Café on Air: Satisfying the Hungry Mind, but not the Rumbling Stomach

Cafe on Air is a quiet coffee shop tucked into Shanghai's French Concession. City Lights reporter Sabina Olsson reviews the cafe for OCA.

With a daily diet consisting of heaps of takeout noodles and budget-friendly street food, it is never a bad idea for a stressed university student to occasionally switch it up with some traditional café treats. So if you need a break from the school canteen, and want to get some assignments done at the same time, pay a visit to Café on Air, a small but trendy café in the always stylish French concession.   

As it is located on a back alleyway on Middle Huaihai Road, Café on Air is not extremely easy to find. There’s no door straight in from the sidewalk, so you’ll have to find a residential style gate, enter and take a right until you see a large glass façade with an obscure glass door. However, this hidden location contributes to the calm setting and atmosphere. As there are no street noises reaching into the seating area, and no streams of people constantly running by and distracting you from the important paper on your laptop, the atmosphere is more relaxed here than in any chain coffee shop. The peaceful view of a back courtyard with some green plants and old buildings through the big glass windows is also a great contributor to its harmonious environment.   

Café on Air offers free wifi for customers. The password is written on notes on the tables, and the quality of the wifi is really good. The menu isn’t large nor extremely exciting, the coffee is good but not worth tears of joy, and it’s a bit tricky to find from the street. However, with its large bright windows, subtle earth-tone interior, and sturdy wooden tables, the environment of Café on Air becomes unlike that of other cafés. Instead of a small, cozy, intense café space filled to the brim of colorful decorations and unnecessary accessories, this almost reminds of an uncomplicated dining space at home. The OCA reviewers also noticed how great the tables are for working – they are very sturdy and have the perfect arm to chair height ratio. However, as the day went on, and late afternoon hit, it became clear that Café on Air is actually pretty popular. All tables were taken by 3:30 pm and the noise level was up to the point where studying is difficult unless you casually walk around every day with earplugs in your bag.

As an over-worked student, the highlight of any café visit is obviously the coffee. The Americano at Café on Air is not too bad, with a strong and musty taste. Considering we are in China, AKA tea heaven, it is rather good. The menu offers a fairly wide selection of beverages, however if you happen to be hungry, this may not be the right place. Café on Air has a few different sweet treats and dessert delights, yet nothing larger in the sense of lunch food. The OCA staff chose to try a chocolate brownie and a cinnamon bun. The brownie was a bit of a disappointment. Nothing overwhelmingly special but still acceptably yummy, however, a tad too dry to deserve the title brownie. The cinnamon bun was a nice surprise. Large enough to keep you from questioning its price of 34 kuai, the cinnamon treat is soft yet nicely chewy. The creamy sugar frosting freshly spritzed on top of it also adds to the delight. In addition to this, Café on Air also have a few different types of cakes and a small amount of other pastries on the menu.

As sad as it may seem, it is not uncommon for trendy and pretty cafés to have equally trendy and pretty (high) prices, and Café on Air is not an exception. However, with an Americano at around 30 kuai, Café on Air is still fairly affordable considering its location and concept. The brownie ended up at around 27 kuai, and the cinnamon bun on a whooping 34 kuai. Yet, this is not unreasonable prices in the world of cute café venues in Shanghai, so sadly, this is not completely out of line of what you normally have to throw out for a nice study moment with some caffeine.

In the end, Café on Air is not one of your typical cafés, yet it is nevertheless a venue of pretty good coffee, delicious cinnamon buns, and amazing tables. It might not be ideal in price range or in snack diversity, however if you simply need a relaxed atmosphere away from school, away from Pudong, and away from the cafeteria coffee, Café on Air should definitely be on your shortlist.  


This article was written by Sabina Olsson. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Sabina Olsson

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