On the arduous quest for a decent espresso in Nanjing, I stumbled upon the Fish Tank Cafe, an already well-established set up which began in 2012. As we are all aware, first impressions can often be deceiving in China, constantly faced with dodgy western facades or unusual claims of exceptional quality, but this little gem really does strike me as an outlier.
The main draw initially is that all too enticing smell of coffee. On glancing inside, your senses are matched by the sight of hipster caffeinated baristas huddling round their (rather professional!) coffee machines. Very exciting.
The options in the coffee department are far greater than your average café; they offer espresso based, French press and cold brew, with a great variety of single origin beans to ponder over. Teas are also on offer, and a small selection of rather delicious looking cheesecakes and sweet treats too.
Most of the menu has English translations, however, on the blackboard, the characteristics of the beans are in Chinese. Luckily a few of the numerous baristas can speak English and they certainly put in the effort to ensure your beverage is chosen wisely, rather than just opting for a bog-standard Americano.
All this makes The Fish Tank an “experience”, rather than simply a frantic need for coffee. Though, the pricing accounts for this, with espressos starting at ¥22, the single origin drinks going into the 40s and milky drinks in the high 20s/low 30s. On my student budget, I went for the cheapest espresso, which did in fact take a long time to arrive (although they did apologise for the wait) but was presented beautifully, had a great crema and was certainly not burnt like the majority. Weirdly, though, when delivering my order, the barista did describe the espresso as having a “salty taste”. Unusual.
Inside, The Fish Tank is definitely home to a bustling base of locals meeting up, studying or just enjoying their coffee. Hipster vibes galore, the décor adopts an industrial kind of warehousey look, with black pipes lighting fixtures on the ceiling, almost reminisicent of those quirky cafes in Manchester’s coffee scene. If you sat here long enough, as you get more and more caffeinated, you could definitely trick yourself into thinking you were in fact there, a world apart from the surrounding hectic streets on the outskirts of the Confucius Temple. Sitting out the back away from the crowds is also an option; inside has a lot going on with background music as well.
I’ve definitely found in The Fish Tank a place to go when seeking some coffee snobbery, but also just an attractive place to relax and rewind. Whether on your way to visit the Confucius Temple or just happening to find yourself that side of town, this successful café will likely live up to all your coffee fantasies.