Just about an hour west of Hong Kong by hydrofoil lies Macao, the Las Vegas of the East. This former Portuguese enclave in Asia now has not only joined the specialty coffee movement, currently booming across Southeast Asia, but has also become a centre for aspiring coffee professionals. At the forefront of that boom in Macao is Blooom Coffee House, consisting of a roaster, multiple coffee shops, and a certified training facility for specialty coffee.
Blooom (yes, with three o's) is the brain child of Keith Fong, who was born and raised in the city. He founded the company in 2010 with a staff of two, aspiring to roast coffee to a global specialty standard. He acquired his coffee skills over multiple trips to Europe, and has become an SCAE-certified coffee professional and trainer. The company has grown not only in staff but in size, now encompassing several cafes.
I arranged to speak with Fong at his flagship coffee shop, Single Origin Coffee, right at the geographical heart of old Macao city, on a warm July day perfect for cold brew coffee. More than half of Single Origin Coffee is taken over by a counter full of gleaming espresso machines, grinders, drip stations and all the other paraphernalia of business. Food service here is simple, but their Western-style sandwiches make for a good quick lunch. The shop's minimalistic decor gives it the look and feel of a coffee lab rather than a food and drink place. The main sitting lounge is at the mezzanine upstairs where one can take a drink, sit, and sip while people-watching through the windows that open to the street outside.
Fong said he saw a commercial opportunity four years ago and started roasting coffee with a 1-kilo Toper roaster. Recently he has added a 6-kilo Giesen to his roasting workshop. He is focused on supplying the local market of some 600,000 people, and he said there is still room to grow his business. Although Macao has a strong Portuguese heritage, he considers his roasting style more in line with the current North American model. The house blend espresso he offered during our meeting was tasty, with a lively brightness. Fong does however offer an alternative espresso, which is blended for the more conservative and traditional Macanese taste.
Fong spends as much time brewing coffee at his flagship coffee house as roasting coffee in his other workshop. He says that he likes to interact with his customers to get a feel on how his coffee is being received. Staffing can be a challenge in Macao, however. Macao is a casino city and the big gambling industry is the main deep-pocketed employer in town. Retaining quality staff is a constant challenge to anyone operating outside that industry.
Towards the end of the meeting, our conversation naturally led to the Chinese commercial landscape mere kilometres away from Macao. For now, Blooom Coffee House has yet to expand into that market. To Fong, delivering specialty coffee is delivering a full experience, an approach he has yet to see become pervasive in China. Specialty coffee is seen in the China market as a fashion statement, an approach which he hopes the consumers will eventually grow out of. When that happens, he thinks Blooom will be in a position to take their business model beyond the streets of Macao.
Single Origin is open at 19 Rua de Abreu Nunes, Macao, China.
Sun Tsui is a coffee enthusiast based in Toronto and Hong Kong. This is Sun Tsui's first feature for Sprudge.com.