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August 13, 2009

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Curl up with a cat ... and a coffee

IF I'm not at home, I'm in a coffee shop. If I'm not in a coffee shop, I'm on the way to it." The Western coffee culture is one of the most popular and well-accepted by young people in China. In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, there are always young people wandering around looking for the ideal coffee shop where they can chat, read or just simply sit and do nothing.

Pei Pei is one of them. The Beijing native moved to Shanghai three years ago to be with her Shanghainese boyfriend. On weekends, one of the couple's favorite pastimes is looking for interesting coffee shops scattered around the city.

"We never went to big-name chains but only small ones," she says. "We frequented those small cafes on Taikang Road. One day, the idea just came to us - why not open a coffee shop of our own?"

She didn't waste any time. First, she found the venue - a three-bedroom apartment in the Gubei area. Located on the third floor of a residential building, the 150-square-meter place is lively and cozy. The only trouble is you have to ring the security bell at the entrance of the building to enter.

Old Shanghai

"A similar-sized place on the first floor in the same area would be really costly, at least three times more expensive," she says.

The decorating process took just two weeks. Inspired by two pieces of old furniture Pei Pei and her boyfriend discovered in a vintage shop, the venue has been renovated in an "old Shanghai" style of the 1930s, featuring dark wooden tables and chairs, floral wall paper and quite a few cat-shaped objects.

Pets are forbidden in most restaurants and bars in Shanghai, but not here at Cat & Jazz.

"At first, I brought to the store my three cats and they soon become the 'stars'," she recalls. "All the customers love playing with them. Then they gave birth to kitties and we have also taken in two stray cats."

At the moment, there are seven cats. Pei Pei also welcomes customers to bring their own pets to the store, "as long as they are not too big or furious."

With no advertising, the tranquil little place, which opened at the beginning of this year, has already become many people's "home away from home." Among them are office workers, college students, expats living in the area and even children who love playing with the cats.

Pei Pei learned about making coffee by herself, from books and the Internet. "It's all about practice," she says, laughing. "My boyfriend has suffered a lot from drinking my unsuccessful experiments."

A professional coffee maker was hired recently to help develop an interesting menu, which includes classic drinks as well as quirky combinations such as Iced Blueberry Coffee (blueberry jam, vanilla ice cream, coffee), Iced Honey Cinnamon Latte and Iced Green Tea Milk Coffee.

At first there were only drinks. With more and more customers tending to spend a longer time at the place, they suggest snacks be added to the menu.

Pei Pei proudly introduces the house's homemade Tiramisu, which is made of coffee, Johnnie Walker whisky and mascarpone cheese brought from the nearby Carrefour.

There is also a large selection of cheesecakes, including white chocolate raspberry and the green tea red bean, as well as sandwiches, chicken wings, French fries and homemade spaghetti bolognese.

The next move is to add home-baked biscuits to the menu.

"I have a lot of friends telling me that it's so cool to have my own coffee shop that they also want to open one," she says. "So I always ask back: why not? The truth is, most people just say it but don't take action.

"I don't think I can make a lot of money out of running such a small coffee shop but I'm very happy and proud of myself because this has always been my dream, and I have made it come true. How many dreams do you think you can make alive in your lifetime?" she concludes.

Cat & Jazz

Address: Suite 301, Bldg 3, Marseilles Garden, 79 Ronghua Rd E.

Tel: 6278-6377


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