A woman in Taipei told me, “The life of the city isn’t on the main streets, it’s in the alleys.” That certainly proved to be true on our last day on the ground. I cut down random lanes, taking more chances and defying the map, and the exploration led to our best coffee of the trip.
The first thing I learned (the hard way) about Taipei specialty coffeehouses is that most of them don’t open until past noon. Hell, places like Rufous didn’t roll up their doors until 3 p.m. I did appreciate the contemporary Japanese aesthetic of Cafe Mehane, which adjoined a tiny residential park and whose only identifiable feature was a pair of eyeglasses. Still, it was a case of style over substance. I was ready to give up on our quest when I cut across a random lane and saw two tell-tale signs of a promising coffeehouse: a shiny silver La Marzocco espresso machine and twin Mazzer grinders. I immediately ducked into VG Gallery Studio Café and was pretty impressed with what I saw.
Arcadia, California, native Eric Huang and longtime friend Tommy Chen opened VG four weeks prior to my visit in a neighborhood riddled with galleries, furniture and antique shops. Huang had gallery in Taipei’s Neihu district for three years, and modern Chinese paintings hang on VG’s walls. The furniture hails from 1980s France and 1970s Netherlands.
They feature a blackboard menu for sandwiches, panini or globally sourced coffee, roaster indeterminate. If you order Kenya AA Top, they give you one pot hot, one iced, “two different temperature tastes, two different flavors” and one nice touch.
VG’s signature beverage, Tommy’s Special (NT 120 ~ $4), involved espresso, burnt sugar and milk over ice and achieved cooling balance.
I scaled back to the base ingredient, ordering espresso (NT 100) that featured blown flecking, and didn’t taste too bitter, but also wasn’t especially bright or sweet.
VG proved to be a cafe with surprising flair and above average coffee. One of the owners, Eric Huang, even took the trouble to walk me to a definitive bowl of beef noodle soup at nearby Xi Le Man Zu Noodle House, but I would have remembered VG regardless of that courtesy.