Mei's Tea House is the latest place on popular Yongkang Street for students and bohemians to catch up with each other, take afternoon tea or enjoy dinner and a glass of wine. Atmosphere is everything in establishments of this kind and it's invariably the owner who sets the tone.
In this case we're in good hands because this is Mei Huang's (黃美瑛) second tea shop in the area and she has built a little oasis in the middle of Taipei central, where laptop owners can retreat with a pot of tea and wireless Internet access, lulled by the sounds of contemporary jazz and low-key conversations.
Mei's has a soothing decor. The wooden floors are complemented by whitewashed walls and red highlights, giving the tea house an ambiance that mixes Continental European and modern-day Chinese/Taiwanese influences. There are the essential comfy chairs and substantial wooden tables lit by orange lamps and spotlights. Modernist paintings adorn the walls and there are antique-style objects like tea urns dotted around. There's also a bar area and stools for those who fancy a drink and a chat.
There is room, comfortably, for around 30 people. But on weekend evenings, when a live band turns up twice a month, it can get a little crowded and the emphasis is on fun rather than quiet reflection. A small deck area outside is popular and a great place to chat and watch the world drift by.
Apart from the atmosphere regulars come to sample an inventive but solid menu of drinks and food. There is an emphasis on Taiwanese black teas -- from Hualian, Sun Moon Lake and Hsinchu (NT$150) -- as Mei believes these are not appreciated as much as they should be.
"This is a not a place for just tea drinking," Mei says, "But a place where you can try tasting a lot of different things. We have various interesting kinds of coffees, wines and beers that are rotated. We do not have and will not have Corona or Heinekin."
Currently, Mei is stocking Italian beer (Peroni), Mexican Tecata, Dos Equis and a beer from Gavroche, France. Prices are under NT$150. Wines are from NT$800 for a Spanish reserve wine, up to NT$1,200 for QE Valvieso from Chile. Glasses of house white or red are NT$150.
As for the food, our meals were hearty rather than fancy. The beef curry (NT$200) came with corn chips or short grain rice. The beef was tender and an assortment of beans were smothered in a rich con carne sauce. The pasta fusilli dish (NT$180) was made with fresh vegetables and a sprinkling of herbs and a dash of white wine livened it up.