In the city of Taipei, meeting friends, talking, reading or simply whiling away time at coffee houses has become a way of life. More often than not, patrons don’t merely come for the drinks and nibbles but are drawn to an establishment’s peculiar aura and ambiance, which often reflects the owners’ indulgences and idiosyncrasies. Explore the city’s nooks and crannies, and one will find cafes that revolve around art and design, or serve as meeting points for intellectuals and the politically minded, while others take pride in their premium brews, or promote fair trade ideas and environmental issues. In the case of Dear Deer, it is all about discovering a hidden gem quietly lying behind a traditional market near the Guting MRT Station (古亭捷運站).
Taking up the first floor of an old apartment building, the coffeehouse artfully transforms the space into an intimate environment tinted with a predominant pallet of wooden brown, concrete gray and iron black, and retains vintage elements such as traditional lattice windows and secondhand furnishings. With a relatively high ceiling, the interior appears spacious and is bathed in abundant sunlight, shining through large, spotless widows.
When the temperature is mild, customers can sit in a courtyard dotted with colorful tables and chairs that seem to be taken from an elementary school. They are petite and adorable, but probably not a comfortable choice if you are a 180cm-tall basketball player.
Dear Deer’s attempt to be different is evident in the way it tries to reinvent the coffeehouse experience. Here, diners don’t pay by cash but purchase pre-paid tickets, which costs NT$250 and is worth five points. Everything served at the coffee shop is priced by points. For example, all of the tea choices require four points, and most desserts and pastries cost two. The novelty strikes one as fun at first, but to a pragmatist like myself, it appears inconvenient on second thought because now I have to remember to bring my ticket with me and worry about how to use up all the points I have.
The food also has strange names. One example is the monkeys rolling on the meadow smoothie (猴子在草地上打滾的冰沙, four points), which mixes maccha, or powdered green tea, with banana. Polar bear and little bees (北極熊與小蜜蜂, three points) is a honey and milk-flavored smoothie.
Among the small variety of coffees, I have tried the maccha latte (森林咖啡, three points), which tasted more like milk than coffee.
On the limited menu of savory nibbles, the cooler black sesame and chicken sandwich (比較酷的黑芝麻燻雞三明治, three points) is a good choice as the combination of black sesame and chicken is harmonious in taste, sandwiched between focaccia topped with rosemary that gives the dish a pleasant aroma.
For dessert, I tried the handmade tofu jelly (自己磨的豆漿做的豆腐蒟蒻, two points) served with tiny bottles of brown sugar syrup and nuts. It was a feast for the eye but didn’t impress the taste buds. Other sweet and pastry items include handmade pudding, brownies with ice cream, cheesecake, madeleines and scones (all cost two points).
All in all, Dear Deer’s playfully decorated environment seems more appealing than the food it serves. Toys and fun collectables fill the space, while books of poetry, artsy publications and music albums by local artists occupy an entire bookshelf and are for sale. There is also an extensive range of magazines in English, Japanese and Chinese, in genres ranging from fashion, lifestyle, photography, to design, arts and culture.
Service is passable. But if you come by during rush hour, it is much faster to go to the counter and place the order yourself than waiting to be served.
Dear Deer is located within a three-minute walk from the Guting MRT Station exit No 3 and No 4.