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Beijing's best cheap iced coffee

Which cheap caffeine fix will win our battle of the brews?

Here at Time Out, we're mostly fuelled by our enthusiasm for all the amazing things going on in Beijing and copious amounts of cheap coffee. In fact, if you took a blood sample from the very worst of the java fiends in the office, you'd probably find more caffeine than haemoglobin present.

 coffee fry jitters coffee shakes GIF
Artist's impression.

However, when you're sustaining this level of addiction, the quality of the fix tends to take a backseat to that most banal of considerations: price. We're vaguely okay with drinking all kinds of slop, as long as we can afford it with the crumpled one-kuai notes shoved about our persons. But which affordable cup of joe is the least heinous? Admittedly, they all taste borderline-identical with a generous slug of milk thrown in there, but which one makes the most sense to drink neat so that you can pretend to be sophisticated, or French?

We drank all the coffees iced because it's warm outside, and black so that the brews could be fairly evaluated.

They're ranked from worst to best below, with scores given out of five – it's science, people!

Tous Les Jours, 20RMB

tous les jours

1 bean

Taste 1
Value for money 1
Overall score 1 bean

No, no, no. Do not want. This one was so unpleasant, with its 'snail tang' and 'watery and unpleasant' taste, that we almost fail to summon words to accurately describe it. And Tous Les Awful have the audacity to charge twenty-sodding-kuai for it! We're going to sit back and let the reaction of one of our testers, who asked 'can we make a record of how bad this was?', speak for itself.

Paris Baguette, 20RMB

paris baguette

2 beans

Taste 2
Value for money 2
Overall score 2 beans

This watery little waste of time was barely worth the energy we used walking to get it, even if this effort did count towards steps on our fitness band. It was 'feeble', with what seemed like 'a puny amount of coffee in it', and expensive: we'd avoid buying coffee from this knock-off version of the boulangerie, unless it's literally the only option that isn't Tous Les Jours.

Bread Talk, 12RMB

bread talk

2 beans

Taste 1
Value for money 3
Overall score 2 beans

The one positive thing we can say about Bread Talk's bing meishi is that it's not much of a strain on the ol' wallet. This vague optimism, however, is more than counterbalanced by the onslaught of whinges our testers had with regards to this sad, neglected bevvy. We all reckoned that this was one of the worst-tasting coffees we tried, describing it as 'burnt' and 'tasting like the smell of old coffee grounds'. One irritated tester even went to far as to suggest that 'even though it's cheap, it still tastes like horses**t', so unless you're into scatology, steer clear.

Holiland, 16RMB

Holiland

2 and a half beans

Taste 2
Value for money 3
Overall score 2.5 beans

The Holiland cup might hold the greatest volume of liquid out of all the Americanos we tried, but you'd be hard-pushed to describe the anaemic substance it contains as coffee. Just look at how freakin' orange it is; java isn't really meant to look as if it's been made subject to a dip-dye handicrafts project at an after-school club, but this one manages it. Someone described it as 'stupidly weak', another as tasting like 'it's already been drunk and p*ssed out once already'.

Dunkin' Donuts, 20RMB

Dunkin Donuts

2 and a half beans

Taste 3
Value for money 2
Overall score 2.5 beans

This strident lil' coffee was a marked improvement on some of its rivals. Not only did it actually taste like what it was advertised as, but some of our panel actually liked its assertive aftertaste and 'clippy little finish'. Dunkin' Donuts still isn't worthy of the level of neon and adjectives used to promote it, but it's Definitely Drinkable.

Coco, 8RMB

Coco

3 and a half beans

Taste 2
Value for money 5
Overall score 3.5

Okay, so there's not much positive that we can say about the taste of this Coco offering without being sued for dishonesty; it's sour and a little burnt, with an aftertaste that seems best summarised by the description 'like an ashtray'. However, at 8RMB for a cup, who really gives a toss? It's eight kuai, people! It wouldn't really be fair to expect anything more, and a tasty brew would probably seem so improbable that it would make the drinker's head explode like that infamous scene from Scanners

McDonald's, 17RMB

Mc Donalds

3 and a half beans

Taste 4
Value for money 3
Overall score 3.5

Macca's finest is reasonably priced, considering that it was one of the tastier cups in our coffee-off, and we'd rather not turn our nose up at anything that you can buy in the same place as a portion of sneaky lunchtime fries. We were fans of its 'robust roast' and heady, assertive taste.

Starbucks, 24RMB

starbucks

3 and a half beans

Taste 5
Value for money 2
Overall score 3.5

We'd consider this the control cup, really – it's Starbucks, you know what you're getting. Coffee from the omnipresent, arm warmer-clad mermaid tastes the same the world over, and it tastes pretty good, with a 'strong' presence and 'moreish' finish. However, at 24RMB for a small, it's not really that cheap, and thus can't score any higher in our rankings. An occasional treat of a cup for when you need to impress at a meeting.

With Wheat, 20RMB

With wheat

4 beans

Taste 4
Value for money 4
Overall score 4

Our winner might be perched at the higher end of affordable, but it's victorious for a reason. There's no gross surprises lurking in the aftertaste here – or any nastiness that hits you on the first sip – and the coffee doesn't taste spoiled, stewed or burnt. It's a rounded, dependable cup that does exactly what it promises, with a double shot of espresso that doesn't exactly slack in the caffeine stakes either.

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