Sometimes one cafe, one city, or even one country just isn’t enough.
For The Coffee Academïcs from Hong Kong, spreading themselves across the continent was part of the demand for what they call “seeking a better quality of life.” Coffee has that universal language after all. Sip sip, smile. “Across cultures, we all drink coffee—however differently we may brew it, we all savor it, all of us are fueled in the same manner,” says Jennifer Liu, The Coffee Academïcs founder.
“When I was a young girl, spending father-and-daughter time every Sunday morning was precious to me,” says Liu. “He would read his newspaper over coffee, while I sipped on a glass of fresh milk,” she recounted—remembering the turning point when her father finally told her, at age seven, that she was now grown up enough to join him in drinking coffee. “Since then coffee is just close to my heart,” she shares.
And it is this very open-hearted sentiment that now has taken The Coffee Academïcs' ace-quality, highly educational coffee operation to China’s answer to New York: Shanghai. The company's latest store opened in July this year in an industrial chic hot spot in the city near Dongping Lu. But for The Coffee Academïcs, it’s less about opening another cafe, or doing things in one certain way, and more about unfurling the sensory domain of coffee. And since Liu has that sharpened entrepreneurial way of thinking, Hong Kong was just the embryo.
“Since its inauguration, The Coffee Academïcs has been setting new standards in coffee quality,” says Liu. “Taking Hong Kong’s coffee culture to new heights and offering a unique sensory playground for coffee aficionados in Singapore and now Shanghai, our guests enjoy the latest innovations and technologies that enhance this coffee experience.” And for her, future-orientation means looking at the sustainability of coffee, above all things.
“Coffee’s sustainability will not be possible without respect from all of the industry collectively,” Liu says. “It has to come from the heart from the consumer, the barista, the roaster, the bosses, the staff, the agents, and right down to the farmer. We know our coffee passes through 40 pairs of hands before it is drunk by our customers. It is important for every pair of hands to be respectful and ethical towards the trade,” she continues.
But all of this came to fruition in 2012 in Hong Kong when Liu opened in Causeway Bay with one goal in mind—“to redefine the coffeehouse experience.” Liu believes that the Hong Kong coffee drinker was hankering for specialty coffee and so she gave them exactly what they wanted.
Asking Liu how the Hong Kong and Shanghai coffee drinker differ, she smiles. “The Hong Kong coffee drinker enjoys an espresso, we figured perhaps due to our really quick pace of life. The Shanghainese coffee drinker at The Coffee Academïcs usually comes with [a] very in-depth knowledge of coffee and is very curious about our quality controls, roasting decisions, and origins.”
The Hong Kong stores were quickly followed by Singapore and Shanghai, and next Liu is looking at Tokyo and Paris. But it’s not in Liu’s nature to make it easy for herself—she’s planning to keep herself on her toes, as she says. “Each of our outlets features a unique interior that speaks to its environment. We use a different coffee machine in each, and offer a slightly different menu too,” she shares. “And so our teams are always on a constant lookout for what our customers’ new demands and needs might be.”
And then there is Liu’s pet project—something that excites her more than anything—growing her own beans. “My family is supporting a conservation of an offshore island in Hong Kong,” she tells me. “What’s been interesting is that we have a plot of land that can be used for agriculture, and we are attempting to grow coffee plants!” she gushes. “We may soon be brewing our very own locally grown beans.”
For Liu, the maestro, it really is about the curation of coffee, directly from farmers worldwide, roasting onsite to finesse the inherent character of coffee, and meticulously cupping to ensure quality. “Every molten pearl of coffee speaks of our interpretation of the perfect brew,” she says. For Liu, there is always another interesting avenue to explore, or a way of exploring the world of coffee—she’s the eternal explorer. A Mexican agave and cracked black pepper latte challenges the senses while opening up the coffee to sweetness. And in Singapore she works with local ingredients to include that in her offering—like kaya (think French toast) or gula melaka (think palm sugar). In Hong Kong, she roasts three tons of coffee in the city per month. And she turned one of her stores into a beach hut to reflect a local Hong Kong beach.
Maybe the world isn’t enough.
Photographs courtesy The Coffee Academïcs.