Come, Sit, Drink: Uncle Gan’s Café

By Cai Rong, Zhou Chenguang / HICN / Updated: 15:55,04-January-2022

Editor’s note:  

Hainan’s beauty lies not only in its tropical scenery, but even more in its people. As the new year begins, the Hainan International Media Center and the Hainan International Communication Network are releasing a new series entitled Meet the People of Hainan, in which we will focus on regular Hainanese people talking about what’s happening here on the island. Here at the beginning of a new era of society, we will give you a candid look into the real lives of the local people. By telling the true stories of Hainan’s people, we will tell you the real story of the Hainan Free Trade Port. 


A café on S. Xinhua Road, deep within Haikou’s historic downtown area, has recently become super popular online. Unlike most cafés that become the next hot thing because of some unique aspect of their décor, this one—located inside an appliance shop—is truly unusual. 

This shop is owned by Gan Fufa, known as “Uncle Gan”, who became the first Joyoung retailer in Hainan in 1999. As the earliest seller of Joyoung products in the province, Uncle Gan made soymilk become a common local breakfast food.

Once owning seven appliance stores all across the island, the rise of the internet economy and online shopping in recent years led to him shuttering all locations but this Haikou shop which had already been open for more than ten years

Brick and mortar shops cannot easily compete with the convenience of shopping at home or from one’s mobile phone. As a result, in March 2021, Uncle Gan made the decision to try to transform his business from one providing physical goods to one providing experiences.

A coffee drinker like many Hainanese, he decided the best path forward was trying his hand at something he knew.

Unlike a normal café, Uncle Gan’s doesn’t have any frou-frou decoration; and, it does not divide the coffee area from the appliances sales floor. You might say that selling coffee and selling household white goods are two completely different things but, somehow, the incongruity of the pair becomes a perfect match. Even the menu is handwritten on paper by Uncle Gan himself.

"Going completely back to basics" is all that Uncle Gan would say when people question his choices. The “back to basics” style of the shop is also consistent with the owner’s ideas on making coffee. Eschewing a complicated and expensive espresso machine for a gooseneck kettle and a V60, the coffee at Uncle Gan’s is all basic pourovers served without sugar or milk.

Uncle Gan is not only the owner of this shop, he's also a disseminator of modern coffee culture. In opening a café in his appliance shop, his original goal was to use it as both a way to share a cup of coffee with his visitors and also to share the simple joy he finds in making coffee.

Coming to the shop on a cold, rainy weekend there isn't much foot traffic on S. Xinhua Road. It won’t be until around 11am that the first batch of customers show up for a cup.

Coffee making supplies in the shop. XUAN / WECHAT OFFICIAL ACCOUT "深夜爱报社“

Each and every step of the coffee making process is done with the utmost of care. The beans are weighed and ground. The water is boiled. The conical filter paper unfolded. The ground tapped into place. As the coffee blooms, Uncle Gan explains that making coffee is a calming, meditative task for him. Doing things in the proper order, he isn’t the slightest bit concerned that he's only just now seeing his first customers of the day. If one had to, one could say that Uncle Gan’s attitude towards making coffee is quite similar to the attitude he has for all things in life.

Now in his 50s, Uncle Gan feels that opening such a café as this one can be regarded as his final finding of the right directon for his life. Standing behind the bar, he chats with each visitor about coffee, about making coffee, about whatever interesting things have happened recently as they come. In this way, his days pass quickly. Although his life, like everyone’s life, still has difficulties, he does not regard these difficulties as a burden. Instead, he faces them with an open mind and an open heart.

Uncle Gan and his customers. ZHOU CHENGUANG / HIMC

Although there are not currently many Chinese people drinking pourovers, Uncle Gan notes that the market for this kind of coffee is immense. Speaking of what he's already achieved, he thinks that, although he is popular, he hasn’t yet found success. “I’ll know I’m successful when people are lined up out the door waiting for me to make them a cup of coffee.”

In addition to selling coffee and household electronics, the shop also provides a number of neighborhood services such as appliance repairs and grocery deliveries. Confronted by half a dozen customers with a dozen different requirement, it can suddenly be very busy but Uncle Gan says he never feels tired. “It’s strange, there seems to be a kind of energy in me that's more than just the caffeine.”

Whether the shop is crowded or empty, Uncle Gan always has an infectiously positive attitude that never fails to give his customers a smile on their face and a spring in their step. It's perhaps his attitude rather than his coffee that attracts more and more people to come here and become regulars.

“They know that when they come here, they are getting more than just a good cup of coffee.”

Every time making a cup of coffee to hand to a customer, Uncle Gan says, “Drink up! You’ll find good fortune in a good cup of coffee.” He always says it with the same genuine enthusiasm reflecting optimism about life.




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