Hong Kong is dense. Its buildings, with their varying lines, curves, stacks, and layers, present a unique fingerprint in the city's iconic skyline—the jaggedness hinting at a seemingly infinite race towards the sky among the architectural giants. Getting lost is an adventure in itself and is probably my favorite way of exploring the city. From the vibrant markets in Kowloon to the steel towers of Central to the unexpected wrong turns leading to the grittier parts of the city—each area is distinctly its own.
Perhaps my favorite hour is the neon glow of nightfall, when the streets and structures transform into an illuminated maze. The blend of colors light the darkness to reveal an endless array of vendors who saturate the air with an assortment of aromas both unfamiliar and enticing. With a bombardment of sights, sounds, and smells around every corner, the city can be a shock for first-time visitors. If you’re in search of a place to wind down and escape the metropolitan jungle, head to the eclectic neighborhood of Sheung Wan, no doubt one of the city’s coolest districts. In between the whispers of ancient Hong Kong that lurk in the dried seafood and tonic stalls on Wing Lok Street and the incense smoke from Man Mo temple, coffee shops and cafes thrive in every nook and cranny.
NOC Coffee Co.
Already boasting a collective assortment of eateries, stylish boutique stores, and art galleries, charming Gough Street ices the cake by hosting one of Sheung Wan’s most beautiful coffee spaces. With its pure white exterior and giant glass doors, the shop is a stark contrast to the busy textures along Gough Street. Upon entering, you’re immediately greeted with a sleek seven-meter-long white countertop bar so immaculate you’ll feel like polishing off every speck of dust on your shoes. The menu offers classic black and white espresso drinks along with a rotating selection of single-origin and house-blend beans available as pour-overs.
NOC wholeheartedly embodies its vision of being a coffee shop that is Not Only Coffee. The very much approachable baristas exude passion in their craft and offer suggestions with enthusiasm. The drinks are served with some of the best free-pour latte art I’ve seen not just in the city, but across my travels around Asia. An ever-evolving food menu with a variety of feel-good toasts, salads, and grain bowls are available throughout the day. Trust me when I say the trek up the stairs is worth the climb.
Hazel & Hershey Coffee
On the cusp of Sheung Wan and Central is Peel Street, a small sloping hideaway housing one of the area’s most peculiar coffee shops. It’s hard to miss Hazel & Hershey—its vibrant teal exterior will turn heads and lure the curious inside its doors. This eclectic character extends inside, from the warped clock lighting fixtures that cover the ceilings to the stacks of takeaway cups featuring local artists. Coffee paraphernalia canvases the walls, carrying notable brands such as Kalita, Hario, Acaia, and Bonavita. The assortment of the latest coffee gear, books, and gadgets is enough to spark a coffee nerd in anyone.
While the shop boasts an impressive collection of coffee tools, the coffee selection is not to be overlooked. Hazel & Hershey roasts their beans in-house and offers an impressive list of a constantly rotating variety of single-origin beans and micro-lots, sourcing from Indonesia to Brazil to Ethiopia. Sip on espresso or wait for your pour-over in the shop’s quaint outdoor patio, a recluse from bustling Hollywood Road.
13 Peel Coffee Bar by Momentum Coffee Roasters
“Drink naked coffee” is the motto at 13Peel, the first coffee concept store by Momentum Coffee Roasters (formerly known as Inferno Dynamics Roastery). The shop takes pride in its commitment to sourcing directly from farmers, offering an ever-changing seasonal selection of beans to ensure the freshest batch of coffee is served to its consumers.
Trinity ONE brewers—the closest thing to magic you’ll get in the coffee world—line the marble countertops, providing a spectacle for even the most closeted coffee geek. This unassuming contraption brews six ways: gravity press, cold drip, batch brew, immersion, pour-over, and espresso-style extraction. Adding to the shop's minimalistic flair is the subtle Modbar with wooden handle accents—used for pulling espresso.
While the focus is extracting the most unique flavor from each cup, the shop isn’t afraid to push boundaries with coffee. The playful neon lights hint at its whimsical creations, with seasonal mocktails and in-house concoctions such as coffee lemonade, bubble coffee with Okinawan brown sugar, and curry fish ball pairings.
That begs the question: what coffee pairs best with curry fish balls? That answer requires a trip to Peel Street.
The Cupping Room Roastery
Home to Kapo Chiu, a veteran on the barista world stage and who recently placed 3rd in the World Barista Championship in Seoul, The Cupping Room is bound to exceed your routine caffeine fix. The latest location in Sheung Wan is one of four branches dotted across Hong Kong Island and offers not only a careful selection of seasonal beans sourced worldwide, but also a sizable food menu, making it a brunch hotspot for locals and visitors alike.
Unique to the shop is their roasting powerhouse: a black and steel Probat UG15 Retro. The iconic roaster accentuates the aromatic and sweet profiles in coffee, developing a unique taste with each batch. Like Mona Lisa at the Louvre, the roaster stands behind large glass windows just behind the brewers bar, allowing consumers to gaze upon the finishing stages of bean-to-cup production. Several Melitta drippers line the countertop, while each coffee is paired with an informative card highlighting flavor profiles and origin details. Lactose intolerants, rejoice! Those who prefer milk in their brew have alternative dairy options, including the ever-elusive Oatly oat milk. Seating is limited, so come early to enjoy the efforts of a world-class barista.
18 Grams is a tiny shop that packs a big punch. The dark walnut tables and natural leather seats offer a casual homey vibe while a five-seater counter bar provides a more up and close personal look into the brewing process. The menu offers a solid list of milk-based beverages and serves one of the most velvety flat whites in a neighborhood sardine-packed with coffee shops. Humid day favorites include the shakerato, which is shaken iced espresso served in a martini glass, and the coffee whiskey sour. While I consider myself an espresso purist, I definitely wouldn’t mind starting my day off with the latter.
What started as a small humble espresso corner in Causeway Bay back in 2010 has now evolved into eight locations, with Sheung Wan being the newest of the branches. Thanks to the efforts of founder John So and head roaster Kammie Hui, 18 Grams paved the way for specialty coffee in a now booming Hong Kong coffee culture.