When visiting the Ice Festival City of Harbin in China, there’s not much that can beat a good hit of chocolate and coffee in the winter, especially when it’s -35C outside and dropping.
Whether it’s a delicious Black Forest Cake, a chocolate fondant or the decadence a Belgian Choc chip muffin, these affordable options will comfort and soothe the icy blues away without breaking your budget.
Costas – Belgian Choc Muffin
Starbucks biggest rival in China beats them hands down when it comes to chocolate muffins. Dark cocoa dotted with real, honest to goodness Belgian chocolate chunks see to multiple cravings for under 20RMB a muffin.
Add a milky hot chocolate if you really must, or have a nice Italian coffee instead, all for around 50RMB.
With two main outlets in ZhongYang Street’s shopping centres, Costas are easy to find. Find them also in Xi Da Jie street near the Carrefour supermarket in Nangang.
English is usually spoken at Costas.
Famous for it’s popularity with students, Westerners hungry for western menus and it’s summery ambiance, this small coffeeshop can be hard to visit, but well worth the effort.
Hamamas Chocolate Fudge Cake served with pouring sauce is a tad sweet at times, but absolutely hits that chocolate spot.
At around 25RMB, it’s difficult to find its like within a the next few provinces.
If chocolate fudge isn’t your thing, there’s still their famous choc-chip cookies, cheese cakes and even Key Lime Pie to tempt you over. There’s good coffee, creamy hot chocolate and a selection of teas to wash all that good chocolate down.
Tip: If they are full and it’s too cold to wait for a table (it’s a small place), ask for a takeaway. Baked goods, most main items, and hot and cold drinks available for takeaway.
Address: No2, Mugong Street. Look for the Island Motif sign. Get there by taxi or walk from HIT. It’s just a few metres from the HIT Science Centre.
Hamamas usually has at least one servitor who speaks English on any shift.
This little basement coffee-shop with its charming cottage feel has the warmest welcome and is filled with the most surprising choices.
Their chocolate menu isn’t extensive, but you can be sure that only the finest imported ingredients are used. The chocolate cake is plain, but oh so deliciously dark and perfect. The brownies are equally good. Alternatively, try their waffles: big, fluffy and dripping with chocolate sauce and creamy ice-cream.
There are Korean teas, a large coffee range including Dutch and Kenyan blends, and the best Chai Latte in Harbin. Teas and coffees from under 20RMB and cakes and waffles for under 30RMB.
Address: 509 Tielu Street, Nangang. Find them just off Xi Da Jie, a basement shop with a red wooden door and a green and beige cottagey look.
English is sometimes spoken, but don’t let your lack of Chinese deter you from visiting. They are one of the friendliest coffee-shops and have English menus available.
Back on ZhongYang Jie or Central Street:
If you’ve wandered up from the Flood Monument and are debating about going to the movies at the Euro Plaza Shopping Centre, or maybe you’ve been comparing prices at the H&M and Zara. Now it’s time you took the escalator down to find Harbin’s best Chocolate Fondant.
Coming down the escalator, you’ll be able to spot the cream-puffs, filled with a variety of flavors. You’ll have to look a little closer to spy the chocolate fondants with their light sprinkling of icing sugar. Ask for one, or two if you must, and savor the oozing, comforting chocolate as you bite in.
Find Papa Joes next to Breadtalk opposite the BHG Supermarket in the Euro Plaza Shopping Mall, ZhongYang Street, Harbin.
English isn’t generally understood here. Just point to your order and use your fingers to indicate the number that you want, and smile.
There’s no reason you can’t have you cake and eat it too at Bomele’s 1931 Coffeeshop on upper ZhongYang Street. Feast your eyes on perfect slices of Chocolate Mousse Cake, Cheese Cakes or delectable sponges, then choose the Black Forest dripping with dark cherries.
Savor your cake upstairs in the sit-down coffee-shop and enjoy a hot or cold tea, or a special coffee as accompaniment.
If you’re still feeling peckish after all that sugar, nothing beats the best thin-crusted pizza in Harbin!
Bomele’s pizza’s are available in one size only and are usually around 40RMB. Try the Chicken Teriyaki for something delicious and satisfying. They also do takeaways.
Address: 45 ZhongYang Street, Daoli.
English is not generally spoken at Bomele’s, but menus are available in English.
And if you don’t believe me… Here’s more on Bomele Cafe 1931
If you aren’t into cakes or fondants and just want a good, honest to goodness Hot Cocoa drink, try Breadtalk.
They serve really good quality hot cocoa at a really affordable price.
They are also the best for bread, chocolate pastries and a madelaine or two.
Find them at most upmarket shopping centres in Daoli and Nangang, Harbin.
My favourite is next to HongBo Square near the bus-stop and next to the KFC.
This should see you through the long hot summer days and the long cold winter chills. Enjoy!
Leenna lived in Harbin, China for two and half years. She was always in pursuit of good chocolate and chai lattes when not teaching English.
Read more of her travels in Heilongjiang Province in SeeThrougIt Magazine Issue 2.