Where can you enjoy a handcrafted drink while mingling with some pretty furry (or sometimes hairless) locals?
Such a place was the dream of a visionary Taiwanese entrepreneur and in 1998, the world’s first cat café, the Cat Flower Garden 貓花園, opened its doors in Taipei.
Combining arguably two of man’s greatest worldly pleasures—tea and cats—cat cafés 猫咖啡馆, started as a way to provide a respite for Taiwanese urbanites after a long hard day at work. But it wasn’t long until the idea caught on across the world, especially in Japan—where cat cafés became so popular that most people would guess they were created in Japan.
Today, Taipei is still the city with the most cat cafés in the world, even outranking Tokyo. Here are the numbers: In Tokyo, there’s a cat café every 14 square miles. But in Taipei, you can find one every 2 square miles. (Numbers based on total land area and current business listings on Google.)
Given all the furry fandom, visiting a cat café is surely on your list of top things to do when visiting Taiwan, right!?
So here are the top 12 things you can do at a cat café in Taiwan.
1. You can pet a cat
What makes cat cafés so popular? For one, you get all the benefits of owning a cat, māo 猫,without all the responsibilities like having to clean up after them or feed them.
Wherever you fall on the feline love scale, from the just curious to the feline obsessed, one of the main reasons people flock to cat cafés is to fǔ mō 撫摸, or pet, a kitty. Actually, why just stop at one, for that matter?
Petting cats is therapeutic. It feels so relaxing, fàng sōng 放鬆, for you and for them. When cats purr, hū lū 呼嚕, it’s not only a sign that they’re feeling relaxed, but it helps humans relax too. Studies have found that just petting a cat can help decrease your blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and release feel-good hormones like oxytocin.
Ok, so you’re convinced. Bring me the kitty, you say!
But before you can pet cats at a cat café, you must heed some rules and pay attention to some kitty etiquette, or lǐsú 禮俗. Don’t worry, most cat cafés have signs around to help those a-meow-teurs (see what I did there?).
But just in case, here are some petting pointers:
Less is more: While all cats love getting petted, it’s probably best to not go all out on your first kitty. Start small and easy to build rapport and increase the petting as kitty gets comfortable.
Different strokes: Don’t try to pet a cat like you would a dog. Always start your petting stroke from the front to the back, and don’t rub back and forth.
My neck, my back: Some cats don’t like the top of their head being rubbed, but most will appreciate a neck and back rub.
Call me by my kitty name: If your cat café has pictures of the kitties with their names, call them to you! Or, miāo miāo 喵喵 also works, which is like saying “kitty kitty.”
Okay, now that you have the petting protocol down, let’s have some tea, shall we?
2. You can sip some home-brewed tea
Cat cafés, as you can tell by the name, serve pretty much everything you’d find in a café, except with cats on the side.
Most cat cafés are fully stocked with local teas, or chá 茶, and many even brew, or pào chá 泡茶, their own tea in-house. So you can expect a fresh cup, whether it’s green tean (lǜ chá 綠茶), black tea (hóng chá 紅茶 ), or oolong tea (wū lóng chá 烏龍茶), or, if you don’t need the caffeine buzz, herbal tea (huā cǎo chá 花草茶)
If you want something a little more handcrafted, you could even go for a bubble milk tea ( bō bà nǎi chá 波霸奶茶 ), another world favorite that started in Taiwan!
Of course, if you need to have your java fix with your feline fix, most cafes also have coffee drinks like lattes, ná tiě 拿鐵.
No tea or coffee for the kitties though! Both tea and coffee are toxic to cats. But that doesn’t stop some café kitties from trying to stick their nose in your drink. And your food! Which brings us to #3 of the things you can do at a cat café in Taiwan!
3. You can taste a handmade dessert
Cat cafés offer more than just drinks. At many locations, you can also try a handmade diǎn xīn 點心, or dessert.
Each café is different, with their own specialties and culinary approaches, but most menus feature homemade bǐng gān 餅乾, cookies, dàn gāo 蛋糕, cake, and all kinds of sū pí diǎn xīn 酥皮點心, pastries.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, some cat cafes offer more food choices beyond desserts, like breakfast and even vegetarian food, sù shí 素食.
Some even double as grocery stores where you can buy organic products, yǒu jī shí pǐn 有機食品.
And while you have a little snack, why don’t you get cozy with a good book and a kitty reading buddy.
4. You can read or study
Power outlets, wifi, bubble tea, cats. Everything you need to get in a good work or study sesh, right?
Throw in a little light jazz in the background and you’re ready to get in the zone.
Actually, cat cafés are also a great place to go study, get some work done or even take a Mandarin lesson online (just make sure to bring some good headphones).
You can bring your laptop and settle in for your video call in a comfy chair inside —if you don’t mind the special kitty guest appearances, that is.
Some cat cafes have outdoor spaces too, so you can get in some fresh air, enjoy the feline company, and bring your mobile workstation too.
And when you need a little break, you can always go browse all the cat-themed souvenirs.
5. You can buy cat-inspired souvenirs
No cat café would be complete without a cat-themed gift shop, where you can find everything from cat stickers, tiē zhǐ 貼紙 to action figures, postcards, t-shirts and pretty much anything you can think of with a cat on it.
Actually, at some cat cafes, the line between decorations and souvenirs may not be as clear, so you may need to ask if that three-foot tall cat statue is actually on sale.
Speaking of which, probably one of the best souvenirs you’ll want to take from a cat café are pictures! Really, so many interesting and fun photo ops to be had—with plenty of feline photo bombs.
Just make sure pictures are okay, which they should be, for the most part.
You can always ask:
Wǒ kěyǐ pāizhào ma?
(Can I take a picture?)
Speaking of pictures, at a cat café in Taiwan…
6. You can see (and support) local art
Where can you see the work of the freshest up-and-coming Taiwanese local artist?
Not at any museum, but at a cat café!
Many cat cafes work with local artists to set up art exhibits, or zhǎn lǎn 展览 and showcase their yì shù 艺术 , or art, on certain days. Or they may even have a rotating collection of artists throughout the year.
So cat cafes aren’t just about serving up good food, giving cats a home but also about supporting local art. (No, that’s not an avant-garde, post-modern statue…just a kitty obstacle course so the indoor cats can get in their exercise.)
At some cat cafés, you can even leave some of your own art behind for other café goers to admire. And if you’re not artistically inclined, you can opt for a handwritten note to show your appreciation, or as a love letter for your favorite kitty.
7. You can talk to cats
If you’re shy about practicing your Mandarin with people, you can try it with the cats!
Cats love it when you talk to them. And since cats’ hearing is so acute, you can even whisper to them. Whispering has the added benefit of being nearly imperceptible to the human ear, like the humans around you who may be wondering why you’re talking to cats.
Just kidding, everyone talks to cats at cat cafés. It’s totally cool.
Cats also make sounds that are similar to the four Mandarin tones, if you listen carefully. French researchers say that cats can make over 60 different types of sounds, from chirps to the more familiar miāo 喵, or meow.
If you need a little refresher with tones, hang around cats for a while and see if you can put the tones to the sounds they make. It sounds weird, but it may just be the kind of purr-actice you need!
8. You can talk to locals, too
Okay, so talking to cats is one way to practice your Mandarin at a cat café.
But you can also practice your Mandarin with people too.
Even if you don’t feel confident enough to randomly just talk to someone, the cats will be a natural ice breaker to get the conversation started.
Plus, it’s a little easier to talk to people (yes, in Mandarin!) when you have something in common, like, say, love of cats. (It’s actually why a lot of people feel more comfortable speaking during the Mandarin Monkey Hangouts.)
Your vocabulary doesn’t even have to be that advanced to spark up some conversation with a local.
You can start with:
Nà zhī māo hǎo kě’ài
(That cat is so cute!)
9. You can support a local business
Cat cafes are about more than cute kitties. Even more than really good bubble tea. There’s a lot behind the counter that your money goes to support.
There’s a small business that contributes to the financial well-being of a family. There are people dedicated to providing stray cats with a second chance by getting them out of shelters and into a cozy home where they’re kept healthy and safe.
When you go to a cat café, you’re doing more than enjoying a home-brewed concoction and getting in some quality kitty time. You’re actually supporting a local small business, xiǎo xíng qì yè 小型企業, and ultimately, the economy jīng jì 經濟 and vitality of that community.
By spending your money in a cat café, you’re helping to keep a small business thriving, and probably also keeping it from turning into a Starbucks.
10. You can bring your kiddies
Although some cat cafes don’t allow small children—mainly just to provide adults with a kiddy-free (kitty-full), quiet environment—kids are mostly welcome and encouraged. So you can bring the whole family to enjoy a little purring paradise.
Your kids might even say, “Can we keep one?”
11. You can adopt a kitty
I’ll have an oolong bubble tea and a kitty to go, please!
Yup, you can actually get both your favorite tea and a feline companion at the same place.
A lot of cat cafés actually double as a foster home for cats that are up for adoption, shōu yǎng 收養. People can stop in to enjoy everything the cat café has to offer as well as see all of the cats that they can adopt.
Their hard work includes taking in stray cats, yě māo 野貓, off the street and out of shelters, giving them veterinary attention and making sure they have all their vaccinations, before they can be adopted by a loving family.
Many cats find their forever homes at a cat café, sometimes from frequent patrons that have built a bond with one special kitty over time, or sometimes it’s love at first purr!
Out of all the reasons to visit a cat café, to unwind, fàng sōng 放鬆, may be at the top of the list. And hey, it’s the main reason the first ever cat café came to be, after all!