Hong Kong Coffee Culture

IMG_0180I like coffee.  In fact, I like coffee much more than tea.  This preference was easy to indulge when I lived in Seattle, where getting a cup of coffee is not a difficult task.  It became much more difficult in England, where quite often what is passed off as coffee is actually some sort of instant coffee drink with lots of milk and sugar (to my mind instant coffee is not really coffee).  I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to Hong Kong.  I worried that the cultural residue of being a British colony, combined with the modern relationship with China would mean that in Hong Kong a good cup of coffee would be hard to find.  Tea?  Easy.  Coffee, well what to expect?

To my delight not only is there a landscape heavily populated with Starbucks and the local chain, Pacific Coffee, there is a small, but significant epicurean coffee culture in Hong Kong.  Perhaps this is not as shocking as one might initially think. Not only does the city have significant numbers of those from places where coffee is relished and who have introduced their coffee loving food cultures to Hong Kong, but also there are large numbers of young Hong Kongers have also lived in these places at some point.  Thus, I would hazard it is the combination of migration both in and out that has produced a cosmopolitan and epicurean coffee culture.  There is also the fact that Hong Kong is a port, so it is not just the movements of people, but also the movements of coffee from Indonesia and South Korea that have aided in the production of a coffee culture.

Today, one can buy a really good coffee in most parts of the city. My friend, Janice, has a nice list on her blog: e_ting (there is also an app, called beanhunter, that will tell you where the nearest coffee shop is to wherever you are and provide reviews. The app lists several places in Hong Kong).  But, apparently this was not always the case. Indeed, there is some indication of a sordid, coffeeless past in Hong Kong that is revealed in the availability of a drink that consists of coffee and very sweet milk tea called Yuangyang–like ying and yang (there is a similar drink in Indonesia called Kopi Cham).   It is said to be a popular drink, but I cannot really understand why.


Owner roasting coffee at Knockbox.

Initially, the best coffee places were located near the Mid-levels, with a few outposts in places like Sai Kung and Stanley.  But as e_ting illustrates with her list, there are only a few neighborhoods today where it is difficult to find a good cuppa, notably those parts of the city where low income, a very local Cantonese tradition, and distance from Central intersect.

More recently, some of the coffee houses that started business near or in the midlevels have subsequently moved to other parts of the city.  This includes one of my favorite coffee houses, Knockbox, which used to be on the island, but is now located in Mong Kok, where rents are cheaper, but there is still proximity to customer base who are interested to learn about new coffee beans and new ways of brewing (you can read more about them on their website).  One of the lovely things about this small coffee house is that there are always plenty of staff working and they will take the time to explain to you the process and answer any questions that you may have.  It is a relaxed and engaged sort of place, as opposed to some of the other coffee houses that seem to conflate coffee knowledge with disdainful snootiness. IMG_1134

One of the things about Hong Kong seems to be that food and consumption cultures that catch on here then seem to spread into the mainland (though I know the diffusion of food innovation travels through other routes into China as well).  A taste for good coffee is developing in China, and this taste is primarily being served by large companies such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee (see this blog on Coffee for more info).  The fact that Hong Kong has begun to develop a strong independent coffee culture foreshadows the possibilities for the mainland in places beyond Beijing and Shanghai.  Indeed, one might hazard that in Guangdong, the potential for the development of coffee houses coupled with the importation of coffee from Africa could be one aspect of a counter flow to the out-circulation of electrical goods and clothing (discussed here), which would in turn contribute to a further strengthening of interconnections between the two continents.

GeoFoodieOther coffee houses I like in Hong Kong include:

This post is part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.  The theme this week is foreshadow. You can find the challenge here.