Imagine a Beijing utopia where cafés are spacious, with cement walls, antique-style armchairs and desk lamps that evoke the hushed feel of a Victorian library. Where by day you lounge about under glass skylights, while evening fills the room with warm light from Moroccan lamps, glass-crystal chandeliers and lanterns dangling from tree branches. Where each table is outfitted with sockets, inviting you to blog until midnight, and the palatial space is topped with a roof terrace. Amazingly, it exists in Gongti’s MAAN Coffee. Clearly the city’s in love with the franchise – this is the thirteenth branch – which is appropriate, since MAAN – 漫– a homonym meaning both slow and romantic – redefines café culture in China, and possibly the world.
After opening the chic Korean restaurant chain Ai Jiang Shan, the owners decided to extend their flair for design and service to cafés fit for upmarket Shire dwellers. But it’s not all appearance: MAAN Coffee baristas attend training in Maan’s Roasting Factory and Coffee School in Jiangfu; clearly, friendly customer service and espresso expertise are a priority of the company, and the education does not go unnoticed.
Daily visitors should restrict themselves to just coffee, unless the latest trendy diets allow all-day breakfasting. The menu features waffles and toast dressed like a Nutcracker fantasy. Try the plain waffle (28RMB): four batter cakes, griddled golden, garnished with jams, syrups, whipped cream, and confectioner’s sugar. Or dive deep into indulgence with the chocolate waffle (38RMB), four quarters of chewy, cocoa-flavoured deliciousness served with berry compote, a scoop of dark-chocolate ice cream, and a mini-minaret of whipped cream, garnished with a chocolate-cream- filled Oreo cookie and chocolate-roll biscuit. You shouldn’t finish it, but you will.
The honey toast (28RMB) is bathed in salted butter and nestled within a crust that comes with three dipping sauces of maple syrup, condensed milk and berry compote. Sweet and savoury, this understated dessert earns every mouthful.
On the savoury side, the ‘bulgogi burger’ (45RMB) is actually two burgers of thinly sliced beef marinated in a sweet Korean barbecue sauce, each with tomato, lettuce and processed cheddar, all sandwiched in a satisfying English muffin. It sates a single starving appetite, or two laptop-bearing diners with no intention to leave their seat and burn off a second helping.
Drinks are equally substantial. The café mocha (32RMB) is a rich hot-chocolate variety with a notion of espresso, topped by a minaret of heavy whipped cream. All coffees are served with four sweet, buttery sticks of toast – great for dipping. The menu has the usual espresso standbys, as well as inventive concoctions such as the velvety sweet-potato latte (33RMB), and the roasted grain shake (30RMB), a chilled milk-barley tea. The mixed-berry bingsu (53RMB) is a deep bowl of shaved ice, topped with a crimson brigade of maraschino cherries, tart currants, dried cranberries, strawberry slices, cubes of watermelon and a scoop of hearty strawberry ice-cream.
MAAN Coffee is a great cafe-date spot. Sweet-toothed romantics can rendezvous or lounge with a laptop, feeling hopeful. But whatever happens, you will undoubtedly find something to make you swoon.