I was born and raised in Hong Kong, but have spent most of my adult life living in New Zealand. I wasn't there when the specialty coffee scene kicked in. In fact, I remember coffee back home being made the same way as we'd prepare tea, sometimes mixed with sweetened and condensed milk. And then a few years ago, this started to change. My return visits home (for the Christmas holidays and other family events) started to become full of delicious coffee, with many small specialty shops emerging throughout the city. Cafes with small roasters on site, brewing espresso and filter coffee out of world-class equipment, and offering a cafe experience as good as anything back in Auckland. It's been a transformation, and has happened in just a few short years.
The coffee scene in Hong Kong is now very exciting, and I personally look forward to revisiting favorites and trying out new shops on each return home. Last Christmas I narrowed some of my favorites down to this list of five. I'll be back home soon enough, and look forward to enjoying even more dramatic growth in Hong Kong's coffee scene. But for now, here's five excellent cafes in Hong Kong.
In the busy commercial suburb of Causeway Bay on the Hong Kong Island, where people shop for mid-high end fashion, sits Coffee Academics, the specialty coffee division from the Hong Kong coffee chain Habitu. The first thing you see when you get to the café is the roaster.
The cafe is proud to showcase its 12 kilo Probat roaster, located next to the café but separated by glass walls. I waited in a long queue of people during my visit, eventually reaching the bar and checking out the cafe's distinctive clear La Marzocco Linea 2 group espresso machine and La Marzocco Vulcano doserless grinder sitting at the back of the counter. On the right side of the counter is the brew bar, serving Chemex as their filter brew with a dedicated Versalab M3 twin hopper grinder.
The cafe's owner, Jennifer Liu, loves traveling, and has stocked her cafe with souvenirs from around the world. Hence you will see Chinese poetry books, benches purchased in South America, and a design style that's a hybrid of US and European interiors, with distinctively New York iron loft windows and outdoor sitting. You will also see a massive photo canvas on the back wall.
The company principle at Coffee Academics is education, and their name is not just for show. This place's express purpose is to educate the public about the process of having a cup of coffee. From seed to cup, and they believe roasting is an art form and should be shown to the public, which is why the Probat is located right next to the café. It's a busy Probat, used to roast coffee for 26 other sister cafes across HK, including Suzuki Café and the aforementioned Café Habitu.
I had the TCA house blend as espresso. Hints of black currant and lemon, with a syrupy body and long finish. The cafe's cabinet is well stocked, serving cakes and a full sized menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This would be a great first place to stop on your Hong Kong coffee crawl, and I recommend purchasing their specialty coffee map, which is full of smart recommendations, and makes for a fine world traveling souvenir of your own.
38 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay. Hours: Monday to Thursday 10am-11pm; Friday to Saturday 10am-2am; Sunday 12pm-9pm
Sai Kung is a seaside suburb, famous for fresh seafood restaurants beloved by HK locals. It also has many western residents, owing to British colonial history, but also because the neighborhood affords bigger living area and has lovely fresh air surroundings. This “alley” or laneway shop is the 5th cafe in Hong Kong for 18 Grams, who started off as a little space in a commercial district of Causeway Bay before opening more shops. They roast offsite and provide different blends for the cafes depending on their customer’s taste.
The cafe is relatively small, with three cold drip taps facing the alley, followed by a cabinet [what North Americans call “the pastry case”] with a selection of cakes and slices. 18Grams is positively tricked out with gear, including a matte black Mahlkoenig EK43 grinder, syhpons, pour over, Aeropress, and a French press brew bar. There are two Mazzer Major grinders on the bar, grinding up a single origin of the day as well as this 18Grams location's “Black Sheep” house blend. Espresso service runs through a Nuova Simonelli T3 2 group, the same as you see at international barista competitions. This cafe does not lack for kit.
They also serve a great selection of cooked meals such as soup, salad and breakfast, and hanging above the space long is a continuous cabinet holding brewing items for sale. Between the bar below and the merchandise above, there is a gap at eye level, allowing for great visibility between customer and staff.
The walls are laid with clean glossy tiles, and I especially liked the way 18Grams Alley integrated art drawn by their resident artist, Kammie Hui, who also happens to be the shop's training manager and a certified World Barista Championship sensory judge. At the back of the café is a nicely hidden sitting area with timber walls and another hanging cabinet for different coffee brewing items.
I enjoyed the shop's signature Black Sheep espresso, as well as a syphon brew of Brazil Moreninha Formosa. The espresso was comprised of a blend of Mexican, Indian, Colombian and Costa Rican coffees, and showed up in my cup with a honeyed aroma, smooth medium body, and hints of blackberry and mint. These coffees were served with a nice green tea or chocolate biscuit, which were quite tasty, I can attest!
This café is all the way in Yuen Long, a suburb in the New Territories. This area of Hong Kong is famous for its Chinese-style preserved meat products, including sausages and other meat delicacies commonly lumped together under the “charcuterie” banner. Yuen Long is also where you'll find Accro Coffee, home to World Siphonist Champion Pinky Leung.
Accro Coffee is a tiny café compared to the other places in this guide, with just five tables and a very intimate feel. Everything in the shop is small: owner Tsuyoshi Mok roasts on his 200G Fuji Discovery mini-roaster; syphons are carefully arrayed on the limited bar space; espresso is served from single group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine. The space hosts regular coffee classes and “themed coffee buffets,” where customers can try coffee Tsuhyoshi bought from other roasters. I can only imagine how familiar and close-quartered the guests at these talks must get with each other!
Tsuyoshi Mok is a music person. Dim stage like lighting makes for a dramatic cafe ambience, with posters on the walls and guitar models on the shelves. They also have a great selection of coffee at Accro, some of my favorite in Hong Kong. While researching this feature I enjoyed their special competition blend, specifically designed for Pinky Leung's World Siphonist Championship routine. The blend consisted of Costa Rica Las Lajas Estate, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Kenya Rukira Estate. In addition to tasting great, blending these fine coffees together helps control cost for Accro, which means they can offer this blend to the public all the time without needing to worry about cost so much. I found it had high acidity with green apple sweetness and a grapefruit aftertaste.
I also tried one of Accro's Indonesian coffees, prepared in a Hario V60. This was a mild coffee with marshmallow like sweetness, and very low acidity, almost the mirrored opposite of the siphon coffee I enjoyed just moments before. All that in the same tiny space! That's a good way to sum up Accro: a big, diverse experience in a small and charming cafe.
Shop 10, G/F, Fu Loy Garden, 7 Ma Wang Rd, Yuen Long (Railway Long Ping Station B1 exit). Hours daily from 12pm-midnight.
Mongkok is a popular spot for tourist and locals in Kowloon West. You can find almost everything here, from car parts to electronics, real diamonds to fake Rolexes. On a street surrounded by car repair shops and cheap eateries sits Knockbox Coffee, the small business of a passionate self-taught coffee lover named Patrick Tam.
Mr. Tam was one of the first Q-graders in all of HK, and is a very specific, particular man. He wants Knockbox to be a “coffee house” and not a café or coffee shop. His vision takes after the old London coffee houses, where information and knowledge was shared between human beings and not cellphones or iPads. So there is no wifi at Knockbox. When you walk in, there is a park bench on your right and a long bar table on your left. The bar was designed so that baristas could talk to customers and customers can watch the brewing process over the counter.
The barista's area behind the counter is similarly intentional, with filter coffee service on the left, utilizing pour over and syphon brewers, and espresso service to the the right, focused on the shop's La Marzocco Strada EP. Knockbox has a veritable armada of grinders, including a Fuji Royal R-220 and Mahlkonig EK43 for filter coffee, and Eureka Olympus KR and Anfim Caimano grinders for espresso. Above all that is a counter length blackboard with explanations for what coffee is on offer. There are also 2 Kyoto-style cold drippers hanging out in the back of the shop. The whole space is tied together by photos of coffee farms, taken by Patrick Tam himself on a recent visit to Nicaragua.
Patrick likes engaging with customers, so much so that Knockbox holds regular Friday night events, inviting folks drink as much coffee as they want and try their hands at a bit of roasting on his Probat BRZ 2 sample roaster. Knockbox's coffee offerings are roasted offsite on two more Probats, and there was a vast selection of coffee to choose from on my visit. The standout coffee I tried was a 90+ Perci Red N2, brewed in a Hario V60, and giving off notes of orange and cherry with a long, lingering, sweet finish. I can also recommend the cappuccinos here, made for me with an high acidic body with bold caramel.
There is a real meticulousness to how the coffees are prepared at Knockbox, with careful dosing and measuring throughout the brewing process. This is surely one of the best cafes in Hong Kong, and perhaps the city's most passionate crew of coffee experts.
G/F, 21 Hak Po St, Mongkok, Kowloon. Hours daily from 11am-10pm
Home of two-time Hong Kong Barista Champion Kapo Chiu and 3rd place Hong Kong Barista Championship Dawn Chan, The Cupping Room was featured in Sprudge's 2013 edition of “Build-Outs Of Summer”, back when the cafe had plans to serve Counter Culture Coffee. Having read this preview, I was of course excited to see the finished product. Kapo Chiu was on site for my visit, and told me that the team at Cupping Room was influenced heavily by café designs in Melbourne. This is evident all around you at the cafe.
Once you stepped into the shop from a sliding door, you will see two large communal tables. This is super uncommon in Hong Kong, where people are generally not used to sharing a table and benches with others. You will also find a bar table facing the street and a few two-top tables, laid out on poured concrete floors. The whole café gives you that raw and dark feeling, with light furniture accents giving it a bright contrast. Like many cafes in Hong Kong, their food offerings are diverse, so you can enjoy pastries and the like but also feed yourself with their pastas or breakfast.
All single origin coffees, whether destined for espresso or drip, are ground through The Cupping Room's Mahlkonig EK43 grinder. There's also a Mazzer Robur grinder on the bar for house blends. Espresso service is achieved using a Synesso Hydra machine, custom outfitted in a cool matte black color. I'd mentioned that Cupping Room were once serving Counter Culture, but during my recent visit the coffees served there were roasted in Colorado by Sweet Bloom Coffee, the new roasting project from United States Aeropress / Brewers Cup Champion Andy Sprenger.
I must admit this place has become my regular shop in Hong Kong, and I went back a few times in researching this feature, so I have tried a fair bit of their coffee at this point. The Cupping Room is a different experience every time, and I've had flat whites that are like dark chocolate and caramel, delicious ristretto shots of Guatemala Hermosa espresso, big, fuller shots of Colombia Santa Barbara with remarkable balance and body, and even sensory experiments involving temperature and glassware. It's a diverse and ever-changing set of coffee experiences, something that's kept me coming back.
This is a marvelous place for any speciality coffee enthusiast, made that much more special by the partnership between The Cupping Room and Mr. Sprenger's new roastery in Colorado. Kapo Chiu also took me to some cafes around the neighbourhood, which happens to be full of other excellent coffee options, including Freshness Coffee on 138 Caine Rd, and Cafe Dead End on 72 Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan, where they bake their own fresh pastries and serve Five Senses Coffee.
Shop LG/F, 299 Queen’s Rd, Sheung Wan. Hours Monday to Friday 8am-5pm, Saturday 8am-6pm, Sunday 10am-6pm.