There was a time when getting a cutting-edge coffee in Hong Kong involved a machine coughing out foamed milk to make a vague imitation of a cappuccino, or a visit to a real-deal Italian restaurant just to get a half-decent espresso.
But a serious coffee scene has been brewing lately. You can barely move for cooler-than-cool purveyors, roasters and crafters of single-origin beans, with some Hong Kong cafes looking more like science labs than somewhere to grab a cup of Joe.
One of many benefits of this new wave of coffee houses has been to help halt the seemingly insatiable rise of huge chains, allowing a crop of dedicated and highly skilled baristas to craft beautiful beverages for office workers, laptop-wielding freelancers, friends and travellers in need of a pick-me-up (and maybe free Wi-Fi).
Whether you’re an aero-press, pour-over, nitro or simple brew aficionado, you can find your top drink in one of these indie coffee shops around town.
Since launching in 2013, Elephant Grounds has become one of the city’s most notable independent coffee roasters with seven outlets from Sha Tin to Wan Chai (and at the new K11 Musea on the revamped Tsim Sha Tsui promenade) and three overseas. It stresses its sustainable practices, sourcing beans from small farms around the world which are then roasted in-house in a vintage Probat roaster before finally ending up in your single origin, iced filter or flat white coffee. A strong food menu also makes Elephant Grounds a go-to for more than just a caffeine fix, while a brew bar in a couple of locations allows connoisseurs to sample a variety of beans.
Signature creation: French vanilla using a homemade base of cream, maple syrup and vanilla seeds. Don’t miss the ice cream sandwiches, especially good if you’re in the al fresco seats.
Shop 705, Level 7, K11 Musea, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui; +852 34682669
The Coffee Academics
Another rapidly growing local player, now with 22 spots around Asia, The Coffee Academics studio was founded in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay as a training and innovation space to cater to a community of coffee lovers who were unfulfilled by the caffeine options they faced. Founder and entrepreneur Jennifer Liu oversaw the subsequent launch of The Coffee Academics store and their mantra has remained the same ever since, namely to source the best beans, roast on site and pour some of the city’s finest brews. A pared-back, industrial-chic aesthetic is notable across its cafes, as are creations like the Okinawan, featuring dark brown sugar from the eponymous Japanese island.
Signature creation: The Coffee Academics’ agave latte is a firm favourite thanks to the strange but effective combo of raw Mexican agave nectar and black pepper. Not your everyday cuppa.
38 Yiu Wa Street, Causeway Bay; +852 2156 0313
There’s a slightly different feel at indie spot Winstons Coffee, which morphs from coffee by day to cocktails at night – including some of the city’s finest espresso martinis. Founded by three Brits and with branches in Kennedy Town and Sai Ying Pun, it’s become a real hang-out for coffee fans in the west of Hong Kong Island thanks to the friendly feel, funky design (look out for the cinema-style exteriors) and top-draw coffee. The La Marzocco coffee machine is where the magic happens, while a strong social media game keeps them frequently top of mind.
Signature creation: A slow grind negroni or espresso martinis such as the pun-tastic #cerealkiller made with Black Cow vodka, Mr Black cold brew coffee liqueur, cereal milk and fresh espresso.
Shop 4, G/F, Rich Court, 213 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun; + 852 2559 5078
% Arabica has spread its net far and wide, from the ‘Monster Mansion’ in Quarry Bay to K11 Musea on Victoria Dockside where a waterfront cube-shaped coffee kiosk opened in November 2019. The near-constant queues of customers have Japanese entrepreneur Kenneth Shoji to thank for his vision and aesthetic, which is based largely around white uniforms, counters and walls. Five coffee bean sacks at the IFC cafe illustrate the global provenance of the brews, including Shoji’s own plantation in Hawaii, while a globe motif nods to the fact that there are now more than 40 branches around the world, with more in the pipeline.
Signature creation: A Spanish latte, gently sweet and creamy, crafted with condensed milk in the mix.
G/F, 28 Aberdeen Street, Central; +852 2326 4589
Another popular spot with several locations around Hong Kong, NOC is an acronym of ‘Not Only Coffee’ but owner Benny Leung jokes that it also stands for ‘No Other Choice’ – in other words, its mission is to become every coffee drinker’s fave. His young teams of baristas and chefs work in surroundings that are minimalist in palette and design, while NOC’s flagship, The Roastery in Sai Ying Pun, provides the raw materials for a range of drinks including the cold brew – ground coffee steeped in cold water for a day before being filtered and served over an ice ball. Perfect for a hot Hong Kong summer’s day.
Signature creation: A decidedly quirky Fizzpresso that combines espresso with passion fruit, lemon juice and tonic water.
Shop 4, G/F, Bohemian House, 321 Des Voeux Road West, Sai Ying Pun; +852 3611 5300
Coco Espresso was one of the first locally run independent coffee shops when it opened back in 2007 and 12 years on, they have six outlets and two KOKO coffee roasters. Founder Johnson Ko was taken aback by a drink made in his uncle’s coffee shop in North Sydney and quickly realised that Hong Kong was lacking the Australian approach to great coffee, so he sought to introduce the distinctly Antipodean feel in the SAR. Coco Espresso’s menu includes favourites like ice drip lattes and nitro, and vegemite toast to satisfy those southern hemisphere food cravings.
Signature creation: Doppio ristretto flat white – two ristretto espresso shots and steamed milk with almost no foam, promising a full and balanced taste with less bitterness.
G/F, 13-15 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan; +852 2542 2228
Finally, here’s a real indie Hong Kong cafe in the form of a one-off, unexpected spot hidden amid some of the world’s priciest commercial real estate. Causeway Bay is known for shopping but for a decent coffee, Hong Kong veteran Cafe Corridor has been supplying shoppers at Times Square for 18 years (its ceramic cups proudly state ‘a passage to the coffee world since 2001’). Cafe Corridor obviously didn’t spend a huge amount on branding because its hideaway sits, well, down a corridor of sorts. A refreshing sign welcomes you with ‘No Wi-Fi here, enjoy the coffee time!’ and there’s a small back terrace as well. The space is compact but what it may lack in interior design, it makes up for with a large menu of great coffee and good plates at decent prices, all with friendly service.
Signature creation: Try adding a crème brûlée or tiramisu flavour kick to your brew of choice, or a decadent iced lattegato made with ice cream.
G/F, 26A Russel Street, Causeway Bay; +852 2892 2927
Stanley, in the south of Hong Kong Island, was where small batch speciality coffee roastery Cupping Room started life, before moving up to Sheung Wan. Today they also have cafes in Wan Chai, Central – a compact two-floor space on Cochrane Street featuring light interiors with a Scandinavian feel – and Po Hing Fong, where a German Probat UG15 Retro machine from the 1950s roasts all the coffee. When it comes to coffee, Hong Kong favourite Cupping Room knows its stuff: the brand has won the Hong Kong National Barista Championship five times and also represented Hong Kong in the world championships.
Signature creation: Ethiopian Gesha Village 2019, Lot 80; which has notes of honeysuckle, peach, ginger and bergamot.
Shop 8, Silver Jubilee Mansion, 62-72 Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan; +852 3705 0208