Gem and I had made it through Kuala Lumpur’s LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) on nothing more than airline food and nervous energy. She’d been awake the entire time; I’d napped in a cramped half-daze.
Man, I could murder a coffee.
Unfortunately, I was in Hong Kong. Venturing out in to the city for my first coffee I came to a horrible realisation — apparently the only thing Hong Kong denizens like more than shopping and eating is Starbucks. I’m fairly sure south-east Asia single-handedly saved Starbucks from bankruptcy by ingesting their caffeinated swill. You get the picture — it was dire.
I kept an eye out for somewhere better, but came up with nothing. Aside from Starbucks you have Pacific Coffee — a similarly vile beverage dispensary. Forlorn, but not defeated, I contacted former Melbourne coffee heart-throb, @alexlobov. Prior to our arrival, Alex had alluded to some coffee oases in the otherwise stark coffee landscape that is Hong Kong.
Armed with information and Google maps to guide me (courtesy of my Jesus phone), I headed to Fuel Espresso deep within the bowels of the International Finance Centre. You’d be forgiven for walking past Fuel’s pedestrian exterior — more Gloria Jean’s than Seven Seeds; not a funky interior or cool barista in sight — which is unsurprising given its pecuniary surrounds.
I assume it was America’s proclivity to bastardise food that made the thought of an ‘Americano’ (a long black) off-putting in a supersized kind of way. However, if you can get past the name, you will be presented with a good rendition of a long black. Failing that, all of the usual coffee suspects are represented (with their usual names).
The staff are friendly, the coffee is good (using a Italian house blend that is roasted in NZ). As this store spawned from a successful New Zealand franchise, Fuel Espresso the HK edition is well worth visiting for your caffeine IV.
However, my caffeine addiction was rampant and all-consuming (oh how droll!) so one place was never going to satisfy. Acting on another recommendation from Alex, I journeyed to my next cafe, hoping to appease my caffeine lust.
The beauty of Hong Kong for me is the fat-bastard-enabling public transport. I can gorge myself in Kowloon, then hop on a train and be across the water on Island stuffing my face within minutes. Said enabling transport allowed me to slip from Kowloon to Sheung Wan for my morning coffee(s) at Barista Jam. Barista Jam would not feel out of place amongst the emaciated and skinny denimed set of Melbourne’s coffee scene. Just like Melbourne you can expect some excellent nosh to go with your coffee — I can attest to the deliciousness of their sandwiches, seeking out their club sandwiches like a pig to truffles. Light fluffy ‘Turkish’ bread with tasty fillings left me wanting more and on revisiting with Gem, they were reordered.
But let’s not get distracted — the coffee!
My first coffee was a double ristretto. It was just right with a great acidic bite without being overpowering. I then moved on to one of the single origins (the exact name escapes me) as a long black (Americano) and finished my decadent spree with a latte of the house blend. All were excellent, and with Barista Jam offering a good rotations of singles and blends you shouldn’t go thirsty.
Upon ordering the double ristretto I received an approving nod from barista — you know, one of those ‘in the know’ things. While I consider myself inexperienced with regards to coffee, I have developed sufficiently to recognise a passable coffee and good interpretation of its style. I think in an odd way the barista appreciated my appreciation, did we have some sort of metaappreciation thing happening? Everybody appreciates sympathy within their day-to-day grind (apologies for the terrible pun), and I think this is especially true of the often under-appreciated hospitality worker. While the people of Hong Kong are amazingly savvy consumers — especially with their food — they are still developing an appreciation of good coffee (as ‘evidenced’ by the 50 Starbucks on the Island alone) and especially of good beer (but more on that in a future post).
However, fear not, weary traveler – good coffee can be found everywhere, if you are prepared to seek it out.