DRINK: Rabbithole Coffee & Roasters
Just a little over two years ago, I was writing a major piece on coffee that was a result of London’s growing – nay, exploding – caffeine scene. Necking 50-plus espressos and coffees in one week may have culminated in me pale and glassy-eyed in bed at the end of it all, with the painful realisation that a caffeine hangover does exist, but it also resulted in the revelation that the city had come a long way in terms of providing the perfect cup.
It’s astounding just how amazing the coffee culture is now in London, all within the span of 2-3 years, and I’m pleased to have seen it grow and grow (and do my little part to promote it) to the point where a new place seems to be opening every week. Of course, the challenge is now not also about sustaining the quality (though me-too, bandwagon-hopping cafés soon die out), but breaking new boundaries. While I’m not sure what direction London’s coffee culture might take in the coming years, I know that more and more good coffee is only going to be a good thing.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is a slightly different story; I feel like it’s still several years behind (as it is with most things, but I digress). But I sense something similar happening here, with a slow but quiet growth of a community that is passionate about coffee, and about educating the public about it. With the restrictions that come with high rents and limited space, the growth of great coffee places has been at a trickle rather than a flood like in London, but at least we’re not condemned to the likes of Starbucks, PCC (the ‘perfect cup’, my arse) and Habitu (though I admit a soft spot for their rose lattes).
Right before returning to Hong Kong at the end of January, the lovely Hoi Chi of Coming Soon Coffee tipped me off about Rabbithole Coffee & Roasters, who had just opened in Central. Always looking for an interesting new opening – all the better if it has anything to do with coffee – I was down there two days after landing.
They roast their own beans in an off-site roastery, making them one of the few places who do so in Hong Kong. The other famous roastery here is Coffee Assembly, but others are less well-known, or are as big.
The location is impressive. Rabbithole is on the second floor of a building on Cochrane Street, looking out onto the Mid-Levels escalator. This is possibly one of the best advertising strategies a small café up above the ground can have, as naturally the sight of shiny espresso machines and people chilling on the (tiny) balcony is bound to attract floating passersby.
Even better when the folding doors are completely pushed back. It was a ‘cold’ day in HK, I guess.
Much like Faye Wong in Chungking Express, I now always use the escalator as an opportunity to steal a glimpse into Rabbithole as I pass by, mainly to gauge how busy it is. And lately, it’s always hopping. (SORRY!) There’s room for quite a few people, especially with the outdoor terrace at the back (a little oasis in the middle of Central), but with only one central table for about 8-10, expect to say hi to your fellow coffee-loving neighbours if you draw up a perch.
(As a side note, why hasn’t anyone done a ‘Shit Coffee Geeks Say’ video?)
I felt welcomed at Rabbithole from the first visit. Some coffee shops can feel a little intimidating – where cooler-than-thou baristas can make you feel invisible until they deign to acknowledge your presence, or if the menu is a bit too esoteric. There’s zero snobbiness here – in fact, on first impressions the staff seemed almost a bit intimidated by the customers. Fair enough, it was their first week and there was no room to hide any mistakes in the coffee-brewing processes.
Bad-ass barista Mike Fung. Intense concentration.
Over the past two months I’ve dropped in and out several times, but right from my very first visit I was really taken by Mike Fung, the owner, a former media man and utter coffee obsessive who travelled to Melbourne to go under the tutelage of various baristas. An easy-going guy who can strike up a conversation with anyone – on my first visit with a coffee-sceptic friend, he just sidled up next to us and started chattering away. My friend now drinks coffee and recommends Rabbithole to anyone who asks about a great place to chill in Central.
Special thanks to Alice, who not only is my hand model here, but in a moment of inspiration perched my Yirgacheffe ice drip atop this light source for an intriguing shot!
I’ve only scratched the surface at Rabbithole, but I’ve never come away disappointed. From the refreshing Ethiopian Red Cherry pourover on my first visit to the flat whites, piccolos and ice drips in between, I’ve discovered that this is a place where I’m actually really discovering more and more as I drink. Instead of always falling back on my preferred flat white (I will always feel like a sham coffee drinker for preferring milky coffees most of the time to brewed specimens), the customer/staff interaction encouraged by the shop layout means I often ask what’s good or interesting that day. In the warm humidity of the Fragrant Harbour (which is only going to get worse, oh god), I’m becoming really partial to their thirst-quenching ice drip coffees…
When I first came back to Hong Kong, I was feeling incredibly homesick for London. In my earliest conversation with Mike we joked around about his coffee bar being at least one reason to stay in the city, to be happy that I was here and not back in the UK. It became a kind of running joke over my next few visits, ending each one of them with a laugh, but you know what?There grew a truth in it. It’s places like these, where you can feel comfortable; where you can indulge in a relaxing ritual and be treated like an old friend, that make the transition from one life to another much more bearable. Cheers, guys.
For the rest of you coffee geeks, get down here quick if you know what’s good for ya.