Hong Kong Coffee
Once upon a time in Asia, choices for coffee were pretty limited. Hotels, with their generally exorbitant prices, or, gulp, Starbucks and its various clones were the only options. Of course, coffee has been a part of the local culture in a host of Asian countries for a very long time but the way it’s presented may not exactly win a lot of new fans from those who espouse the glories of Italian-style. As Greedy Girl’s friend Pucci Girl explained, the ubiquitous local coffee in Thailand would best be described as ‘a warm beverage’.
While Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband found a lot of great coffee in Bangkok (read that blog here) and Singapore has also recently lifted its game dramatically, good Hong Kong coffee (outside of a five-star dining experience) had proved elusive. No more. On a recent visit to this extraordinary city, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband enjoyed the use of a free local mobile (cell) phone while staying at the quirky J Plus Hotel by Yoo in Causeway Bay. One of the pre-programmed guides on the phone was for some local coffee houses, while sometime contributor to this blog, Madame Lapine, suggested another venue, courtesy of Hong Kong-based friends.
And these venues were, by no means, expat hangouts. Indeed, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were the only non-Chinese patrons at each venue on the various occasions we visited.
Getting around in HK is pretty easy. Taxis are cheap and plentiful, although be prepared for the driver to have limited English skills. If you’re not heading to the airport (and why you’d go by taxi in Hong Kong anyway, but that’s another story) you’d definitely be advised to have your destination written for you in characters, if you don’t have any proficiency with Cantonese. Generally we prefer to use the excellent MTR system but be warned – it can be very, very crowded. There’s also the issue of working out which way to turn once you’ve located the right exit from the huge stations.
Our first foray was to Wan Chai and Swatow Street, to the Cupping Room. This apparently is a small chain of coffee shops, originally established in Stanley. Try as we might, we couldn’t get our bearings on leaving the Wan Chai MTR. Asking some local girls proved problematic – they couldn’t work out how to describe where we should walk in English and we’d left the hotel phone at the hotel, so no ability to look up on Google maps. Once we located it though, it was a grungy little street, pretty typical of Hong Kong. It had already started to rain so we were relieved to be indoors, with the air-conditioning coating the cafe’s huge front windows in condensation.
Generally this style of coffee house is pretty small – we took one of a the few stools up at the bar and there were about six tables downstairs, with some more seating upstairs. There’s an exhaustive coffee menu in terms of styles and flavours but we opted for our standard double espressos with some steamed milk on the side. Again, things were getting a bit lost in translation. The first milk provided was cold and we asked for it to be warmed. Sorted. The espresso was very rounded and full with just a hint of bitterness. Greedy Girl needed more milk than gluttonous husband, who just takes a little of the foam. A good start!
While we were in the neighbourhood, and given the rain continued, we decided to walk further down Swatow Street to Mansons Lot. It was late morning and the place was already filling up with early lunchers. Having said that, it didn’t take too many patrons to make this tiny cafe feel full. A small kitchen/bar operated from a corner of the room and seating was crowded in around it, in an L-shape.
Greedy Girl chose a hot chocolate, while gluttonous husband took another double espresso. The hot chocolate was powerful stuff – good, dark chocolate was used as the base and the result was almost syrupy. Gluttonous husband enjoyed the robustness of his espresso, commenting he thought it slightly better than the Cupping Room. Given it was close to lunch, we decided to check out a slice of toasted banana bread and pronounced it scrumptious. The food going out to other diners here also looked very good. One to remember!
With only a short stay in Hong Kong, we decided our next coffee should be closer to the hotel, and headed for Cafe Corridor. This was a recommendation from Madame Lapine’s foodie friends. As we were walking past the gigantic Times Square shopping centre in Causeway Bay, Greedy Girl glimped a long corridor, slightly the worse for wear. A bit bohemian-looking, if you will. This proved to be the entrance to the cafe.
We came here regularly during our stay, being walking distance from the hotel. The coffee (Greedy Girl tried a double espresso, as pictured at the top of this post, as well as a piccolo) was prepared with care and the flavours were round and bold. Apparently the business is owned by a former ‘latte art’ champion, Felix Wong. We sat up at the small counter in front of the open kitchen/bar area on one visit and propped at a table other times. The cafe itself is very small and perching at a table isn’t a particularly comfortable option for long-limbed individuals but there’s a good atmosphere and it’s a haven from the chaos next to the shopping centre outside.
Hong Kong coffee has clearly come a long way. Good machines, good beans and trained baristas are making all the difference. It’s not particularly cheap to drink good coffee in this city but, then again, it’s not inexpensive to sit down anywhere for decent coffee any more.
Coffee in Kowloon
Staying on the other side of Victoria Harbour gave us the opportunity to try coffee
32 Swatow Street, Wan Chai
15 Swatow Street, Wan Chai
26A Russell St., Causeway Bay