I currently have half an hour before a traditional Korean work event (think raw garlic and soju) so wanted to do one final post about Hong Kong and this one is about coffee. Now I’ve liked coffee for a while and it stems from having the privilege of Gwilym Davies as my local barista when I lived in London. He worked his street coffee cart mere metres from my flat.
The big question is why this and coffee is relevant to Hong Kong with its strange Cantonese/ English mashup culture. It should be tea shouldn’t it (or at least milk tea)? Well, yes, I love tea and if you are after it I cannot recommend recommend Vivian and her company MingCha enough. She is a rambunctious teacher and the teas you can get from her directly or at City Super/ Olivers are fantastic. However, tea is something I like to drink at home.
And also coffee is – well – more of the moment than tea. And it also seems to be symptomatic of where interesting things are happening. Take a fun area with loads of stuff going on and there will usually be an over eager barista there roasting his own beans and getting overserious (or at least that is true in places like London and New York). It is not quite true in Hong Kong due to the demands of space but still, in that war between culture and developers, there is a little niche coffee culture developing in Hong Kong and here are the best.
This popped up after I left and is perched on the edge of the hipster enclave of Tai Ping Shan Street in Sheung Wan. I spent a very enjoyable half an hour outside the shop enjoying the slow ebb and flow of coffee being made. First, the earnest discussion with the barista on beans, then, second, them being brought to you freshly ground so you can savour the aroma. Third, the tasting notes from an experienced barista giving you the framework within which to taste. Fourth, the start of the cup – the coffee at its hottest with a completely different flavour profile from what is to come when it cools. Fifth, the lighter more ephemeral flavours floating out of the cup whilst you sit back and listen to the inevitable sounds of Hong Kong construciton around you. I can’t remember the baristas name but he was lovely.
As you can tell from my slighty overwordy pretentious drawl above I really enjoyed Knockbox Coffee and the experience of coffee there.
- Knockbox Coffee
- Shop B, 14 Tai Ping Shan St, Sheung Wan Hong Kong
RabbitHole Coffee is the newest and most surprising of the coffee additions since I left Hong Kong. It is in a space that still shocks me when I realise it is a coffee shop as it is in Central, easily visable from the escalator. Why isn’t it a Louis Vuitton shop or a ramen chain? I mean this is Hong Kong.
However, one can be very glad it isn’t as the valuable real estate it occupies gives you one of the best places to sit and breathe the cruddy Hong Kong air and watch its strange mess of locals and expats being hauled up and down the hill from Mid Levels to Central. The great thing is it isn’t just a nice location but it is also doing some great coffee under the guidance of the owner Mike Fung. I was introduced to it by Charmaine Mok who knows more about cofffee than me and also writes about it with a proper vocabulary so for the detail I should refer you to her post here. I’ll just say I am a big fan of their ice drip coffees which I have always thought were a touch of a gimmick before but were the perfect counterbalance to Hong Kong’s heat.
- Rabbithole Coffee & Roaster
- 2/F, 26 Cochrane Street, Central, Hong Kong (+852 2581 0861)
18 Grams is the demonstration of the struggles that small and creative businesses face in Hong Kong. They have run one of the best and more successful independent coffee shops in Hong Kong for over a year now. However, what does that mean… the rent goes up and they get kicked out of their original location in Causeway Bay.
And this is truly a sad thing as it was a great place to go after wandering around Victoria Park and having had a swim in their 50m pool. And they even did brunchy quasi Australian style food. What glory. Thankfully they still have a few alternative venues in which they are fighting the good fight against developers although they are all up in Kowloon…
- 18 Grams The Cafe
- B04, 56 Dundas Street, Gala Place Basement, Mong Kok (+852 2770 1339)
This remains the best for me and is probably the font of serious coffee in Hong Kong. The owner – William – is one of the world’s nice people and has a secret fortress of coffee dorkery upstairs. When you want specialist equipment or guidance you go to him. When I say the best it relates to my favourite type of coffee – milk based ones such as flat whites. I think KnockBox and RabbitHole and doing great things with the third wave style coffees though.
- Barista Jam
- Shop D, G/F, 126-128 Jervois St, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong (+852 2854 2211)
PS the two other worthy contenders are probably Fuel Espresso in Landmark and IFC and Holly Brown… well sometimes. These are both high churn places and the quality doesn’t match the places selected above. That said they are a lot better than Pacific Coffee/ Starbucks