Five years ago, the number of places that served good coffee in Hong Kong could barely be counted on one hand. Now you’d need to grow a few extra hands just for all the decent new places. Last year, TVB star Moses Chan hosted a show about coffee and published a fun guide to Hong Kong cafés, sparking mainstream interest in the black stuff. It now seems that more Hongkongers than ever are demanding something with more character than the swill served up by Starbucks and Pacific Coffee.
That call has been answered by nearly a dozen new coffee shops that have opened in the past year. The best of them pay serious respect to coffee by serving only fresh-roasted and freshly ground beans, distinct blends and single-origin roasts. It’s a new era for coffee in Hong Kong. Here are the cafés on the vanguard.
You can tell that Barista Jam is owned by a coffee obsessive. The beautiful La Marzocco espresso machine is constantly tuned, the portafilters are naked and there’s a constantly rotating selection of fresh, single-origin beans from around the world to choose from. The talkative owner/barista, William, is always tinkering with the blend used for the milk coffees, but the ones we’ve tried have had a nice acidity that goes well with the sweet, perfectly frothed milk. Try a HK$16 ristretto to get the full impact of the espresso. The tiny HK$21 piccolo latte doesn’t overwhelm the coffee with milk. If you want to chat with the baristas, there are stools along the espresso bar, but there are also a handful of tables on the quiet second floor.
126-128 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, tel +852 2854 2211
Who would have thought that one of Hong Kong’s best cafés is in out-of-the-way Kwai Fong? Tucked inside an obscure corner of a teeming neighborhood mall, Soulmate is a tiny place, not really much more than a counter with some stools. The savings on rent are obviously being passed on to the customers: at just HK$19 for a takeaway cappuccino, this is definitely the best-value café in town. The coffee is locally roasted by Coffee Assembly, and its flavor profile is fairly simple and accessible. But what sets it apart from other cafés using the same beans is that Soulmate’s baristas are thorough, disciplined and meticulous. The espresso is expertly pulled and the milk is velvety smooth and heated just enough to bring out the sweetness.
Shop C20, 2/F, Kwai Chung Plaza, 7 Kwai Foo Road, Kwai Fong, tel +852 6252 5551
We’ve got to give Raymond Tong credit for turning what could have been just another mediocre pasta-and-sandwich café into a destination for coffee lovers. With a hand-operated espresso machine, house-roasted single-origin espresso and a delicious Italian blend used for milk coffees, Tong has got all of the basics right. He has also spent serious time training his young staff of full-time baristas. The attention to detail pays off. Café Golden’s HK$22 cappuccino is one of our favorites — the milk foam is thick and creamy — though we’re not pleased with the fact that it is usually served too hot. The tart Tanzanian Peaberry espresso is nothing short of spectacular. And the café’s small outdoor terrace is a nice spot to relax after a hard afternoon of looking at JCCAC art.
Shop 5, 1/F, Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre, 30 Pak Tin Street, Shek Kip Mei, tel +852 2408 8255
Kwun Tong’s artists and office workers finally have an espresso alternative to Starbucks and McCafé. Felix Wong, the man behind Coffee Assembly and Café Corridor, opened this slick coffee shop in the lobby of One Landmark East last year. The HK$14 ristretto we had was superb: smooth, bittersweet and understated, with only a slightly acidic finish. The HK$24 latte was poured beautifully, with excellent latte art, but the coffee blend used was slightly too passive and didn’t quite stand up to the milk. The building’s bright, minimalist lobby is a great place to linger, so it’s a shame there are only two tables.
G/F, One Landmark East, 100 How Ming Street, Kwun Tong, tel +852 2950 0130
Coming as a bit of a surprise on Staunton Street — better known for bars and trendy restaurants than for good coffee — Forest Bird is a fashion boutique-cum-café with a small espresso bar in the front and a cute glass-walled balcony in the back. We stopped in just two weeks after it opened and had an exceptionally well-made HK$36 cappuccino. The barista is a chatty Italian guy who moved to Hong Kong just a few months ago. His coffee-making technique leans, as you would expect, towards the more traditionally Italian, with light foam and a mild blend of coffee from Australia’s renowned Single Origin Roasters. The coffee here is excellent, but we can only hope it continues to live up to its rather steep price.
39 Staunton Street, Soho, Central, tel +852 2810 1166
Oscar’s has quite a few good things going for it: a chilled-out space next to the bustle of Wellington Street, a well-trained and skillful barista and coffee supplied by respected Sydney roaster Pablo & Rusty. Unfortunately, the espresso’s quality is inconsistent, possibly because the freshness of the beans is variable and the espresso machine isn’t rigorously calibrated. That said, despite the sometimes overly bitter and acidic espresso, the HK$30 cappuccino we had most recently was well proportioned and splendidly prepared. With a few teaks and a bit more attention paid to the beans, Oscar’s has the potential to be the best coffee shop in Central.
85 Wellington Street, Central, tel +852 3486 4986
Cook Light is as committed to good coffee as it is to vegetarian food — and considering its slogan is “Go veggie,” that’s a very good thing. The coffee blend used here is smooth and creamy in taste, which makes it a perfect accompaniment to milk, which is served at the right temperature and very well frothed. The quality espresso is a bit variable, though we’ve heard that things are improving as the café settles in. The only big problem is that the place is so small, there’s nowhere to sip a coffee once the Quarry Bay office hordes descend. Luckily, a takeaway latte or cappuccino is only HK$19.
3 Hoi Chak Street, Quarry Bay, tel +852 2590 8689