On the sixth floor of an apartment complex in Beijing there is a replica Central Perk, the cafe hangout space from the television series Friends, a popular sitcom that ran from 1994 to 2004 on NBC. It’s so successful the proprietor has opened a second location in Shanghai. Its owner, an avid Friends fan, even kind of looks like Gunther, Central Perk’s manager on the show.
Owner Du Xin (left) and Gunther (right). (npr.com)
In the series, Central Perk served as the meeting space for the six leads. In earlier seasons, Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) worked there while roommate Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) played occasional acoustic guitar sets. In a slice of New York realism, struggling actor Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) even pulled a few shifts in season six.
The replica cafe only serves food that’s been mentioned in the series itself, which is pretty incredible. NPR has more:
For instance, the menu informs anyone ordering cheesecake that it was — in season 7, episode 11 — the subject of Rachel’s exclamation to Chandler (played by Matthew Perry): “You stole this cheesecake. That is wrong!”
Reruns of the show serve as a language-learning tool for Chinese university students. The show is particularly popular for its use of colloquial language and as an introduction to American culture. It’s also popular because of the laid-back, friendship-filled lifestyle it portrays, far from the stressful, competitive world that Chinese young people inhabit.
“That’s why we like Friends,” says Du. “We’re looking for this kind of life.”
On travel website TripAdvisor, the cafe has a solid four star rating. Reviewer CanadianHockey91 found the cafe hard to find, but declared it to be “small but nice and the food is decent. It is VERY hard to find so if you are looking for it be careful. Google maps has it in the wrong location. Once you get to Chawai SOHO go to the 6th floor A-building and wander.”
Another reviewer, TravelinMan7777, wasn’t impressed with the cafe’s food or drinks. “So I went and average is what I got. The atmosphere was good..people inside were very into themselves. The waitresses need to learn about customer service and to smile. The owner needs to not hit on the waitresses and hit on the women in the restaurant.”
It seems fair to estimate that the quality of the products at the Central Perk on the sitcom Friends was average, so one might argue that the proprietor is simply being consistent with his commitment to authenticity. And Gunther totally hit on Rachel like all the time.
Central Perk, located at 616, Bldg A, Chaowai SOHO | CBD, Chaoyang Distrtict, Beijing, China.
It is our pleasure and privilege to serve as Official Media Partners throughout the 2014 United States Barista Championship season, in association with the Specialty Coffee Association of America. This is a responsibility we take quite seriously, which is why we’ve committed to attending and exhaustively covering each day of each regional and national event in the United States Barista Championship cycle.
All of this coverage is culled from the @SprudgeLive Twitter feed, the worldwide leader in live competition coverage.
Day Three – Sunday, February 23, 2014 – 8 Competitors
Mr. Soloria competes with 2 distinct coffees – both from Latin America, both roasted by @intelligentsia. He’s kind of channeling Rufio up here on stage or something – hairstyle, bangarang attitude, fearless…what’s not to like?
Latin American coffees as a gateway drug to exploring the wider flavors perspectives in specialty coffee? “Maybe they can be a kind of stepping stone”, Mr. Soloria asks the crowd. ”We can really benefit from using Southern Hemisphere coffees to get people into our industry.”
Wondering how @intelligentsia produces excellent competitors? Rigorous & fiercely competitive in-house qualifiers. All strictly “no media” affairs. We’ve asked politely to be allowed to poke our heads in…no dice. It’s a longstanding Intelligentsia tradition going back to the middle of last decade.
Mr. Soloria’s two coffees hail from Rwanda & Bolivia – here’s the Rwanda Zirikana, and the second is the Bolivia Anjilanaka. He looks at the Bolivian coffee as a gateway with round, sweet flavors, and the Rwanda as something more challenging, and fascinating. Together the end result has both comfort and hook.
“Judges, Hi! Thanks for skipping church and coming here.” – Ethan Poole.
This is a personality-packed performance, from the opening quote up above carrying through to Mr. Poole’s continuous demeanor and pacing with the judges. Non-homogenized milk in his cappuccinos, whose notes are “creaminess, with a little bit of nougat mixed in.”
We’re big @pdxroast fans at Sprudge. Fine Portland Roasting Coffees are served throughout PDX, where our editorial staff is based. One excellent place @pdxroast is served is at @BurgervilleUSA – a PNW fresh & local chain of burger joints. Highly delicious.
Mr. Poole competes with a coffee from Las Lajas, Costa Rica. Pineapple juice, coconut cream, and honey in hia sig drink – “a play on the pina colada…this should taste like a cultural appropriation of Polynesia in a glass.”
After thanking the judges for their time, here’s closing quote for Ethan Poole’s routine: “What’s the difference between beer nuts & deer nuts? Beer nuts are $1.25; deer nuts are under a buck.”
Ms. Johnson starts the judges off with a taste of cola nut – “a difficult ingredient, familiar.” She is competing with @handsomeroaster‘s Colombia San Sebastian – take some home.
In what I believe to be a competition first, @compactchris has featured Riff Raff in her #bigwestern set. Very good plus. Oh, and great capp notes: ”brown sugar, vanilla, and soft cinnamon” – like a verbal hug of comforting cappuccino language choices.
Mr. MacDonald, on his stage setting: “Each of these items are from my very own dining room table.” He competes with @olympiacoffee‘s Kenya Gatomboya, from the Nyeri district, which is comprised of the coffee variety SL-28, and is a Direct Trade coffee for @olympiacoffee. Learn more here.
Espresso notes from @braideee: “sugary dates” in the first sip, “exotic acidity…tamarind, ruby red grapefruit” on the second sip.
Now appearing on stage courtesy of f@braideee, inarguably the greatest pop song in human history: “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” by Talking Heads.
Whipped yogurt, coconut sugar, @olympiacoffee Kenya Gatomboya for @braideee‘s sig drink – “a yogurt parfait.” Mr. MacDonald calls time at 15:40.
“I’m going to do something I would never do in a coffee shop – tell you everything I know about this coffee.” That’s how Charles Babinski starts this year’s routine.
All of @charlesbabinski‘s “jasmine, plum, cacao” espressos have been ground ahead of time. “It’s definitely more consistent.”
Mr. Babinski competes with two distinct coffees from Cauca, Colombia – both washed, but different varieties. Not really going deep on roaster details, although we’ll learn later that his coffees are from 49th Parallel and Onyx Coffee Lab, respectively. ”One floral, complex – the other mild, with a deep sweetness.”
This is what you’d call an “involved” espresso service. Mr. Babinski first offers his espressos visually, then “takes a bit off the top” and transfers vessels before allowing the judges to evaluate his espressos for taste.
Sig drink: grapefruit rind simple syrup, apricot kernel milk, cacao nib syrup. He blends them together on stage! The whurr and roar of a blender, once a competition mainstay, sings sweetly again in the hands of @charlesbabinski. Competition veterans watching live alongside us in the crowd are guesstimating to me that that it’s been YEARS since a high-level competitor blended on stage.
Charles Babinski calls time at 14:42. Blender aside, this was a minimalist performance from @charlesbabinski – no roaster info, no coffee varieties mentioned by name.
“I’m a barista. I work in a shop pretty much every day of the week. And I take pride in that.” – Charles Babinski, with likely the quote of the weekend.
Mr. Purvis was a 2013 USBC finalist, along with Charles Babinski, Sam Lewontin, Pete Licata, Trevor Corlett, and Charlie Habegger.
Sig drink: fermented grapefruit bitters, tangerine panella simple syrup, japanese cocktail pitcher – espresso, rocks, stirred, creating a drink that’s ”coffee-forward, complex, and refreshing,” served in in tasteful miniature coupe glasses.
Nicaraguan and Kenyan coffees in Jillian Woods’ competition espressos. with a big shout out to @delapazcoffee for their training and support for this #bigwestern routine.
“This machine does wonders for this blend. This machine is really killer, actually.” – Jillian Woods, on the Nuova Simonelli Aurelia T3 espresso machine. 20g shots for cappuccinos – “a shorter, more dense shot to accent the milk.”
This was a fun, humble, #real routine from Jillian Woods – but unfortunately we’ve past the 16 mark for this routine here at #bigwestern, which means Woods has disqualified.
There were a total of two competitors this weekend who made the trip from Hawaii – proud to report that both competed in Hawaiian floral print shirts.
Mr. Aczon is the Director of Coffee Quality at @honolulucoffee – he’s competing here at #bigwestern and representing his coffee “ohana”, his family, which to him includes the producer and his team at Honolulu Coffee.
“In 2012, Honolulu Coffee purchased our very own coffee farm – in the Captain Cook district of Kona.” Owning their own farm has allowed Honolulu Coffee to enact processing experiments, including some African-style drying beds for a natural processing, still very rare on Hawaii.
Listening to Mr. Aczon talk about Hawaii is transportive, as in it makes us really want to visit, for the coffee and the food and the weather and the vibe, man. Hawaii is such a wonderful place. Learn more about @honolulucoffee‘s farm in Kona, and take some of this fine coffee home.
Mr. Aczon’s sig drink: chilled espresso, filtered water, grapefruit simple syrup (taken from grapefruits grown on Honolulu Coffee’s own farm). Very simple and clean. He instructs the judges to sip it first, then slurp the sig drink “like a cupping.”
“From me and my Ohana, my Ohana and I, we’d like to say mahalo and aloha” – Row Aczon calls time at 15:09 after a charming and highly professional performance.