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ASIP coffee shop reopens on Main Street, but in new location

Justin Shen has reopened a new version of his ASIP coffee shop in Downtown Merced.
Justin Shen has reopened a new version of his ASIP coffee shop in Downtown Merced.

ASIP is back!

One of Downtown Merced’s popular coffee shop hangouts reopened on Dec. 11 in a 5,000 square foot brick building on Main Street between O and P streets.

Only about a third of the shop is currently open — the “Sensory Lab” which serves coffee — but work is starting on a kitchen and coffee roastery next door that will have even more seating. The whole thing is expected to be open in two to three months.

“We will do easy bites, comfort food, like avocado toast, a breakfast burrito, stuff like that. Easy, easy stuff,” said owner Justin Shen. “We’re also gonna have a patio.”

ASIP used to be smack dab in the middle of downtown, next to the Regal Hollywood movie theater. But the lease was up after five years, and Shen wanted a bigger and cheaper space, so the old ASIP closed at the end of August.

“In terms of drinks, we keep a lot the same, like specialty drinks. But we focus more on coffee beans here,” Shen said. “I will be roasting more in terms of different coffee beans. We want to give people a deeper insight into the coffee.”

Shen, 33, is originally from Suzhou, China, a prosperous city in the Jiangsu region, 30 miles west of the Shanghai metropolis. Jiangsu has been known throughout history for its canals, opulence and seafood – but not coffee. That’s something Shen came to love in America, while he was studying biology at San Francisco State. Sightglass Coffee – he still remembers the name of the cafe in the city where he first became obsessed.

“I just ordered a drip coffee and I took a sip and I was like, whoa! Did they put orange juice in the coffee? It’s so juicy, so sweet,” he remembers. “I talked to the barista and they said coffee is from the coffee cherry. So it is a fruit. If you roast it lighter, you’re supposed to taste more of the coffee cherry notes, right?”

“I always tell people, imagine roasting coffee like it’s cooking a steak. The best way of eating a steak is medium to medium rare. When it’s burned you taste the grill, not the actual steak.”

Western coffee culture has since jumped the Pacific, Shen said, as China has become more prosperous in recent decades, and now you can find roasters and cafes in any major Chinese city.

As of 2019, ASIP has two locations in Shen’s hometown Suzhou.

“It went well and then half a year later COVID starts, so. They’re still open, but just not as good as I expected,” Shen said.

Chinese coffee beans are also increasing in popularity. Before COVID, Shen traveled to Yunnan province, a lush region on the border with Myanmar, where most of the coffee is grown in China. He visited a coffee farm, and eventually imported some beans which became a hit in Merced, he said.

“It’s fun. It’s like a dream job for me right now,” Shen said.

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