Coffee Alley, Guanqian Road, Taipei
Coffee Alley is a coffee franchise, with at least 4 outlets in Taipei. I visited their cafe on Guanqin road (near Taipei main station) recently. Of all the coffee places that I went to in Taipei, this was definitely the most interesting - the quirky, intelligent design really stood out. This a cafe where a lot of things are done very well - even down to the cutlery and menu design!
Design, decor and service are only a portion of the overall experience though - the coffee itself should be the highlight. Fortuntely, the same attention to detail was present here also. The espresso had a dark brown crema, and the correct volume for a shot. It had a sweet, almost syrupy mouthfeel - something I love in my shots. There was no burnt taste, which would suggest that the beans used were stale - in other words, this was a good shot, at the correct volume, with fresh beans - can't ask for more than that. An espresso shot tells you a lot about a cafe - if the crema is a pale colour, then the beans are stale, if the volume of liquid is too high, then the shot is over extracted - Coffee Alley easily passed both of these tests. (Unlike a cafe in Bangkok airport, where an espresso arrived in a full size coffee mug, filled to the brim. I sent it back, untouched....)
The coffees in Coffee Alley come with 2 biscotti, a nice touch that sets it apart from other cafes. The biscotti was fresh, and the mix of dried fruit running through it added a hint of sweetness. This is another exmple of the attention to detail that I saw here. Also, the cups and cutlery are unique! The espresso cup reminds me of a mobius strip!
I ordered a cappuccino also, which arrived with a topping of caramel. This might be too sweet for some tastes, but I liked it - only a small portion of the carmel sank through the foam, so that it imparted flavour but did not overwhelm the underlying taste of coffee.
Coffee Alley is definitely somewhere that I would recommend, and would go back to. It's slightly more expensive than Fong Da or Nanmay, however they are smaller cafes with more limited menus. Overall, Coffee Alley stood out for it's unique design, and for the attention to detail - this is what a cafe looks like when a series of things are done well!Recommended.