From a brick kiln to a trendy coffee shop
Shanghai's coffee shops are more than just places to buy drinks; they also provide an immersive cultural experience.
Since its August opening, the One Step Garden in Pudong's Laogang Town, has attracted thousands of visitors to enjoy a special "coffee vacation" after renovating a traditional brick kiln into a coffee shop.
Built in 1969, the structure used to house a traditional brick kiln called Hongyao (literally "red kiln"). It shut down in the early 1990s.
Hongyao, which connects two kilns with a ceiling, has been renovated into a two-story industrial-style building. It is one of the few kilns left in Shanghai with cement stairs and massive brick arches.
The brick arch structure of the kiln might remind visitors of an Italian wine cellar or bomb shelters during World War II, but it was actually used for brick-making.
The small square holes on the top, which were used to dump coal, are now used for lighting. When the orange glow shines through the holes, it feels like radiating sunshine.
There are some arch "windows" that used to be air furnaces. Now they are used as air-conditioning ducts; you can feel the wind coming from them, just as it did decades ago.
The identical archways have been preserved, and the majority of them are used as entrances. Some have been converted into small reading rooms. With a chair, a book and a cup of coffee, it's an ideal spot to spend the day.
Each archway has a tag with numbers spelled out in Chinese that points to the gate.
The space between the two brick arch structures has been transformed into a botanical corridor, complete with a glass roof and various types of drought-tolerant plants that complement the red bricks perfectly.
It's pleasant to walk through it. There are mirrors and small folding chairs hidden among the plants.
It is the 11th One Step Garden shop in Shanghai. All the shops are housed in historic buildings, each with its own style.
"Guests can go to the other shops and explore, just like on a coffee trail," said Zhang Mengxiang, co-founder of One Step Garden. "We also have meals on our menu; feel free to spend a day here."
Outside, there are tents and tables for a camping experience. It is also pet-friendly.
The Guangfuling outlet in suburban Songjiang District is 80 kilometers away from Hongyao , and it is completely different. The 300-year-old traditional Chinese house was relocated from Jiangxi Province to the Guangfuling Relics Park.
The architecture is typical Hui-style that was prevalent in ancient Huizhou, now in Anhui Province, and surrounding areas. The structure was carefully disassembled and then reassembled in Shanghai. The markings on the pillars and windows can still be seen.
It was Minister Fan Jingwen's residence during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The historic carving patterns and sculptures have been well preserved.
The house is divided into three areas by two courtyards, one is small and circular inside the lobby and looks like a traditional Chinese wooden pavilion with delicate carves. The other one is much bigger and used to be a garden.
The two gardens have been transformed into the cafe's signature botanical gardens, complete with desert plants and sandy soil.
Zhang said there was a team involved in designing the gardens. "So each garden is unique, specially designed for the historic building."
"We want to create a relaxed outlet, different from the cities, where people can sit and enjoy for a long time. The pandemic has made people want to be closer to nature," Zhang said.
The second floor offers a great view of the garden as well as a close view of the historic beams. The carvings feature animals, figures and plants that are still vivid after hundreds of years.
The wooden railing, the sound made from walking on the wooden floor and the scent of the old building will transport you back to ancient watertowns, with only a cup of coffee reminding you that you are in a modern city.
One Step Garden's signature coffee, Hu An (literally "lake shore"), is served with a story card about a coffee trip to Lanyue Lake in Weihai, Shandong Province. It is a mint latte with a cool aftertaste, similar to the lake breeze on a summer night.
If you go:
1. The Hongyao Shop
Address: 33 Qiuhe Rd, Laogang Town, Pudong New Area
2. The Guangfulin Shop
Address: Bldg 1-3, 3088 Guangfulin Rd, Songjiang District
Opening hours: 10am-9pm