Shanghai's 6 best hidden cafés

Cosy up at the finest hidden cafés in Shanghai


One of Shanghai’s best kept secrets is its raft of hidden cafés. Time Out heads through unmarked doors and down laneways to hunt out the finest in the city


1. Makoo Cafe


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Tucked away just off of the bustling Changle Lu, Makoo Café is hard to find but certainly worth the hunt. Turn right at the end of Lane 339 and you’ll see a heavy wooden door that reveals a long rectangular space where plants and flowers abound. Ever wondered what a Zingiber Officinale looks like? Well wonder no more; this and other plant species are displayed on a chalkboard wall, accompanied by their Latin names. The sound of running water from a miniature waterfall mixes with the zen sound of folk music, giving Makoo a sort of day-spa vibe.


The menu is small but carefully constructed, offering a well-crafted blueberry cheese cake (29RMB), a range of teas from TWG Tea Salon (36RMB per cup, 66RMB per pot), coffees and a matcha latte (35RMB). Opening hours here can be a little haphazard, so a quick call to check they’re open is recommended.


Makoo Cafe is at Number 42, Lane 339 Changle Lu, near Shaanxi Nan Lu, Xuhui district. See full address details


2. Cafe on Air


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Combining chic design, great coffee and sweet treats, Café on Air is one of our favourite new spots to hang out. Walk down Lane 650 away from the busy Huaihai Lu, turn right and head towards the large, unmarked door. Within you’ll find a haven for caffeine addicts and laptop warriors, who congregate daily to enjoy this pleasant sanctuary.


Coffees start at 18RMB for a strong, rich espresso, and range up to 32RMB for a smooth and creamy latte. You can also grab a pour over coffee, tea or juice, all for 35RMB. As you’re ordering, it’s hard to miss the selection of sweets lining the counter; although it’s a tough call, our favourites are probably the German apple pie (42RMB), which is hearty and sweet and the cheesecake (40RMB), which strikes a delicious balance between fluffy and lush.


Cafe on Air is at Number 634, Lane 650 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu, Huangpu district. See full address details


3. Chonor Cafe


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A stone’s throw from The Bund and up an unassuming staircase dotted with elephant murals, the quaint, nook-filled Chonor Café lies on the second, incense-filled floor. Although seating on the balcony is limited, if you can nab one of the outside tables you’ll have unexpected, unobstructed views of the Pearl Tower.


The menu too will surprise, with plenty of savoury and sweet options to keep hunger at bay. Coffees are priced from 28RMB for an Americano, with hand pours available from 58RMB. Chinese tea is also available from 98RMB for a pot of Longjing, and there’s also Tibetan yak butter tea at 36RMB if you’re game. Peckish? The plate of homemade cookies is a bargain at 36RMB and makes for the perfect tea or coffee accompaniment. Chonor Café is truly a hidden gem.


Chonor Cafe is at Second Floor, 17 Fuzhou Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Lu, Huangpu district. See full address details


4. Zen Cafe


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Zen Life Store is a gorgeous little spot for decorative tea pots, crockery and vases, so it makes sense that their upstairs café maintains the same aesthetic and attention to detail. The small space with a triangular roof is hardly perceptible from Dongping Lu, and once you’re upstairs, you’ll easily forget about any exterior hustle and bustle.


Colourful prints hang from the walls and books are dotted about the space. Table lamps and chilled out tunes from the likes of Nina Simone combine to make Zen Café a relaxing stop, and comfy fabric covered chairs and cushions make it perfect for lounging. Try a pot of the osmanthus oolong tea (65RMB) for a warming and soothing sip, or grab a cup of coffee, with prices starting at 22RMB for an espresso, or 34RMB for an Americano.


Zen Cafe is at Second Floor, 7 Dongping Lu, near Hengshan Lu, Xuhui district. See full address details


5. Paloma Cafe (White Bird)


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Just around the corner from Tianzifang, this multi room café is already a well-loved hangout for those who know it. Artworks lean against white-painted exposed brick walls, wooden tables are dotted with fresh and fragrant flowers, and windows open onto trees and greenery and allow fresh air to whoosh through the triangular ceilinged space.


Given the limited size of the kitchen and preparation area, the menu is actually quite extensive, offering hand drip specialty coffees (including a delicious Costa Rica bean for 52RMB with a chocolatey and nutty finish), quality milk coffees (35RMB for a flat white) and a range of savoury and sweet accompaniments. The Earl Grey Swiss roll (38RMB) is worth ordering; served exquisitely alongside a white sugar-dusted bird outline and a small puddle of fresh raspberry jam, its fluffy exterior and floral, creamy interior will keep you wanting more.


Paloma Cafe (White Bird) is at Number 1, Lane 198 Ruijin Er Lu, near Jianguo Xi Lu, Huangpu district. See full address details


6. Cloudy Cafe


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Quaint and a little nonsensical (in a wonderful way) is perhaps the best description for Cloudy Café. Spread over two rooms in an old house on Baoqing Lu (with a small garden terrace), you’ll find bookshelves of hats, old pictures and busts of a moose, deer and – our favourite – a unicorn. Big fluffy white clouds (of cushion filler) hang over the tables adding to the fun and couches line the window seats giving on to garden views.


From a lengthy handwritten menu, the Americano is pricey at 35RMB but perfectly drinkable; or opt for a pot of tea (68RMB for green tea) which friendly staff members will attentively top up throughout your stay. The food is a little less inspiring with a fairly crumbly black forest cake at 55RMB and an average cheesecake (48RMB). But while the food and drink offerings might not wow, Cloudy is worth a visit for the interesting and whimsical decor and warm service.


Cloudy Cafe is at Number 1, Lane 9 Baoqing Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu, Xuhui district. See full address details

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