Hong Kong’s coffee scene was a welcome surprise. While the third wave coffee having swept most cities of note around the globe — especially any with a strong food scene — it is not always the case that these coffee renaissances are anywhere near as strong as what has been a decades-long staple of (and has in fact come from) the US’ West Coast, where I’ve spent much of my life.
So it made me all the happier to find a unique, thriving scene in HK, one that I found even surpassed Tokyo, where I headed next — and there is little I’d say surpasses Tokyo on numerous fronts. While Tokyo’s third wave coffee houses were equally hip if not even more meticulous (in true Japanese fashion), there are instances where the Japanese palate seems to veer towards softer, toned down flavors (as with the general preference towards soda with whisky, often over drinking it neat). And that translates to coffee. Even in some of the most hardcore of Tokyo coffee havens, I often found espressos, macchiatos and cappuccinos — though with perfect foam or crema — were often a bit soft or restrained.
Not so in Hong Kong. Here I relished robust renditions of all the classic Italian classics, cold brew coffee and Australia’s ubiquitous flat white. I also got hooked on iced cappuccinos, which, in other instances are a watered down insult to the classic espresso drink. But with HK’s sometimes oppressive heat and smog, you can’t help but crave an iced coffee, even first thing in the morning (though beware: many of these coffee havens open far too late, closer to lunch (!?), making a coffee geek’s hunt for a morning pick-me-up often utterly discouraging)
In the Wan Chai district, The Coffee Academics (there are three other locations) charmed with its hipster bar, siphons and welcoming vibe. Nearby, Rabbithole Coffee & Roaster also roasts its own beans in a hip, intimate space. Notably, Rabbithole serves cold brew in cocktail-esque style over one, massive, hand-carved ice sphere in a tilted glass (pictured top). I love the melding of cocktail and coffee worlds here and the care that went into this cold brew presentation. The glass tilted, sitting jauntily on its side in between sips of a bracing brew.
It took a good while to find Lof10 up the steep hills of Sheung Wan but it was worth it. I was tickled to find SF’s own Blue Bottle coffee served in here in an austere, white-walled room with impeccable sound system, rustic communal table and high end design books and magazines to thumb through over coffee. I won’t forget the gaudy looking movie cast being filmed just outside the café, taking over the alley with cameras and gear.
A few other worthwhile, third wave coffee stops?
– Across Kowloon Bay in Tsim Sha Tsui, N1 Coffee is a funky, quirky shop staffed by award-winning baristas, a quiet respite and coffee haven from the bustling streets outside.
– The Sheung Wan location of Elephant Grounds inside a shop, serving an interesting smoke milk affogato, heavy on the smoke.
– Brew Bros. is a charming little Sheung Wan shop where hip baristas brew beans from around the world, including the likes of Intelligentsia from the US.