September 30, 2016
A bus destined for Happy Valley whizzed past me at a crossing in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, but I was on a journey of my own – one that would take me to speciality coffee shops, on a detour from the influences of Chinese tea drinking culture. Have previously visited tea rooms in Hong Kong like Ki Chan Tea, I was keen for a cup of joe to balance things out. If tea was my yang, I had three days to meet my yin. Here’s what I found…
In the midst of the energetic Times Square area of Causeway Bay, Cafe Corridor sits – unsurprisingly – at the end of a rather long and narrow corridor. As you approach, the daylight fades behind you and a lamp shines above the bar. It’s one of the most traditional yet contemporary cafes I’ve ever visited on Hong Kong Island, and finding it is one of those Bond-like missions I described in my first blog post. It’s not exactly hidden, it’s just not hugely obvious – unless you’re a roving coffee lover and can sniff these places out like a bad bean, or you’ve had a conversation about it in a cocktail bar the night before… but that’s another post.
Inside, and mid-way through my Barista’s Choice Sweet Latte which has two shots of espresso topped with milk heated to 55 degrees to bring out the sweetness of the coffee, my seat at the bar is perfect for glancing around this intimate room. The coffee menu is like a juke box of old favourites and newer hits, from hand drips to the Syphon-brewed, and the three-origin house blend is sourced from Ethiopia, Guatemala and Papua New Guinea. Summing up the overall vibe, a handmade cardboard sign reads ‘No WiFi here, enjoy the coffee time…’ so I drink my latte leisurely and grab some photos with the friendly baristas before heading back up the corridor. As I do, the volume of street traffic becomes louder and with a final look back at the glow from the doorway, I realise the light is definitely at both ends of this ‘tunnel’.
Cafe Corridor, G/F Russell Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
I need to consult my tired looking map for the exact Wan Chai location of the next coffee shop, but when I find the Cupping Room it’s like finally threading a needle. The floor tiles spell C O F F E E and as I enter, I’m immediately handed a clipboard with little cards attached detailing the selection of single origin filter coffees.
Flooded with natural light from the enormous windows, it almost feels like a coffee clinic and is a stark contrast to the previous venue. Grabbing another seat at the bar, I order a crisp and clean single origin Ethiopian filter coffee, which has a tea-like roast with lingering notes of honey and mandarin, served in a ceramic carafe with some still water and a clear glass that slots into a wooden tray. It’s a lovely caffeine moment, but I’m conscious that time is filtering away, so I buy an Alice in Wonderland potion-style bottle of cold brew coffee for the road and head off to my next stop.
The Cupping Room – Wan Chai, 32 Swatow Street, Hong Kong
As a cabin crew member flying around the Virgin Atlantic network, making new dining discoveries are a huge part of my down-route activities. For a coffee enthusiast like myself, finding a cafe that serves both specialty coffee and delicious food is pure gold, so I’m thrilled to discover Brew Bros in Sheung Wan on my layover.
I take a seat at the open window overlooking Hillier Street and watch the comings and goings. The flat white is divine; so much so that I order a second. The beans are from El Salvador and I recognise the full body and well balanced sweetness which are the hallmark tasting notes I’ll look for in coffee grown in Central America. But it’s time to return to the Hong Kong caffeine hit-list I’m determined to sip my way through, and figure out how to get to my next spot.
Brew Bros, 33 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Many of Hong Kong’s coffee shops are within walking distance of a station on the city’s rapid transit system, the MRT. From Causeway Bay I take the train to Fortress Hill. I want to find a coffee shop close to a stop I wouldn’t necessarily get off at, and after a little uphill stride I finally come across a little cafe called Brew Note. One of the baristas, Kate, talks me through a macchiato tasting she’s convinced me (with little effort) to have. The idea behind Brew Note’s tastings is to “give back power” to the coffee-loving customer. My tasting set is made with the house blend coffee from multiple regions; single origin coffee is only available at the weekends. They roast their own coffee beans onsite too. One of my macchiatos is called the Apple Crumble; a house signature coffee made by adding honey and cinnamon powder to espresso before topping with micro foam. Each coffee is served with a coaster that encourages you to take notes on aroma, texture and flavour – hence the name Brew Note. Oh, and you get to keep the coaster too. Now ‘note’ this down: it’s only a cool 8 minute-walk from the station.
Brew Note 19 Fort Street , Hong Kong
Another stop, this time at Wan Chai, where Coffee Academics is about a 5-6 minute walk from the station. My cold brew iced coffee is served in a fancy wine glass, and there’s a marvellous all-singing, all-dancing Mod Bar; the coffee brewing system with apparatus for steam, espresso and pour-over coffees.
Coffee Academics, The Morrison, Wan Chai Road, Hong Kong
I feel like I’m getting closer to my yin, and I’m hopeful my next station Admiralty will deliver the goods. Thankfully, Elephant Grounds is pure coffee indulgence. The impressive menu has treats like the Bullet Proof with butter, and the Black Tie; a new spin on the Vietnamese. I opt for a Black Tie. It’s made with condensed milk which is poured gradually over two shots of cold espresso, to which ice is then added. If you like rich and sweet coffee like the Vietnamese or Thai styles, this is the one for you.
Elephant Grounds independently roast their own coffee from beans sourced from small farm producers across the globe. It’s a 7-minute walk from exit F of Admiralty station, and on my next trip to Hong Kong I’m heading back to enjoy a single origin pour-over from their brew bar.
Elephant Grounds G/F, Win Fung Building, 8 Wing Fung Street, Hong Kong
The following morning brings me to 18 Grams, an effortlessly stylish cafe in Wan Chai. Sitting at the long shiny bar, I try to decide between some of the artisan brands of coffee from specialty roasters all around the world. How about a Classic Shakerato (double espresso shaken with ice plus hazelnut or caramel) or a Nutella Cafe Latte, just two of the items I spot on their Roastery Lab menu, both made with their house-roasted beans? And that’s not all. Move over Espresso Martini and make way for the Nitro Coffee Cocktail: house nitrogen coffee, whisky and a dash of Ameretto – fancy. I, however, was intrigued to sample the espresso-based usual suspects.
The day begins well. I order a breakfast of sunny-side-up eggs and it’s the perfect match for my macchiato. Sipping pretty on my high bar stool swinging my legs back and forth, I can’t help but feel pleased with my delicious discovery. One more cappuccino before leaving – made with the eclectic Little Red Riding Hood house blend of Kenyan, Brazilian, Guatemalan and Indonesian espresso – and I’m done.
18 Grams Coffee Roastery Lab, 10 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
I couldn’t fly home from Hong Kong without revisiting Coco Espresso. This is where I was first introduced to specialty coffee in Hong Kong. And sitting at the street-facing bench, I remember that feeling of excitement well – knowing I’d found a real gem of a cafe in the city.
Like the second shot of espresso, this time is even better. Before heading back to the cafe in Anton Street, Wan Chai, I stop by the Queens Road store and it’s worth every sipping second. First up is the Kenya Karatina filter, just one of the fine coffees brewed at Coco Espresso, followed by a creamy rich espresso-based cortado. Before too long, I’m chatting to founder and coffee aficionado Johnson Ko, who trained as a barista in Sydney before opening Coco Espresso ten years go. As one of the individuals who’s encouraged and inspired Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan coffee culture, it’s the perfect end to my coffee-hunting layover here in the Pearl of the Orient.
Coco Espresso, 197 Queens Road, Central, Hong Kong and 2 Anton St, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, and the 701 Concept Store at 21-33 Tai Lin Pai Road, Kwai Chung Hong Kong