My Fulbright Year in Taiwan


Adventures in EFL

Salty Coffee

I have a new favorite coffee shop: 85°C. They offer a smaller variety of drinks than Starbucks, but at a much lower price. Plus they have some local flavors. Here’s an example (article from Time magazine):

Some Salt with Your Coffee? Taiwan’s Hot Drink

Chinese people like to eat foods that Westerners consider unusual,
things like pig-blood cake and chicken-butt kebab, to name just a
few popular snacks. So the introduction of salty coffee shouldn’t
be such a shocker. What difference, after all, can a few sprinkles
of salt make to your morning cup of joe? The chefs at Taiwan’s top
coffeehouse, 85°C Bakery Cafe, pondered that question for six
months before they started serving sea-salt coffee, which became
their best-selling drink following its December debut.

That’s no small feat considering that85°C (which is named for the
ideal temperature at which to brew coffee) has surpassed Starbucks
to become the biggest coffee chain in Taiwan. Founded five years
ago by tea-shop owner Wu Cheng-hsueh,85°Cnow has 325 stores
in Taiwan and is expanding into China,Australia and the U.S. Wu
first built the business by finding good beans: in 2004, he went to
the source of Starbucks’ most popular beans and persuaded the
Guatemalan supplier to sell him virtually all its arabicas (sorry,
megachain). Then he hired five-star hotel chefs to concoct fancy
drinks and desserts that sell for about half the price of Starbucks’.
(See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)

What inspired those chefs to come up with sea-salt coffee?
According to spokeswoman Kathy Chung, it was the aiwanese
habit of sprinkling salt on fruits like pineapple and watermelon
to bring out their sweetness. Salty coffee also makes sense in a
place where shaved-ice desserts are topped with corn kernels and
breads get slathered with sugary frosting and bits of pork.
“Taiwanese are greedy,” explains graphic designer Xena Wang, one
of six friends who recently tried the drink for the first time.”We like
to get all the tastes we can in one bite.”

A striking palette of tastes and textures has long been a hallmark of
Chinese cuisine (think sweet-and-sour soup), and this affinity for
taste-bud workouts has carried over to trendy drinks. The countless
drink stands that line Taiwanese streets flood the thirsty soul with
endless variations of bubble teas, a.k.a. hot or cold teas with chewy
tapioca balls and tropical juice blends. One popular combo, green
tea with passion fruit, tapioca pearls and chewy coconut cubes,
helps explain why85°C’s next coffee innovations will use panna
cotta and fresh fruit.

Salty coffee may sound strange, but it isn’t so much an acquired
taste as it is sequential tasting. You’re supposed to lick the salty
foam to arouse your senses, then savor the sweet, creamy coffee.
“Through the contrast of textures, you experience the saltiness
and coffee at different times,” says architect Jeff Lu of his first
encounter with the drink. “It’s a multisensual experience that

After sea-salt coffee spent two weeks as the best-selling drink at
85°C outlets in Taiwan, the company is sending the flavor combo
to its China branches. If it’s a hit there, Chung says, this cup of
Taiwanese sophistication may be exported to the West too. Could
salty Frappuccinos be far behind?,8599,1871635,00.html

Category: Taiwan


One Response

  1. Margaret Y. says:

    Have you tried the salty coffee yet? I admit that I would like to! Once I learned that the salt isn’t in the coffee itself but it’s on the rim like a margarita, I was veerrry intrigued.

    I think the article was correct: chinese food is all about multiple tastes and textures.

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