Until Starbucks, Coffee World it is.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who craved a Starbucks, but the last few years in Suzhou spoiled me. Within a two kilometre radius of our place there we had four Starbucks. Four. That’s roughly on par with the number of mainland Chinese food restaurants in the same area.

Haikou doesn’t have a Starbucks. Or at least according to rumours, doesn’t yet have a Starbucks. However, unlike the rest of China, and much like India and Thailand, we do have branches of Coffee World and Pizza Corner.

The downtown Guomao Coffee World and Pizza Corner was the first Western restaurant we were introduced to after moving down to Haikou. I’d never heard of the chains before, but was looking forward to sampling something not steamed, stir-fried or boiled, and I wasn’t let down. Their pizza, while not earth-shattering and a far cry from the ‘za of home, was more than enough to subdue my comfort food craving.

Unfortunately, its distance from where we live made it a bit of a non-starter for regular visits. I think other parents with young kids will sympathize; when it comes to eating out with a toddler, close to home tends to win out almost every time.

We’re fortunate that where we live in Haikou has a variety of decent Chinese restaurants, and one crappy “pizza” place. As such, I’ve not really been left wanting, with the exception of not having a good spot to get a Starbucks-style coffee nearby.

But now we do. Not 10 minutes from our place is a newly opened Coffee World location, on Haidian Dao’s Wuxi Lu. This morning Maggie, the boy and I decided to take the spot up on its offer of 2-for-1 waffles and see if it was any good. It was.

Prices are about on par with what you’d expect at a Starbucks — iced coffee drinks run 25 RMB (med) to 35 RMB (lrg), and the waffles range from 22 RMB (plain) to 30-ish RMB for fancier stuff. Our berry-covered waffles were 27 RMB (and two for one!). The location is small, much smaller than the downtown spot; and lacks a Pizza Corner, so food is limited to waffles, NY-style bagels, some wraps, pasta, and other simple stuff. But still, it’s a nice addition to the collection of restaurants in our “18-month-old-meltdown-must-run-home” radius.

I should mention that Coffee World isn’t the only Western-style coffee shop (not to be confused with the plethora of UBC clones on every corner). There is a cute café called Milli Coffee just around the corner from the downtown Coffee World, and a newly opened one a few doors down from the Coffee World by us on Haidian Dao. It’s the spot I want to love, but can’t.

Milli’s old-sofas and ambient interior have a bit more charm than Coffee World’s polished cookie-cutter chainishness. However, both times I’ve been there its staff seemed more interested in practicing invisibility than serving customers. What’s more, the drinks are over-priced, especially considering their decor couldn’t have cost more than a day’s worth of iced cappuccino sales. I have a hard time paying a premium to sit on dirty second-hand furniture in a dimly lit place — but that might just be me.

And it has no 2-for-1 waffles (at least until the end of the year). But maybe the near proximity of both locations will be for the betterment of both places, and ultimately us iced-drink lovers.

So Starbucks, this is just to say, we still want you to come to the island, but in making us wait you’re going to have some decent competition when you get here.

4 Responses

  1. Let me start with 100% agreement on Milli’s invisible staff problem.  This isn’t a Milli specific thing so much as a Hainan service industry sucks thing.  I’ve been ignored at fine establishments all over the island. 

    However, that funky secondhand furniture you described above is actually custom made brand new stuff that the owners dropped a small fortune on (just look around your average secondhand Chinese furniture shop to see what I mean).

    Most of the simple stuff on Coffee World’s menu, for me, falls under the category of “I still haven’t forgotten a full week of nothing but Coffee World sandwiches and wraps during the 2008 and 2009 Ironman”.  Nothing personally against the quality of the food just way too much over exposure.

    I also won’t willingly order 地三鲜 owing to it being the first Chinese dish I learned to say and one I ate at most meals for six or seven months in 2002/2003.

    As for the fancy menu stuff, the dead corporate atmosphere puts me off.

    I really like the oatmeal cookies.  At least to my 9-years-in-China palate, they taste right.  And the balcony at the Guomao location is a good spot to people watch without being stared at.

    Since you mentioned Coffee World’s bagels, in case I haven’t personally warned you before, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES make the mistake of ordering one.  If the owner were Chinese (even Chinese-American) I could understand deliberately bastardizing a food product because “Chinese people didn’t know how to eat them” but he isn’t and it isn’t acceptable and it’s just wrong wrong WRONG! 

    Frozen bagels would be better. 

    Frozen bagels that had been defrosted, put in the refrigerator, allowed to go stale, refrozen, and then toasted would still be better. 

    If Chinese people didn’t know how to eat them and they weren’t a popular item for the Chinese customers he could have just taken them off the menu instead of leaving this soft bread creation with a hole in the middle there to mock me every time I go in.

    I’m Jewish, I feel strongly about my bagels.

    • lol. Thanks for the tip on the bagels. Are they just bread baked in a bagel shape? If so, they could at least leave the “New York-style” off the advertisement.

      As for the furniture in Milli’s — custom-made or not, both times I was there I sat on sofas that were about as clean as a street-side chuar table. It sounds like that might be a staff issue as well, but that’s hardly an excuse. When you’re dropping a couple hundred RMB for a visit, I don’t think some decent service and clean seats is too much to ask for. But maybe I’m just prissifying with age.

      I agree completely that Milli’s staff is about on par with the crap service endemic of Haikou (non-resident readers, please believe me when I say, it’s rough). Coffee World probably isn’t immune to this, and the staff was a bit clueless the times I’ve been there. However, I’ll take trying-to-be-helpful, smiling and clueless over absent.

      Milli’s definitely wins points for the atmosphere (less Starbucks and more coffee house), and 10 years ago they would have had my patronage on principle alone (10 years ago I wouldn’t have set foot in an over-priced, selling-to-suits Starbucks). China has given me a deeper appreciation for standardized quality and cleanliness. 🙂

      • I haven’t made the mistake of ordering a bagel since 2008. 

        All of my more recent knowledge of Coffee World “bagels” comes from hearing about the experiences of people who were unfortunate enough to go there prior to being warned about them.

        In terms of bastardizing a food product, it could be worse.  There are always the bagel-shaped squishy yellow Chinese spongecake at Linlang.  犹太圈 or “Jew Loops”.  I have not tasted them but I have a photo somewhere.

        For good service, amazing drinks, and surprisingly reasonable prices (15rmb for an iced drink) you can try out A to Z Cafe on Yilong Road.  The three Taiwanese owners are actively managing the place and they speak English.

  2. Hey Ryan and Marion. Actually Ryan, you don’t know me, but Marion does…Canada school Chris. Milli’s is about 5 steps outside of my apartment complex, but I have only been a few times. I am in agreement with you guys, the place is ok, but all-in-all a mold-pit of rudeness. Actually the one girl in there with the big fake glasses pissed me off so much with her behaviour that I told my wife I wouldn’t go there anymore. In recent memory, I can only remember cutting off an Ikea in Vancouver after the mustard dispensing machine top shot off when I pushed it and covered me in mustard.Coffee World over Milli’s any day.

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