It all began when Jeffi Lam discovered sweets. Specifically, the brightly patterned hard-boiled sugar confectionery known as rock candy.
He followed his newfound passion to Europe, where he mastered the art of handcrafted sweets. Back in Hong Kong, he teamed up with event planner Manie Li and the pair launched Hey Candy in 2013, an artisanal sweetmaking workshop in Tsuen Wan.
‘Our goal was to find the best sugar-to-acid ratio and to optimise environmental factors, such as humidity and temperature, that would affect the taste,’ says Li.
‘It was a painstaking process.’
But getting the right taste was just one small step in the process – the biggest challenge lay in creating the intricate Chinese characters etched down the middle of the centimetre-wide sweets, built up layer by layer rather than painted on the surface. These phrases range from the traditional ‘double happiness’ (囍) to local sayings like ‘goddess’ or ‘dream girl’ (女神).
In contrast to mass-production methods, Hey Candy does everything manually. It takes at least three hours and six separate steps to produce a tray of 3,000 handcrafted candies. And while folding in simple patterns is tricky enough, crafting Chinese characters ratchets up the difficulty considerably. ‘The more strokes the character contains, the bigger the chance of something going wrong,’ says Lam. ‘What’s worse, there might be a mistake that you don’t realise until it is too late.’ One tiny misstep, and the batch is a write-off.
But practice makes perfect, and the duo went from incorporating single characters like ‘luck’ (福) in the early days to longer phrases such as ‘fortune and prosperity’ (招財進寶) and Cantonese slang like ‘don’t mention it’ (講呢啲), and ‘bosom buddies’ (真心交).
‘There’s no magic in making the candy itself; what stands out is the creative idea,’ says Li, who spent 12 months honing her skills at creating characters.
Hey Candy has tapped into a uniquely Hong Kong vibe, combining a predilection for snacks, slang and novelty into a single bite-sized package. Refined flavours, coupled with witty wordings, have sent Hey Candy’s sales rocketing in the Hong Kong market and launched new business opportunities with corporates and bridal parties alike. In 2018, Hey Candy opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in Mong Kok. Next up: new flavours, such as pear and milk tea.
Lam and Li joke that the artisan candy business has succeeded more at giving them aching backs and shoulders than plump bank accounts. But they’re proud of what they’ve achieved.
‘Japan turns out the most exquisite examples in Asia, with delicate designs like Akita dogs which we have tried to make too. But we can justly claim the Chinese characters as our own,’ says Li. ‘This is our niche, which has everything to do with the spirit of Hong Kong.’