If someone were to say to you 'Uncle Bean', you'd probably imagine someone who looks exactly like Uncle Bean. Round-faced, generously proportioned, bespectacled and jolly. ALl this is true - that's what he looks like. But on top of that, our Uncle Bean is a disarmingly mean roaster, brewer and trainer, and part of the new generation of Chinese coffee entrepreneurs that call Beijing home.
First things first: Uncle Bean's flagship cafe in BK tower (北控大厦) isn't much to look at. Man, it's actually distinctly unimpressive looking. If it were in Melbourne I'd pretty much not even notice it's there. This cafe is a sleeper. It's more of a tasting room that the actual Uncle Bean uses to showcase his goods.
Step inside, however, and you'll start to see the telltale signs of quality... Mahlkönig grinders, a selection of beans and a brewing station. Things are looking up.
One peculiarity of ordering specialty coffee in China is that I always seem to have the same conversation.
- Me: "你们精品咖啡有什么种类的?" ("What kinds of specialty coffee do you have?")
- Them: "你喜欢什么口味的？偏酸还是偏苦?" ("What kind of flavour do you like? On the acidic/sour side, or on the bitter side?")
This question of 'sour' or 'bitter' is fascinating. It's a slightly weird delineation. Most coffees CAN broadly be classified as being acidic or bitter... but a) there are other important dimensions (aroma, mouthfeel, aftertaste, complexity) and b) sour/acidic (there isn't a clear differentiator for those words without explaining further in Chinese) and bitter can also just be signs of under- or over-extraction.
Anyway, I usually answer that question with another question and end up with something special/unique. In this case I ended up with a Sidamo, just because it sounded nice. It was brewed very well and came out delicate, balanced and sweet.
One thing I find cute about coffee in China is that it always seems to be accompanied by the same sugar packets and a small lotus branded 'caramelised biscuit'. I have no idea to what the ubiquity of these condiments owes. But it happens anyway.
Anyway, despite appearances and quirkiness, Uncle Bean serves up a fine bean and is the only decent coffee on this side of the city, in the Hujialou area (呼家楼地铁站). You can find them at BG tower on 38 North East 3rd Ring Road (朝阳区东三环北路38北控大厦) in the lobby area. They're open from 8am-730pm on weekdays and from noon-730pm on weekends, though this may vary as things inevitably do in China.