Article By Chris Hankin
30meters West, Xiang Zi Miao Jie, Xiang Zi Men.
9:00am – 7:30pm
Average Price per Person /人均消费: 20RMB
PROS: Attention to detail; great coffee and atmosphere
CONS: Limited seating
There is a tiny coffee shop near South Gate on Xiang Zi Miao Street, just west of the Xiang Zi temple. The exterior is mainly glass, with a barely discernable logo. For the first few weeks that I lived in Xi’an, I walked by without ever noticing it. One day, I decided to go in. I’m not sure what made me look twice after passing by without noticing so many times before. Maybe it was that the weather was cold and hazy, or maybe it was that at the same time my previous-favorite coffee shop had raised its prices. Since that fateful day, I have become a regular at this strange and magnificent coffee shop.
The entirety of the business is stuffed into one room. Seats are limited and I often find myself hovering over other guests, gauging the pace at which they are drinking in order to decide if I should have my drink to stay or to go. When I do get a seat at the bar I feel very lucky, and I frantically practice writing Chinese characters as the other customers look on enviously.
The only two employees – the co-owners – shuffle past one another on the business end of the coffee bar. It is barely wide enough for one person on their side, and so when it gets busy as it often does on nice days, half of their work is navigating from register to refrigerator to grinder and back.
The small space is accentuated by the throngs of people whisking in and out of the glass door. The pull is the amazing coffee. They serve delicious drip and espresso at reasonable prices. 10 RMB for an iced Americano, 16 RMB for a Hazelnut Latte.
The customers are predominantly young and cool. The other day as I was sitting at the bar, a skinny guy with Chuck Taylors and a dollar sign shaved into his head walked in and ordered matcha. If you sit in the café long enough, you might forget where you are and think that you were in Portland or some other city where you see people with gauges and purposefully ill-fitted clothes. The owners are part of this feeling; they remind me of the couple from “Portlandia”.
Bairuo and her husband Chan Chi Wai met in a coffee shop, but not the same one that I have come to love so much. They decided to open Jiang Mu in 2014, and soon after they were married. That this coffee shop is such an intimate part of their lives is evident in every cup. The amount of individual effort and attention is astonishing. On the coffee bar they have two digital scales that they used to measure precisely how much of everything it added to each beverage. I have seen Bairuo adjust the amount of milk to be added to an iced latte down to the microgram. I watched Chan Chi Wai not only washing every cup by hand, but then finishing the job with a toothbrush. This is the shop’s entire ethos. Fastidious care is valued above all else.
What draws me back time and again to this tiny coffee shop is this attention to detail. When I go there I have a comforting feeling that everything will be done not necessarily perfectly, but with deliberate and attentive care. At Jiang Mu, fastidiousness is the product, coffee is the medium.
Chris Hankin is a news junkie currently teaching English at NPU