Macau’s love of speciality coffee set to rival that of Hong Kong

It has taken just a handful of enthusiasts and a couple of years to change the habits of coffee drinkers in Macau.

Once they could find happiness in a cup brewed in a sock at a cha chaan teng, or in a Portuguese-style espresso. But today’s caffeine lovers show the same reverence for origin, processing and preparation as hip Hongkongers.

A city whose inhabitants once viewed coffee as fast and cheap – something which only existed to fill their daily caffeine fix – now has its fair share of speciality coffee bars.

“Baristas have evolved from their traditional role behind the scenes into the equivalent of mixologists. They demonstrate showmanship at speciality coffee bars,” says Keith Fong Chi-heng, a computer science graduate at the forefront of Macau’s new coffee movement.

Fong runs two speciality coffee places, Single Origin and Communal Table. A third project, in which he will be roasting on site, conducting workshops and running tastings, is in the planning stage.

Fong is also the founder of the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe in Macau, a place where local entrepreneurs train as baristas. Many have gone on to set up their own coffee bars.

Long-time Macau resident Jeremy Souders, an American, says: “Literally, four years ago, there was no coffee culture here. It’s emerged and erupted like a volcano.” Souders trained with Fong and took classes in Hong Kong, Vienna and London. He now also shares his knowledge at the Macau Coffee Meetup Group.

Fong’s knowledge of coffee comes from some extensive research in Europe. A 2010 trip took him through Stockholm and Vienna – both renowned for their coffee cultures – and Britain, which has seen an explosion in coffee-drinking to match its revolution in gastronomy. He returned to Macau intent on using this newfound knowledge.

Fong roasts his own beans and supplies single-origin beans to other speciality coffee places.

“We saw an opportunity here and brought the whole coffee training system over in 2010. That was the beginning of our coffee company. I was trained and certified in Europe and I wanted to bring this back to Macau because no one else was doing it,” says Fong.

We didn’t have a coffee culture here 20 years ago. People were not interested

Training is just the beginning of a long process that’s needed to get speciality coffee right. Speciality coffee emphasises bringing out the “true flavour of the beans themselves”, Fong says. So it’s crucial to have the right beans, along with expert roasters and brewers.

At Terra Coffee House, a speciality venue set up by Kenny Lok Hio-hei, coffee fan Gabriel Yung applauds the burgeoning caffeine scene.

“We didn’t have a coffee culture here 20 years ago. People were not interested in the source of their food or drinks, and certainly didn’t appreciate coffee. The culture has changed today. The focus is now on the bean, not the beverage itself, and speciality coffee is about the way it is prepared,” says Yung.

Domingos Cheong Yau-chong owns and runs Café Philo, which is tucked away behind the Macau Museum. His “slow coffee and espresso bar” opened in March 2014, adding a Taiwanese twist. Cheong was first introduced to Taiwanese coffee in Macau, then went to train in Taiwan.

Cheong started with a booth at food fairs, this prompted him to set up his own shop.

Fong Da is the only coffee spot taking the brew seriously in Taipa Village. This corner shop carries single-origin beans, and roasts them on site, although it doesn’t fall into the category of a speciality coffee bar.

“Fong Da is a singular animal,” says Souders. “It roasts its own beans, but it doesn’t roast them speciality coffee style, and not all its beans are speciality grade.

“They are darker roasts, more traditional, in the Taiwanese style. Speciality is about a roast that brings out the best in the beans. The older generation roasts are robust, and a lot of people prefer them. Also, the coffee is brewed the traditional Taiwanese way, using a siphon,” Souders adds.

Fong Da may not be a speciality roaster, but along with Macau’s other new coffee bars, it offers lovers of the drink another opportunity to learn more about their favourite brew.