not very common in small towns. While there are some, they are overshadowed by the tea shops around.
Most of the tea shops are take-out places – you can’t really relax there AND they don’t have coffee (lattes/cappuchinos etc). I was still not used to drinking tea, and sure as hell didn’t want any “bubbles” (that they put in everything) in my drink. I was despairing of finding anything even remotely close when (thank god!) I ran into 85° C.
They had chairs to sit in, pastries to satisfy my need for fatness and best of all – coffee. Everything I wanted to kick back and take it easy with. At this point, I wasn’t a tea drinker yet, so 85 was an awesome find.
Turns out, 85 is one of the biggest coffee/cake chains in Taiwan. They bill themselves as a “bakery” – striving to bundle up cake and coffee all in one stop. 85 started up in 2003 and now have over 300 stores islandwide. They have also expanded to China, the US and Australia.
The name of the coffee shop – 85° C – comes from apparent research that says 85° is the best temperature to drink coffee. At this temperature, you can supposedly taste “the sweetness, bitterness and sourness of premium made coffee” – according to the company’s Australian website.
85 offers a wide range of drinks. Coffee based drinks include cappucinos, lattes, regular coffee, americano and flavoured variations of the aforementioned. Tea choices are, of course, more. Black tea, green tea, Oolong tea, yogurt green tea (quite nice) , ginger milk tea (soothing on a cold – well “cold” for Taiwan – day) are just a few of the listed menu items.
Prices of drinks are very reasonable. A green tea will run you NT 20 (Us 0.66) and a latte will be around NT 50 (US 1.66). In terms of cakes, they also have a large variety. Chocolate, vanilla, Tiramisu, fruit cakes, cheesecakes, varieties of custardy things – lots to appeal to anyone’s sense of the obese. These will run you from NT 30+ (US 1).
85 coffee shops can sometimes be “the” hangout place – at least in the rural areas. I’ve seen young people flocking there on weekends – there are always a number of new and fancy looking scooters parked outside. Older men will sit around chewing betelnut, drinking tea and shaking their heads at the younger generation. Families with kids will be there laughing and having a good time. Sometimes, it’s impossible to find a seat unless you go early.
While 85 is very popular with Taiwanese, I don’t think it has the same cultural presence in Taiwan as Timmys does in Canada. Timmys is deeply ingrained into many Canadians’ cultural identity. The business itself is a cultural icon. I don’t get the feeling that the Taiwanese feel the same way about 85. Still, it is extremely popular, and definitely a major presence in the coffee industry in Taiwan.
So 85 has now become my go-to relax and study place. Over the course of the year, I have also experimented with the teas, and am now a 1/2 tea, 1/2 coffee guy. Being saturated with the culture makes one more Taiwanese, I suppose, but there is still more than enough Canadian in me to wake up some mornings craving a Tim Hortons large triple-triple. And no amount of 85 can satisfy that!