Should you ever pay 100RMB for a cup of coffee? The answer should be no, but C5 Café might just convince you.
Tucked into a quiet complex in north Sanlitun, the petit café shares the same name as the art gallery
next door. Caramel-wood table tops, white walls and mod ’60s-style furniture create a minimalist aesthetic that only heightens the gallery feeling.
In the late afternoon, soft sunshine spills though the glass skylight. Pick your caffeinated poison and, under this natural spotlight, the barista will pull an espresso shot or slowly hand-pour water from a sleek copper pot over fresh grounds. A rotating menu of single-origin, pour-over brews features beans from superstar locales like Ethiopia, Kenya and Guatemala. The baristas are in the know and patiently explain terms like ‘washing’: removal of the mucilage from the bean.
Your choice made, the barista brings you fresh Guanteniala (40RMB single; 60RMB double) grounds to smell; they give off a floral fragrance. Don’t worry when you can only spot the slightest of differences between the 40RMB Guanteniala and the 100RMB NeKisse 90°. Both are incredibly smooth and full of body. Go on now, convince yourself that the NeKisse is better. You’ve been briefed with tasting notes of tangerines and red wine in the NeKisse – it must be the citrus that gives that soft bite at the end.
For a café that invests so much into its drinks, the food options, though limited, are no slouch either. A remarkable roasted turkey breast and lentil salad (58RMB) features greens with character: fronds of kale, rocket leaves and bitter curiosities with purple underbellies. A light mustard vinaigrette coats shavings of fennel, paper thin rounds of red radish, cubes of sweet multicoloured beetroot and earthy, green lentils. Honestly, in the face of all this wonder, the kitchen should ditch the mediocre meat. Beyond a handful of salads, the other bites are sweet. A slice of the house-made mixed berry tart (38RMB) pairs perfectly with an afternoon coffee, with its buttery shortbread crust, eggy custard layer and lattice top. It’s light and restorative rather than cloyingly sweet.
We always hoped for a place like this in Sanlitun: a chilled atmosphere designed to perfection, with skilled but unpretentious staff and top-notch coffee to match. The only thing we’re sad about is C5’s weekday-only hours. Just be careful. They might charm you out of your last kuai.