The Folks, Taipei City, Taiwan
No. 3-1, Lane 208, Siwei Road
+886 2 2704 0399
Open 8 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday–Wednesday; closed Thursday
The awarding of 2016’s World Barista Champion to Berg Wu, a barista from Taipei, was overdue acknowledgment of a city that may be most famous for its bubble tea. Eschewing boba, Taipei’s tamperers created a sophisticated coffee scene that marries quality with design.
For a quick cup of coffee, the options are plentiful. You’ll find convenience stores, plenty of familiar Western chains, and a smattering of Australian cafés. Should you make time to wander off the main thoroughfares, the local gems are worth every sip.
One such discovery is The Folks in Taipei’s Da’an District. The shop sits tucked alongside a traditional Taiwanese market and a vitamin store. (On foot, look for Lane 198 to find it.) The outside, unmarked and nondescript, may almost go unnoticed when the shop is closed, curtain drawn. But during business hours, it’s hard to miss the steady stream of devout regulars making their daily pilgrimage.
Presiding over The Folks is owner and sole employee Tzu-Chi Lin.
If The Folks is open, Tzu-Chi’s behind the bar. The space is shoebox-sized but mighty—a mere 12 square meters—and holds all the accoutrements of a much larger space.
The bar, shaped like a backward “L,” seats four along the front, two more at the edge, with a covered patio outside the entrance accommodating just as many. Alongside one wall stands a three-foot-tall cold-drip brewer from the Taiwanese company Bolero. The brewing process takes about seven hours, producing three liters of coffee, one drop at a time, accumulating slowly as the ice melts over the grounds. There are no shortcuts at The Folks.
In such a small space there’s no room for extraneous anything, and Tzu-Chi’s attention to detail shines through at every turn. From the collection of design books on the counter to the tunes playing overhead, his stamp is everywhere. A great lover of music and vintage albums, Tzu-Chi creates monthly playlists spotlighting some of his favorites in Brit-pop, indie rock, grunge, electronic, and folk music. The mood of the room is dynamic, immersing the customer in a very personal aesthetic.
Sights and sounds aside, nowhere is Tzu-Chi’s attention to detail more directed than on the coffee itself. He starts, not surprisingly, by roasting the beans himself, a twice-a-week task on the Diedrich roaster that defies all odds by fitting in the corner. He picks through the green beans—sourced from local companies Tri-Up, Pebble Coffee, or Linking Coffee—one by one, looking for defects that might throw off the quality of the final brew. Once again, this meticulous attention to minutiae sets The Folks apart.
Watching Tzu-Chi roast and brew with such focused precision, it’s clear this is a special coffee place. The natural inclination for most business owners would be expansion, but Tzu-Chi says he has no desire to scale up. “Tending to The Folks each day, owning a single shop, and making it the best it can be is a lifelong pursuit of excellence,” he says, then turns his attention back to honing his craft.
Looking for more cafe spotlights? Check out these cafés in South Korea