5 Cafés For Serious Coffee Drinkers
1/5 Amber Coffee Brewery
Regulars at The Cupping Room will recognise that it's Dawn Chan behind the bar at Amber; the two-time Hong Kong Barista Champion had a few quiet months since departing the much-loved coffee shop, but recently opened his own café on an unexpected stretch of Des Voeux Road, Central. An understated coffee bar with minimal seating, it may not be a place to linger—but for serious coffee drinkers it has become an essential destination.
While single origin coffees are part and parcel of this impressive coffee bar, Chan does like to have a bit of fun with his offerings—having competed in various barista championships where competitors are required to create innovative ‘signature’ drinks, he will feature different ones each month. In May, he presented the Something Sweet consisting of coffee, ice cream and a canele; this June, he is featuring his 2014 creation on the menu, the ‘Amber’, which is coffee mixed with pineapple juice, beer hops and earl grey tea.
An added bonus: Amber also serves wine, and stays opens until 9:30pm on weekdays (and until 6:00pm on weekends).
The beans: What sets Amber apart from many competitors is the fact that they do direct trading with the coffee farms to secure their ideal beans. Currently, among their selections are Kiamabara AA #161 from the Mugaga Farmers Cooperative Society in Kenya, regarded for their sweet, clean coffees; and Nkara from Dukunde Kawa Musasa, a fully washed Red Bourbon coffee from Rwanda. You can be sure to get a true coffee education by talking to Chan or any of his baristas.
The machine: The Black Eagle VA833 espresso machine at the shop is the one used in official World Barista Championship competitions.
Amber Coffee Brewery, G/F, Full View Building, No.142 Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong; +852 3106 0872
2/5 % Arabica
If you regularly make the Star Ferry commute, you would have spotted this freshly opened minimalist coffee stand in the Tsim Sha Tsui terminal, which specialises in dark-roasted coffee intended for drinking on the go. Arabica was established by Kenneth Shoji of Asiamix, who owns a coffee farm in Hawaii; the company started with its first store and roaster in Discovery Bay in 2013, and later on expanded into Kyoto in 2014 with a cafe that regularly appears in Japanese coffee guides (there are now 3 Arabicas in Kyoto alone). Currently, the website lists multiple branches in Kuwait City and United Arab Emirates, and there are plans to open in more than ten other international locations in 2017, leading many to speculate that Arabica may well be on their way to becoming the Asian answer to San Francisco's Blue Bottle Company. We have also learned that the team are set to open a new branch in IFC later this year. The light, zen design of all Arabica shops was conceived by Japanese designer Masaki Kato.
“Our coffee is simple and straightforward,” says Fanfan Yung, Arabica’s assistant manager. “We do not offer any syrup coffees or “creations”; we do basic coffee like espressos, Americanos and lattes and want to make them perfectly.” Coffee lovers take note that as the stand is designed to target those on-the-go, they do not offer drip options.
The beans: Arabica headquarters in Discovery Bay roasts all the store’s coffee beans. The components of their signature % Blend are, as Yung tells us, a company secret; they’re less protective of their line-up of single origin beans. Currently, they’re serving their own-roasted El Salvador beans which is described to have good sweetness and cherry-like acidity that works well in a milky drink such as a latte.
The machine: Currently Asiamix is the sole distributor of cult favourite machine Slayer Espresso in Japan, Hong Kong and Macau, and that’s what takes pride of place at this coffee counter.
% Arabica, Shop KP-41, Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong; +852 2885 1312
Editor's Note: NOC Gough Street has since closed, but they continue to expand with multiple branches around Hong Kong.
The acronym stands for “not only coffee”, but it’d be amiss to opt for anything else. Following the success of their Graham Street location, the team recently expanded to a two-level store on Gough Street with a beautiful design by Studio Adjective. Downstairs is ideal for casual tete-a-tetes, or chinwagging with the baristas, while upstairs with its communal table and counter seating overlooking the street is suited for both groups and solo drinkers. The team make both glorious drip coffees that are balanced in flavour as well as creamy flat whites that jolt the palate; their recommendation for the hot summer months however is their cold brew.
See also: What Is Nitro Cold Brew?
The beans: Currently the house blend features beans from Brazil and Colombia, and are roasted by NOC themselves. We’ve also visited when they have had interesting roasts from overseas coffee brands, such as the excellent Onibus from Tokyo—be sure to have a chat with staff to see what’s in right now.
The machine: A familiar sight, NOC uses the La Marzocco Strada AV for their espresso-based drinks.
NOC, 18 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2870 3031
Editor's note: Elixir has now moved from Causeway Bay to Sheung Wan's Mee Lun Street.
Tucked towards the back of Haven Street is an Instagrammer’s paradise in the form of Elixir, all white walls, blonde wood and marbled hexagon tiles; it’s a lifestyle destination featuring beautiful design goods and an excellent coffee programme. A small cabinet features pretty baked goods such as lemon friands and neatly cut slices of pound cake, and you’ll often find bags of guest beans from around the world lined up on the counter. As expected, the coffee ware is absolutely beautiful as well. If you’re looking for something more refreshing and lighter than an iced latte, the baristas recommend their signature tonic espresso—a fizzy hit of intense coffee served in a short glass.
The beans: The espresso blend is roasted by local company Urban Coffee Roasters, and is a blend of Colombia Supremo and Yirgacheffe Wenago G1. For hand drip, they’re using cult roaster Fuglen from Tokyo—there are often 2-3 varieties available to choose from, and we've also seen selections from Blue Bottle Coffee on occasion.
The machine: The team use a trusty La Marzocco GB5, an elegant machine that was named for Giovanna Bambi, Piero Bambi’s wife (Pierro is the son of La Marzocco’s founder, Giuseppe).
Elixir, G/F, 25 Haven Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; +852 6083 0915
5/5 Polygon Cafe
This cosy cafe in Sai Ying Pun has quickly become the hottest neighbourhood hangout, thanks to its leafy terrace and professional coffee service. Owner Yuri Ezhkov describes the place as an extension of home for more people, where everyone can just come to hang out. “We already have regulars that we can set our watches to,” he says. It was here that I recently had one of the best flat whites I’ve had in a long time—with a thick layer of immensely silky microfoam with the most indiscernible bubbles and a powerful, yet balanced shot of espresso. Interestingly, Ezhkov is more of a tea person than a coffee man—so if coffee isn’t your thing, you’ll be glad to know that the store maintains very precise water temperatures for brewing their teas.
The beans: Polygon is currently the exclusive importer of Intelligentsia Coffee in Hong Kong, receiving regular deliveries of beans every 10 days to 2 weeks, depending on stock levels. Black Cat Classic Espresso is the original roast that Intellegentsia began with, and is a frequently evolving blend. Seasonal single origin beans are also available for hand drip options, from regions such as Bolivia and Burundi. Soon, Polygon will be the first in Hong Kong to introduce Intelligentsia’s newest roast from Costa Rica’s Coopedota Cooperative—Flecha Roja Costa Rica, which is described as having flavours of tangerine, vanilla and pear.
The machine: Like Elixir, Polygon opts for a La Marzocco GB5—the one that Intelligentsia recommends for all of their beans.
Polygon Café, G/F, 14 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong; +852 2915 8878
Charmaine Mok is Tatler Asia's Editorial Director of Dining, and Tatler Hong Kong's resident coffee geek. She started writing about coffee in 2009 and has been described by leading roaster James Hoffman as being one of the first to report seriously on London's burgeoning third wave coffee scene. Follow her on @supercharz