Until we arrived in Kunming, we’d always associated Yunnan Province with tea. But then we found Salvador’s Coffee House and discovered Yunnan Coffee.
I liked Salvador’s before I even found the place. It was nowhere near our hotel, and we’d had terrible trouble finding places in other Chinese cities without a map or good guidance, so I took the unusual step of emailing Salvador’s to find out the best bus route to get there
And I was delighted when co-owner Colin actually replied, with very clear instructions (Bus Number 2, in case you are wondering).
From the outside this looks like many other expat coffee shops we’ve seen in far-flung places, but the first thing we noticed inside Salvador’s is that there are as many Chinese customers as there are expats (sure, many of them may be studying at the uni round the corner looking for careers abroad, but the mix gave this a good feel as part of the local community rather than an expat ghetto).
And all the staff are local. In fact, read the inside cover of the menu and you’ll see that Salvador’s goes out of its way to employ and train up young women from Yunnan villages, offering them a stake in the business and giving them not only a salary but great skills which will take them far if ever they move on to other things.
The concept is so interesting and unique that there is a French anthropologist writing her PhD on the place – she’s virtually set up home in the café for now so go there in the next few weeks and you’ll surely see her propping up the bar (or indeed helping out wiping tables); after that she’ll be in the field in those Yunnan villages where the baristas come from. Should be a fascinating study.
But we were there mainly for the coffee (and cake, of course). And what we really liked about the coffee they have here is that it is all grown locally in Yunnan Province, and roasted by Salvador’s themselves (though they do also sell some Yunnan coffee roasted by others).
It may not be the best coffee we ever tasted, but it’s a wonderful concept and we liked the place enough to return three or four times during our short stay in Kunming.
For traditional western coffee drinkers who also like cake with their cuppa, Salvador’s also comes up trumps, with some fantastically tasty and good value pumpkin muffins (though whether these are just seasonal – and so we got lucky – I’m not sure).
Salvador’s celebrated its 10th anniversary last September and both Colin and partner Kris seem just as full of new ideas as ever, so long may it continue (interestingly, they have diversified into Yunnan energy bars lately; and the Salvador’s concept has now launched in a nearby town of Lincang, only this time fully employee-owned).
So for coffee in Kunming, Salvador’s should not be missed.
A complete contrast to Salvador’s can be found about ten minutes’ walk away, heading towards Kunming’s big lake to the north of the town centre.
Here we found Kafka Café, with a big sign over the front door telling us they get their coffee from Julius Meinl.
Now, I’m a big fan of Meinl, as large companies go, so I was keen to see how it tasted in Kunming. And if I’m really honest, I probably just preferred the cappuccino they served up here to the Yunnan coffee we had in Salvador’s.
The Kafka Café also has a very relaxing feel with lots of space, light, and interesting spots to sit among the books, in the window or out the front on the terrace.
They also did Yorkshire Tea, the first time I’d seen our tea from home in the far east (served in – virtually – a pint jug and black) – it was nice to try, though not quite the same as having it back in Yorkshire.
And I have to say, I prefer the Salvador’s concept of going local rather than importing from thousands of miles away. So, although we enjoyed Kafka Café, it would probably be a 2nd choice for us for coffee or tea in Kunming.
But our Yunnan coffee journey didn’t end in Kunming.
Tom, the owner of the hostel we stayed in near Lijiang, is also a great coffee enthusiast, and he proudly served up Yunnan Coffee for us first thing in the morning (highly recommend his place, by the way: the October Inn is 15 minutes walk from the old town of Lijiang).
Lijiang Old Town is virtually impossible not to get lost in. It must be China’s equivalent of Venice in that way.
That meant we just couldn’t find Tom’s coffee supplier (which he had recommended and had told us was in a small shop just a few metres from the water wheel – in case you feel like trying for yourselves).
But amazingly, we did manage to find Prague Café.
We didn’t find out how they got their name, but this lovely coffee shop in Lijiang serves up more good Yunnan Coffee, with some great cakes for us westerners, catering also though for Chinese customers who seem to prefer noodles with their coffee (at least at the time of day we popped in…).
Actually, Prague serves up Lavazza in their espresso machine, keeping the Yunnan coffee for their pourover (and by the way, they also have lovely puer teas on the menu).
I’d recommend this place if you’re looking for tea or coffee in Lijiang. But it’s hard to give directions as we found it by chance: best I can do is, down the stream from the water wheel towards the market and it’s on a street just over a bridge half way down.
And I reckon that pretty well sums up their postal address too. But that is how things work in Lijiang.
Touristy it may be, but we loved the place. It made a fitting end to our time in Yunnan, the only province we’d probably rush to return to in all of China. But then it probably is the only province that produce both tea and coffee in China.