It’s Saturday, at 2 pm, in the city center of Taipei. I need to finish some projects outside, far from the domestic distractions. My location could not be better – the Da’an district is rife with quaint cafés offering co-working spaces, wide tables, and wi-fi… Many of them also sell Asia’s best drip coffee and oatmeal lattes in case I’m feeling fancy.
I pick the nearest place by my house and confidently march in only to realize there is not a single table available. I say to myself 沒問題/没问题 (méi wèntí; no problem) – there are always other options.
I go to the other end of the street. I make sure to read 推 (tuī; push) written on the glass door of the next place and not bump into the glass entrance. The space is vast with a few dozen tables. I walk around. Students are hunching over textbooks, others are creating PowerPoint presentations, or reading work materials. All seats are taken.
With unyielding hope, this time, I choose the nearby tried-and-tested chain which evenly dots the entire city. I hear the barista say 歡迎光臨/欢迎光临 (huānyíngguānglín; welcome), but I’m not really welcome as the forty spaces or so have been taken by another group of students and professionals. Feeling like a Truman show character, I keep going, though, the chances of finding the workspace are getting slimmer.
Finally, the fourth place has a few empty seats. I happily order 燕麥奶拿鐵/燕麦奶拿铁 (yànmài nǎi nátiě; oat milk latte) and sit down. I’m lucky because the space gets full within an hour.
I have never seen anything like that anywhere before. But it’s not only the weekend allure. It is a thriving café culture Monday through Sunday (although it’s busiest on the weekends). In Taiwan, cafés have become the third place between home and school or work. People of all ages stay inside for long hours sipping on their beverage of choice and getting things done. I’ve seen a few fall asleep, too.
While in some venues there’s a time limit, in other ones you can stay all day long, enjoying limitless refills of water and high-speed internet (once, an owner let me stay after hours, just because she noticed how engrossed I was in my work). In some spaces, noise-canceling earphones are a must because of the lively social chatter. In others, you’re frowned upon if you talk to a friend. It is also part of the charm to navigate between the peaceful and lively caffeine spots on Taipei’s map. I even met a team of creatives who preferred to work in different cafés and have a “coffee budget” rather than rent a coworking space. One of them told me: “You can get inspired by being in all these different interiors and energies. New ideas come to you, and you don’t get bored by going to the same neutral surroundings every day.”
The environment is unique regardless of the space. It shows either in the details (like a DIY glass chandelier or a corner mini-jungle), or overwhelms at first sight with floor-to-ceiling windows, vintage maps and funky chairs. Before living in other countries, I would go to a café with high hopes of crossing all items from my to-do list, but in the end, I only pretended I did things. I would give in to the leisurely ambience and get distracted by music, people-watching or eating. Eventually, I would play on my phone and let the time go by. Here, seeing everyone focused for hours motivates me and reminds me that we’ve all come there because we strive for success. As if their presence silently said 加油 (jiāyóu; keep going).