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  • Elly Chu

Shanghai Featured: Gaman Café

GAMAN (我慢): A Japanese term which means patience, tolerance, and perseverance, or to endure with dignity. When translated literally to Chinese, “我慢” means “I, slowly”—perhaps promoting a leisurely, comparatively relaxed lifestyle amidst a hectic metropolis. Both terms seem to apply to the Gaman Cafe at 1077 Yuyuan Road—with an average rating of 4.63/5 stars and over 1,200 reviews on 大众点评(A.K.A the Chinese Yelp), Gaman Cafe appears to be a critically acclaimed coffee shop that has won the hearts of Shanghai’s netizens. As a certified hermit who has never been a part of the cool fellow kids, I took it upon myself to pay a visit to this cafe that all netizens seem to adore.

Gaman Cafe’s front entrance.

I arrive at Gaman Cafe on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. The rain has ceased briefly, and the air is cool and crisp. The cafe is a greyish-white two-story building with a cinnamon-brown shoji door, the warm hue of light from the interior a stark contrast to the overcast sky. I can’t help but notice the message on the small chalkboard: A drink and cake set costs 55 RMB. Individually, the drinks range from 25~40 RMB, and all desserts cost 32 RMB. Talk about marginal revenue!

Some special offers (left), and the beverage menu (right).

The decoration of Gaman Cafe is rather minimalistic, with a drawer of accessories on the left and simple art pieces on the walls. Spotting a woven basket filled to the brim with books of different genres, I feel a sudden urge to imbibe in Chinese literature that I can only loosely comprehend—admittedly, reading hits different if the setting is aesthetically pleasing enough. Combined with the soft ukulele and hushed Japanese songs playing in the background, I am living my middle school fantasy of being the shy and Hip Hop: Beats to Relax/Study to girl who meets her true love on a rainy day after school.

An accessory drawer (left) and a selection of books (right).

The narrow, spiral staircase to the left of the accessory drawer leads to the second floor. Large wooden letters spelling “Gaman” are lined vertically on the wall next to the stairs, a gentle reminder of tranquility and a Zen state of mind, a break from the temporal elements of life. The second floor offers more seating. The tone of the lighting is even warmer than the first floor, and the vaulted ceiling reminds me of a cosy loft.

Unfortunately, the second floor is filled with customers facing the staircase, and I am unable to take a full photo of the floor without looking like a creep. Dejected but not discouraged, I head back downstairs to order. I choose 2 sets of drinks and cakes (special offer of 110 RMB!) for my companion and myself: an enigmatic drink called “厚乳dirty”, an orange flavored flat white, a rose petal lychee cheesecake, and a matcha red bean cheesecake. Feeling satisfied, I return to my seat and pick up a philosophical book I know I won’t understand to continue my middle school Wattpad fan-fiction fantasy.

The spiral staircase

As it turns out, “厚乳dirty” is hot espresso poured on top of a chilled mixture of milk and coffee creamer. The faint sweetness of the coffee creamer counters the bitterness of the espresso, making this drink a potential choice for people who need a quick pick-me-up, but consider the taste of Americano or espresso acrid. The mixture of hot and cold is unique as well—if you’re indecisive like me, the “厚乳dirty” may be your way to go. Overall, this drink is a pleasantly confusing experience, and probably something I’d crave every few months.

Matcha red bean cheesecake (32 RMB single order)

and the mysterious “厚乳dirty” (36 RMB single order).

The matcha red bean cheesecake has a thin layer of regular cake sandwiched in the middle, and a cookie crust. This cake is rather sweet and smooth, with a moderate matcha flavor. The crunch of the cookie crust contrasts with the rich creaminess of the cake. If you’re like me, who has a low sweetness tolerance and considers the sweetness of a Mars Bar particularly overwhelming, you may consider the matcha a bit lacking and would prefer the taste of tea to be slightly stronger for the bitterness and sweetness to reach an equilibrium. I find the flavors to become more balanced once I leave out the cookie crust.

“南法春甜”—a clever wordplay between “sweet” and “spring”—is a seasonal special of a flat white with a citrusy zing. Though I adore the wafting fresh scent of orange, I feel slightly apprehensive towards an overly fruity flat white.

After taking a sip, however, I am surprised to discover that the citrusy aspect of this drink is only limited to the smell. The coffee itself is velvety and rich, a pleasant balance between espresso and milk—not exactly bitter, and containing the nutty aftertaste of coffee beans all caffeine addicts love. If you find the milkiness of a latte or the tanginess of an espresso shot too overpowering, “南法春甜” is the drink for you. It is an atmospheric drink indeed—the zesty aroma of orange, the heat from the adorably homey mug, and the smooth and soothing flat white warming your stomach makes “南法春甜” the perfect beverage for a slightly chilly rainy day.

南法春甜” (Orange flavored flat white), 36 RMB single order.

Similar to the matcha red bean cheesecake, this rose petal lychee cheesecake has small chunks of regular cake in the middle, as well as a cookie crust. Rose petals are sprinkled atop of a lychee flavored layer with the consistency somewhere between puree and jelly.

The uniquely sweet and slightly rosy tang of the tropical fruit sets a refreshing tone that contrasts the creaminess of the cheese and also serves as a palette cleanser after drinking a milky beverage. The rose petals on top are an elegant accessory to both the visuals and the taste, delightful to look at and simultaneously amplifies the flavor of lychee. This cake is comparatively less sweet than the matcha red bean cheesecake, and also slightly less filling. If you’re craving a moderately light dessert that can fill your stomach for an afternoon tea, but you aren’t overly keen on sugary treats and heavy cakes, this rose petal lychee cheesecake may be just the thing.

Rose petal lychee cheesecake, 36 RMB single order.

I walk out of Gaman Cafe feeling rejuvenated and satisfied. It is raining once again, and the sound of the shoji door clicking shut behind me quickly pulls me back to a restless metropolis. Still slightly dazed from the comforting lull of the homelike coffee shop, I cross the street and begin to head home, further and further away until the seeping yellow glow from the two-story house disappears into the distance.

Pro/s: Atmospheric, reasonable prices, a creative menu.

Con/s: Slightly crowded even on a rainy day—can’t be helped, though, as it is loved by the internet.

Final Verdict: A solid 4 Lo-Fi girls out of 5 Lo-Fi girls.


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