Top coffee spots: Causeway Bay and Wan Chai
Here’s proof that there’s more ways to get your kicks in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai than window shopping and bar hopping
The entrance to this little café – a narrow space tucked away opposite Times Square – is easy to miss, which is why you know its survival is down to word of mouth. However, the biggest talking point is probably its owner, coffee celebrity Felix Wong (see profile on pXX). The man truly loves his beans, overseeing every stage of the coffee-making process, from picking the beans used in the house blend, to the roasting in Kowloon, to making the drinks. He specifically recruits staff with no previous training, so that they learn the ‘Felix’ way of making coffee.
The coffee base used in drinks is Fuoco, a dark roast blend of five beans – complex and rich, full bodied with a strong aroma and nuances of chocolate. A single origin alternative, which changes weekly, is also served. And if that isn’t enough, they host regular workshops where you can roast your own blend to take home. More unusual creations are also on offer, such as a Latte Machiatto (a weaker-tasting latte made by pouring the milk before the espresso). An additional charge applies for sitting in, but it’s usually worth it for the laid-back ambiance, eclectic art on the walls, and free WiFi. There’s even a secret outdoor terrace for smokers (shh, we never told you). Open from noon till 11pm (midnight on weekends), it’s the ideal sanctuary after a long day for shoppers, residents and businesspeople alike. 26A Russell St, Causeway Bay, 2892 2927, www.cafecorridor.com.
Manager’s special: The affogato, espresso with a scoop of ice cream. $35 ($30 for takeaway).
Zambra was conceived when two New Zealand brothers came to Hong Kong in the 1990s and couldn’t find quality coffee. With warm ochre walls, free Wi-fi access and inviting sofas, Zambra feels like an extension of your living room. The coffee, however, is certainly not a home brew, unless you have a $110,000 La Marzocco espresso machine and barista El Au in your kitchen. Zambra’s signature blend, freshly roasted in a warehouse in Aberdeen, boasts an exceptionally well-balanced taste with a strong body, thick crema and a subtle kick of acidity in the aftertaste. The secret recipe draws in a loyal stream of Italians, suits from nearby offices, and Air New Zealand cabin crew. Au, Zambra’s head barista and latte artist extraordinaire (see our cover for proof), favours the ristretto ($16), a stronger, purer relative of the espresso. Aussies can get a hit of home with their flat white, which is like a latte but has less foam, less milk and less strength and is served in a cup not a glass. To experience Au’s superior shot-pulling skills, go after noon on a weekday. The café also offers an extensive list of single-origin speciality coffees, including Jamaican Blue Mountain ($55 for a medium-sized plunger). Off the menu but available to aficionados who know to ask is the French press ($45) and Kopi Luwak coffee (the most expensive in the world; $155 per plunger). Enjoy them with some delectable pastries and snacks – the sausage rolls ($25) and banoffee pie ($25) are highly recommended – which are all baked on site. 239A Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, 2598 1322; www.zambra.net.
Manager’s special: Nairobi, Kenya (grade AA) – a medium roast with strong body and high acidity, laced with fruity, citric notes. $40.
Epoch Coffee Bar and Desserterie
Cappuccino-crazed Maggie Ching and macchiato-mad Dinesh Choithramani had a vision – a café that would offer quality coffee and desserts. In 2006, the contemporary and chic Epoch was born. Making the experience more holistic are art displays (exhibitions rotate quarterly) and music (listening stations offer jazz, house and chill-out tunes). Choithramani only drinks coffee by renowned Italian brand Illy, so the choice for their house blend was easy. Illy’s balanced and full-bodied taste is used for every coffee creation, from the minimalist espresso to elaborate coffee cocktails. Epoch stays open till midnight on weekends, ideal for those nights when you want to deviate from the usual bar scene. 12-14 Wing Fung St, Wan Chai, 3525 1570; www.epochdesserts.com.
Manager’s special: The Paolina – a delectable coffee cocktail made with Valrhona chocolate, vodka, Frangelico and, of course, Illy coffee. $65.
The baristas at Caffe Habitu know what they’re doing. As they should – all of them have been trained by the 2003 World Barista Champion to master La Marzocco, the sophisticated Italian coffee machine described as “a BMW in the coffee-drinking world” by the café’s operations manager Prim Kong. The team takes pride in making the perfect shot of espresso and being masters of latte art, in a setting that includes comfy sofas, abstract paintings and chill-out music. The café’s premium beans are roasted in the Veneto region of Italy, producing superb aromas with hazelnut-coloured clouds of froth. To complement its coffee, lush homemade dessert Di’ Rose is Habitu’s culinary weapon – rose and white chocolate cheesecake with a freshly baked crispy rose petal on top. Irresistible. G/F, 33 Leighton Rd, Causeway Bay, 2574 3111; www.caffehabitu.com.
Manager’s special: The espresso macchiato. Take a shot of espresso topped with a dollop of silky smooth milk foam. It has remarkable rounded aromas and a beguiling sweet aftertaste. Solo: $16, Doppio: $22.
UCC Vienna Café IV
This Vienna-style, Japanese-owned ‘laboratory’ welcomes you with mood lighting and art nouveau décor but the bar resembles a science lab, with two glass vessels stacked above a bright red halogen lamp. Water boils upwards then strong dark coffee slithers down through a filter. According to the chain’s operation manager, Cathy Tang, siphon brewing strips the bean nude, meaning there’s no place for shoddy ones to hide. There’s not much in the way of fancy concoctions on this menu; it’s all about a cup of quality siphoned coffee with richness, smoothness and extremely low acidity. With ten shops established in 24 years, UCC’s vacuum-based method continues to convert those who insist espresso is the king of coffee brewing. 4/F, Sogo, 545 Hennessy Rd, Causeway Bay, 2891 0343.
Manager’s special: The sumiyaki has an unforgettable smoky flavour. A mixture of different beans roasted until they’re charcoal in colour, it extracts the richest tastes to their fullest. You’ll love the sumiyaki, not just for its smoothness and superbly strong aromas but also for its glossy appearance, which comes from the bean’s internal oils that are released during siphon brewing. $41.
Xen’s humble basement digs aren’t much to look at. Your attention is instead diverted to the siphon-brewing process going on at the counter, a mesmerising four-minute show. The owner-operator, Dixon Ip, lovingly runs this eco-friendly coffee haven for local workers and residents. He prefers the siphon method for bringing out the different flavours of the bean; hence five out of the seven roasts on the menu are of single origin. Strangely for a café, we smelt no coffee aroma – the physics behind siphoning ensures everything from the bean is contained within the drink. By concentrating exclusively on the perfect cup of brewed coffee, Xen has succeeded in giving customers exactly that. Shop K12, Manly Plaza, 997 King’s Rd, Quarry Bay, 2960 1388; www.xencoffee.com.
Manager’s special: Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia (organic and fair-trade) is a medium roast with a long-lasting taste and a sweet and floral aroma with hints of muscatel. $26.
The decaf debate