This month we chat to JJ, Head Barista at our Gough St store, about how Hong Kong’s coffee scene has changed over the past 10 years.
Why did you decide to make coffee your life?
When I studied photography and culinary at school, I was looking for part-time jobs to practice what I learned. A friend of mine sent a barista job posting my way and I thought it was interesting, and that’s how I started learning about coffee. The longer I worked there the more I was intrigued by barista skills and coffee knowledge. I still love the challenging and ever-learning nature of the job and I enjoy making coffee everyday.
How do you train your baristas in the NOC-method?
When I was first learning to make coffee, I was lucky enough to be trained by really helpful and generous baristas. That’s what makes me want to pass on the same knowledge and training to my team.
There is still so much to learn, and I try to keep up by reading books, reading online and watching YouTube videos. When new members join our team, I start training by explaining basic coffee knowledge, including the brewing methods we use in store, the taste profile of our blends, why we do what we do and more. I also take time to observe what they do, so that I can let them know how and where they can improve.
How do HK locals like their coffee? Nutty or fruity?
When we explain our two espresso blends to local customers, a lot of them respond by asking us which one is ‘less sour’, and telling us they don’t prefer ‘sour coffee’. We will then recommend #18, our nuttier espresso blend. I think they prefer stronger, nuttier coffee because they feel like they get a ‘caffeine jolt’ from it. In the long run, I hope to introduce customers to coffee types other than their regular dark-roasted, strong coffee. I also hope that they can appreciate the tasting notes of a fruity coffee, and know that fruity coffees are more than just ‘sourness’.
What’s your favourite brewing method?
My favourite brewing method is espresso. I love the espresso machine, and how all its different components come together to produce the pour. The physics of the machine means endless possibilities and versatility in espresso shots. You can pair an espresso shot with water or milk, and you will end up with two delicious drinks that highlight different flavours of the espresso blend. I also enjoy learning to make latte art, and serving a cup of coffee that is pleasing to the palate and the eye.
How has HK’s coffee scene changed in the past 10 years?
From my observation, the coffee industry in HK has definitely seen some big changes in the past decade. The general public learned about coffee through international and local coffee chains around ten years ago. At that time, dark-roasted, strong espresso drinks dominated the market, and a lot of people enjoyed their coffee with sugar, syrups and more. Now that third-wave coffee is present in the Hong Kong market, I can see that customers are more aware of where their coffee is from, how it was processed, the different brewing methods and more. They now have more understanding of what coffee is really about, and have learned to enjoy the tasting notes of a coffee without distracting themselves with sugar and syrups.
How do you take your coffee?
As a barista, I try as many types of coffee as I can but I definitely enjoy black [coffee] and pour-overs. I enjoy tasting the different notes in its most original state. I know I’ve just mentioned that milk can highlight other tasting notes of a coffee but I am a little bit lactose intolerant, so I reduce my milk intake and go for a piccolo when I want to try an espresso blend with milk.
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