What follows is a short list of serviceable working cafes in and around downtown Tainan 台南. What do I mean by a “working cafe”? I mean a cafe where students, freelancers, and remote workers will find the things they need to dig in for an extended period of time and get some work done. My criteria for a good working cafe: decent coffee, the availability of snacks or light meals, comfortable seating, wireless connectivity, unobtrusive music, reasonable prices, long opening hours, welcoming staff, and an ambiance conducive to creative work, especially programming. Of course, it helps if a cafe looks nice too!
Many of the cafes in Tainan are more properly thought of as tourist cafes, especially those found in renovated historic homes in the various cultural zones around the city. While such cafes are often gorgeous to look at they aren’t the kind of place where you’re necessarily going to want to dig in for a few hours. Prices are sometimes high, outlets are unavailable, and there are often time limits. Finding a good working cafe is not always straight-forward—you just have to ride around or search Google Maps for “cafe” or “咖啡” (coffee) and go take a look, especially down small streets and laneways. That is, unless you know your way around the Chinese language internet, in which case you’ll probably find many more places to check out. Bonus: try out my working cafe map of Taiwan!
Anyhow, what follows is a list of the working cafes in Tainan 台南 that I have kept in regular rotation during my three month sojourn here.
A Room 房間咖啡館
A Room 房間咖啡館 is a stylish cafe in a renovated Japanese-style home on a cul-de-sac in the eastern district of Tainan. It is the nicest, most well-designed cafe I have been to anywhere in Taiwan. Considerable attention to detail has been paid to the wood-themed interior and the luscious garden outside. But this is not just a posh place to enjoy expensive coffee—it is designed for creative work, as evidenced by the wall of books, comfortable seating, and the lights and outlets at every table.
Drinks are more expensive than the norm in Tainan, about 120 to 150 NT, and small snacks are served. The menu is hand-written so you won’t have any luck machine translating it—and little to no English is spoken by the staff in my experience. I usually just order a cappuccino to make things easy.
The music is kept low and the ambiance is eminently suitable for information work, though the lights are sometime dimmed to show movies late in the evening. You can expect a wait of up to about half an hour on weekends. It is a popular place, rightfully regarded as one of the hidden gems of Tainan. As such, it is often written up by Chinese language bloggers, for instance here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Note: as of summer 2016 I believe this cafe has moved; check Facebook for more info! Room A is essentially a co-working cafe. You pay by the hour (1 NT per minute, 60 NT minimum) and have unlimited access to the basic necessities like coffee, tea, juice, and so on.
Fancier drinks and food are available at a discounted rate (for example, a cappuccino is 40 NT) though the quality is not as great as some other places. The space is optimized for design and development work: lots of outlets, fast wireless internet, expansive desks with comfortable chairs, tasteful decor, quiet jazz in the background, and the latest opening hours of any cafe on my list. As the name would imply it is in fact the sister cafe to the aforementioned A Room. I go here when I need blazing fast internet and extra room to sprawl.
Fat Cat Deli
Fat Cat Deli is a real indie cafe on a historic street next to Duiyuemen 兌悅門, one of Tainan’s old city gates. The atmosphere is idiosyncratic to say the least—their motto, “eat shit and die”, is emblazoned on everything from the metal shutters outside to a sign above the bar. Obviously the Hongkongese owners have a very sardonic sense of humour, having rejected the cutesy aesthetic favoured by most Taiwanese cafes for something a little more punk rock.
And then there’s the music. You can tell from all the records on the shelves that they know music—and it shows. Fat Cat Deli plays the best music of any cafe I’ve been to in Tainan. To be honest I’m not always familiar with what they play, nor am I much of an indie rock expert—but I like what I hear when I’m there. Lots of late nineties classics: Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Cat Power, and similar fare.
The food and drink is also quite good at Fat Cat Deli. They serve a decent cappuccino as well as some less common drinks like the flat white. The all-day breakfast is a nice touch and they’ve got some of the best baked goods I’ve had in Tainan.
As the name would imply there are indeed some cats on location—though this isn’t specifically a cat cafe and the cats aren’t ever a nuisance. The only downsides are the relatively early closing time and the somewhat cramped seating. Despite that it’s still one of my favourite cafes in the city—and the owners are great people, very welcoming!
Café Flâneur 暖暖蛇咖啡館
Café Flâneur is a travel-themed cafe in a renovated home on a small alley next to a bunch of unusually boisterous temples—expect occasional fireworks and theater shows outside. The coffee is quite good, clocking in at about 110 NT for a proper cappuccino, and there are some special drinks available that you simply won’t find anywhere else. Rice balls (salty) and cheesecake (sweet) are available if you’d like something to nibble on.
The ambiance in this cafe is relaxed and comfortable with quirky travel-themed decorations and a little splash of international culture here and there. The owner is well-travelled and speaks English and the rest of the staff are quite friendly. The music is generally tasteful, ranging from light jazz to Cat Power and Radiohead (again). Often I hear French radio, presumably piped in over the net. Most tables have a pair of outlets but I tend to sit at the bar on the ground floor—which also serves as a decent standing desk if you’re into that kind of thing.
This cafe hosts many small events, from political activist meetings to group discussions about travel experiences, so you may want to head up to the second floor if you prefer to work undisturbed. Then again, if you’re interested in getting tapped into very green politics in Tainan, there are few betters places to start. Just check the flyers by the door and the posters on the wall!
Easy Cafe 甘單咖啡館
Easy Cafe is located in a beautiful historic home across from a small temple in an alleyway off Zhongshan road. It fronts onto a small public square that is often lined with old people hanging out and chatting in the shade. The whole area has a real neighbourhood feel to it, something that I find somewhat uncommon in Taiwan.
Inside, the decorations are sparse but pleasing to the eye. You’ll want to grab one of four spots at the bar—the only place you’ll reliably find power. The music is usually so quiet that it is indiscernible but animated conversation is not at all uncommon at this popular cafe. People come here to hang out throughout the day—so you might want to arrive later or not stay too long.
The coffee is quite good, though I tend to order a latte (100 NT) rather than my usual cappuccino. Their cappuccinos are served in a more classical style with a tower of milk foam on top—not a style I am a big fan of, though they do it well. There are also several different beans available for handmade coffee, though I haven’t tried any of them as of yet.
Other notes: there is no food served here insofar as I know. And this may sound strange but the old school washroom is rather special. You’ll see what I mean if you go searching for the lights. This place is really popular with Tainan bloggers. More photos and reviews (in Chinese, of course) can be seen here, here, and here.
Alleyway No. 11 小巷裡的拾壹號
Alleyway No. 11 小巷裡的拾壹號 is a charming little cafe in a small alleyway, as the name would imply. I discovered it the very first day I moved to Tainan as it is just around the corner from my place. It is perhaps the friendliest, most down-to-earth cafe on the list, with exceedingly pleasant staff and a nice old dog hanging about. Step inside and it’s like being in someone’s living room.
The light meals are good and the coffee is decent. Prices are at the lower end for Tainan; black coffee is 80 NT and most of the food is around 120 NT. There is ample seating on the main floor as well as on the second. The only downsides are the early closing time and the predominantly pop music soundtrack, but that’s what headphones are for.
Masa Loft 瑪莎羅芙
Masa Loft 瑪莎羅芙 is on the third floor of a building next to the university campus in eastern Tainan city. It is a sparsely furnished, almost Japanese-style open concept cafe with bookshelves lining the walls and plenty of natural light. Although seating is seldom a problem you may have some trouble reaching the outlets. The coffee is nothing special but light meals are served (in the 80 to 120 NT range) and the cafe is otherwise adequate for getting some work done. It is never my first choice but I sometimes drop by when I’m in the area. It is due east of the train station on the main university road so it shouldn’t be hard to find. Actually, it is the only cafe on this list that you’ll find on a major road—every other place is down some alleyway or another.
Panino Cafe 帕里諾
Panino is located in an alleyway in the fashion district near the Tainan train station. The sandwiches are decent and the coffee—although it doesn’t aspire to excellence—is totally adequate. Seating is limited but I haven’t found this place to be that busy. Outlets are found at a few tables on both floors. It isn’t the sort of place I’d go out of my way to visit but on rainy days, or when I am coming to and from the train station, it is a good standby.
So there you have it, some of the finest working cafes in Tainan! If I happen to find any more I will be sure to update this post.