The best hidden cafés in Shanghai

Discover Shanghai's hidden gems and tucked-away coffeeshops

Photograph: Annie Lin
From super Instagrammable cafés, to fantastic themed cafés, and even to entirely pink ones, Shanghai is certainly not at a loss for coffeeshops. Nearly every block has a shiny new caffeinated spot ready for you to trip right over. But there's also the low-profile, hidden gems of the city. We ventured through the urban jungle of Shanghai to uncover the best well-kept secrets for those times when you just want a moment of peace. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

By Beverly Shen and Annie Lin

The Cottage Cafe

This gorgeous two-storey, vintage-inspired café is hidden among the old residential buildings of Old Xuhui. Expect to find dried flowers hanging above an array of vintage knick-knacks in a cosy wood-furnished setting, and as customers chatter away in the background and others silently sip on their coffee, let yourself be transported to a faraway cottage in the woods. Gaze out the windows, past the hectic Shanghai traffic, to find a moment of peace and tranquillity. Tuck into The Cottage Brunch (78RMB) or the Beef Burger with Black Truffle (128RMB) for a restorative bite.

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439 Wukang Lu

MO+ Café

This café is a well-kept secret in the neighbourhood it's nestled in. Walk inside the lane from Huayuan Lu and keep a lookout for the unassuming brick house peeking through behind tree branches. Inside, its spacious interior and high ceilings give way to all-around pleasing aesthetics from the grey-washed walls, gold bar stools, marble chairs and pastel pink couch, resembling what could be mistaken for a modern design studio rather than a café. If you’re seeking to soak up some vitamin D, venture upstairs to the rooftop terrace. The café takes its coffee seriously, even with special pour-overs like the Jade Summer Estate (95RMB) which needs to be reserved beforehand to get a taste of the special blend infused with notes of lavender, honey, lemon, chocolate and cherry. 

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128 Huayuan Lu

BLATAGE COFFEE

At BLATAGE, the coffee is great but the atmosphere is better. Views at this sleek minimalist café stretch across the Huangpu. Entirely black and white, the ultra-modern interior couldn’t be more on point. Staying true to its colour scheme, coffee (from 25RMB) is served in an all-black cup while the only food served is an all-black charcoal 'Bladog' (30RMB). Talk about colour coordination.

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4594 Binjiang Da Dao

Tian Café

A book lover's hideout set inside a small store on the quiet Wulumuqi Nan Lu, this café is a combination of cosy and warm. Browse the bookshelf tucked away at the back of the café or bring your own. It’s an excellent spot for getting a couple hours of reading in while enjoying a coffee and a bagel sandwich (around 40RMB). Seats can be hard to come by with regulars snagging up seats on the communal table – it’s the best seat in the house with the well-lit ceiling lights perfect for reading late into the night.

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205-1 Wulumuqi Nan Lu

RootSpace (Paloma/White Bird)

Also known as White Bird or Paloma Cafe, this is one of those cafés you’ve probably walked past a million times without a second glance. The plain brown storefront and narrow doorway are easy to miss. Look for the tiny gold origami crane logo which marks the café's entrance, and head upstairs through the pastel pink staircase. Then turn right to find a narrow corridor with a wooden door, and open the door to find a rustic wood furnished space with exposed bricks and ceiling lights emitting a warm glow. Try the fragrant rose latte (38RMB) and the red velvet layer cake (42RMB) for a sweet treat. 

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198 Ruijin Er Lu

Cafe Chez W

Nestled in between the lively areas of Tianzifang and Huaihai Lu, Cafe Chez W is an unassuming haven from the area's hustle and bustle. Step inside its birdhouse facade, and you’ll feel right at home in this cosy cat-friendly café. Tinged with vintage charm, the space is decorated with polaroids, vintage postcards and various wooden kitchen utensils. The coffee counter offers house-made baked goods and a menu handwritten on paper, with coffee starting at 25RMB for an espresso. Once you’ve ordered, head upstairs where it's roomier and people watch through the small window. 

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32 Xiangshan Lu

UNDEF/NE

Art meets coffee at UNDEF/NE, a café-cum-exhibition space set in a refurbished warehouse in art district M50. Draping lights illuminate the industrial-chic space, and a staircase of unhewn wooden planks lead up to the mezzanine, where you can take in the café’s ambience from above over an Americano (25RMB).

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50 Moganshan Lu

Encounter

Take a mini holiday at this forest-themed café and Thai restaurant. Don't let its hidden entryway fool you – walk up the narrow glass staircase bedecked with greenery and find yourself transported into a woodland retreat. The café's three floors are all adorned with impressive faux flora and fauna... and even a stream with live fish. If you're feeling particularly nostalgic about your childhood, go up to the top floor, where you can choose to eat and unwind in an actual treehouse. Natural light and outside trees peek through the eatery's ample windows, giving the cafe a serene and off-the-beaten-track vibe.

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148 Sha'anxi Nan Lu

Even more places to caffeinate yourself

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