Aren't you just dying to know what this great love of mine is? It's coffee. Beautiful, fragrant, rich coffee. Ever since my mother gave me my first sip of coffee when I was in kindergarten (she let me taste the mysterious substance out of her thermos when she was waiting with me for class to start), I've loved coffee. But don't worry, I didn't start drinking it regularly until about eighth grade! When I was in college I finally landed my dream job of Starbucks barista. Next to teaching, it was the best job I ever had! Not only did I get tons of free coffee, but I learned to appreciate the different types of coffee out in the world. You know how you always hear people say things like "bold", "nutty", or "fruity undertones" when they discuss coffee? Haven't you always secretly thought that they were just trying to sound cool, and really all coffee tastes the same? Well I'm telling you, there's something to all of that coffee mumbo jumbo, and a true coffee connoisseur must learn to discern the differences between various types of coffee.
Now, a word on the state of coffee in Taiwan. The Taiwanese seem to be going caffeine crazy. If you walk into 7-11, you will see TONS of coffee drinks on the shelves. However, much of the coffee here is an assault to the highly developed palate of the coffee connoisseur, because to many people here coffee is more of a cultural curiosity than a real way to wake up in the morning (and experience pleasure while doing it). This is especially evident when you look at the opening hours of Starbucks in Taiwan. They don't open until 9 or 10 AM! In the U.S. they open at about 4:30 AM because it's a well-known fact that coffee is a part of the everyday lives of Americans. Here a coffeehouse is more of a trendy place to meet friends and socialize. Based on what my students tell me, most people in Taiwan still drink tea to wake up in the morning. Warning: Everything I just wrote is based on conjecture, and I may have this all wrong.
Finally, for any coffee lovers reading this and thinking of coming to Taiwan, here's my opinion of the most common coffee shops in Taipei. Be aware that I'm not that adventurous with coffee and I tend to stick with what I know is good. Also, I can't remember all of the isolated times I've visited independent coffee shops, so this list is limited to the well-known chains.
Starbucks: I don't care how trendy and expensive it is, I like their coffee. It's a waste of money to drink it every day, but I do use their coffee beans at home. Also, I really believe that they treat their coffee growers fairly, and you can't be sure of that with every company out there. You will see that in Taiwan their isn't as big of a selection on the menu, mostly because the really popular sweet drinks in the U.S. aren't offered here. They would never sell, because most Taiwanese people don't like super sweet stuff.
eCoffee: This place is cheap, but the coffee is absolutely terrible!
7-11 City Cafe: Not as good as Starbucks, but for the price it isn't bad. They have the typical black coffee (sugar and cream optional), latte, iced latte, and cappuccino. If you want cheap coffee on the go, I recommend going here rather than eCoffee.
Barista: More expensive than Starbucks if you can believe it! There beans are cheaper, but not as good as Starbucks beans. The drinks aren't bad, but not worth the price.
Dante: The drinks are okay, and not as sweet as the way Starbucks makes them. At first they seem cheaper, but they give you a practically microscopic cup. When you actually analyze what you're getting for the price, the price isn't much better than Starbucks.
85 Degree: I like their coffee for the price. The only problem is so does everyone else! There's usually a long line (at least at the ones in Taipei), and the service has been slow at the ones I've visited.
I haven't tried Is Coffee, but a friend told me they're terrible. I also haven't tried McDonalds coffee, but I hear they're good for a quick, cheap cup. If anyone else has any opinions about coffee in Taiwan, you're welcome to send a comment. Now I would like to end this post with a funny link I found in praise of coffee. Please note that I don't actually sit at home and praise coffee in a worshipful way -- I only worship God. So obviously, what you find at this link is not meant to be taken seriously. =)