'New' Seesaw Coffee Is Coming To Town!

Seesaw COFFEE | shanghai, China

Products Score: 80 Service Score: 90 Store Score: 85

Final {verdict}: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4/5

First of all, it's been almost a month long that I haven't updated the blog bc of the compact traveling schedule I had. As of this moment, I'm still in Taipei working on a few things when began writing this blog. Per request, may even derail to visit Indonesia or Singapore, one of my turfs, to explore opportunities and understand more about their market landscape. For the meanwhile, #coffeetour is always at heart and more than a dozen of coffee roasters and cafes had been visited. Among all, I would like to first share the best favorite one in Shanghai, the one now being well-known by the public for its big Venture Capital injection, also the one I often visited whilst working in China, Seesaw Coffee, which was founded by three talented Chinese entrepreneurs, including a couple named Tom and Sally used to work for the Fortune 500 companies.

This year's April, they had celebrated their 5th Anniversary (Began in April 15, 2012). To me, it's never easy for a coffee shop survived in Shanghai for this long of a time, especially it's now expanded across the major Tier 1 cities and provinces. Many other roasters I'd often visited in between 2012 and 2013 were pretty much now gone (Out-of-Business). To live in such a 'hazard', competitive market environment, not only you must have good product and service, but also require a strong branding. And frankly speaking, Seesaw Coffee owns both dynamics to allow their survival today. By the way, their name stands for "See What We Saw", as well reflects their business philosophy.

My first visit was on Oct 15, 2012 to their very first location in the Jing'an Design Centre on Yuyuan Road, Jingan Qu, during the time I began exploring different coffee shops and roasters to learn their business and operation model in overseas. Of course, the most important exploration is their coffee. Back then, there wasn't that many coffee roasters or specialty shops like present in China. But, the general demand and public interest were already hiking up by the Costa Coffee, Starbucks, and Nestle (the current major stakeholder of the Blue Bottle Coffee). Today, no matter it's a boulevard or small alley, nearly every 100M you walk by you'll definitely see either a specialty coffee shop or a tiny retail space selling expresso coffee, which has fascinated me the most in this trip. The old Seesaw, was designed by the French designer Thomas Austerveil, looked so different than today's. With the copper-caged coffee bar and wooden furnitures, it was a bit more organic and less contemporary, and rooted to serve coffee chasers. Their location inside the design center too brings out a stronger artistic sensation and tranquillity, is also their best successful element I appreciated the most. Same sorcery applies after the storefront renovated, aka "facelift", and their brand logo updated. Their enchantment didn't change much, but more sunlight shed inside.

Memory, served. My last visit was Sep 5, 2015 in prior of their renovation in last Dec and the RMB $45 Series A funding they successfully raised from the Hony Capital, also the major investor of the China's two billion-dollar-valued bike-sharing company, Ofo; That's the time when their wi-fi access was still authorized and connected thru WeChat service - my very last memory of the old, spectacular "Seesaw Specialty Coffee." Until this moment, the first cup of dark drip (RMB $25 only) is still commemorated in my mind.

Before this year end, the new reborn "Seesaw Coffee" has planned a total of 20 locations: 12 in Shanghai (9 existing), 3 in Shenzhen (1 current), and 2 each newly established in SuZhou and Beijing (1 in each location just opened). Seem like there's some delays in their progress. However, all these evolutions occurred within a year of time, which is another thing stunted me a lot. By the end of Nov, they already hired over 120 employees, the median age from 23-25, trained and classified as Freshmen, Juniors, Sophomores and Seniors thru repeated examinations to determine their performance and qualifications in their own Coffee Dream Factory. Furthermore, they now process and roast their own blends, particular the beans sourced from Yunnan, the China's province famous for growing tea leaves and traditional Chinese medicine. Don't be mistaken. Yes, "Yunnan Coffee" has its history since year 2012 or even earlier. I knew it because of the Founder Chairman of my former employer, Newegg, bought a piece of land to grow coffee beans for the Starbucks China Farmer Support Center and also roasted his own blend there. In fact, Starbucks also debuted their first single-origin Yunnan coffee for showcasing the prominent result of its Yunnan Coffee Project in the past January.

The fresh flowers on every table, the projector in the ceiling along with the retractable projection screen, and the power plugs under the benches are all resurrected. Other than that, the first original store has a complete makeover, from the furnitures to the menu, to the cups and containers. Given a new modern, contemporary life. Their latte with the beautiful art was frothy with mellow sweet body and strong earthy fragrance like how it used to, and the cheesecake was as well very creamy and fluffy with a crunchy crust. But, no more pastry (Sadly, my beloved croissant's gone) offered but desserts. And the Yunnan drip (Pour Over) was fruity and winey, probably bc the region's distant dry and rainy weather is in favor of growing fruits, Pu-er teas and herbs.

Besides that, the store now has a bit more commercial touch, such as selling their own branded merchandises as its additional income source, as well creating stronger brand recognition, and the drip coffee, by the same token, served with a petite wooden tray and a name card explaining its origin and flavor. Very much alike the Blue Bottle Coffee.

Now, open-floor design: more spacey, more seatings and more sunlight than the past. Moreover, upgraded equipment, and more chairs and tables are in the patio for seating. The hand written menu on the chalkboard is gone and replaced by a neat printed designer menu. The wall behind the new cashier is now decorated with lots of Chemex and own blended coffee. Everything turns simple and elegant.

Similar to the Alfred Coffee, staffs are required wearing the custom apron and jeans on the bottom, and one barista even put on the company's hoodie as a live advertising billboard. This part demonstrated their management becomes systematic at some points to prepare for scaling up in the future.

Like mentioned in earlier, their music speakers, kitchenware and coffee makers all have a major upgrade, including the La Marzocco Strada MP, and the wooden package box with shipping label is now as a part of store design and too marked the milestone and the day the Seesaw's evolution began.

Instead of some coffee nerds, customers are more diversified: Westerns, youngsters, local white collars, and some just for the hip.

If you really have me to choose in between the old and new Seesaw, I would prefer their past life whom was able to give me a cozy, quiet and private place to read, work or just daydreaming.

Before I am closing this chapter, I wrote them a note abt the information provided on their web site, including activities and locations, is dated. For a corporation or any organization today, this is not acceptable, especially they're now an icon figure for the coffee industry in China.

NOTE. Very pleased to hear Starbucks invested and opened its world's largest store in Shanghai, a strong evidence that the city's now the biggest coffee market everyone eyes on.

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