From a chance gifting of a capsule coffee machine to opening six speciality coffee shops and a flagship Roastery in Hong Kong, we chat to NOC founder, Benny Leung, about how he has curated an experience of coffee through more than just taste.
What’s your history with coffee/café culture?
A good friend of mine gifted me with a capsule coffee machine a few years back. I was intrigued by the sleek appearance of the machine and started making coffee on my own. Out of curiosity, I also started visiting coffee chains and speciality coffee shops in Hong Kong and whenever I travelled abroad. I was so impressed by the baristas’ artisanal skills and the emergence of the third-wave coffee scene that I decided to give up my previous job in F&B to become a barista myself. That’s how it all began.
Tell us about NOC.
NOC is an acronym of “Not Only Coffee”. From my experience in the industry, I learned that it takes a lot more than just tasty food and beverages for an eatery to succeed. The formula for success is made up of exceptional customer service, a service mindset, space design within the restaurant, hygiene and a lot more. I have integrated my observations into NOC’s core values. I think a coffee brand needs to offer more than just good coffee to succeed, so we strive to offer the best of Not Only Coffee, but also food, space and service.
NOC can obviously be an acronym of other phrases as well. As an inside joke, I tell my team that NOC also stands for “No Other Choice”; I want our team to provide a coffee experience so perfect that customers will have No Other Choice than coming to us. NOC can also stand for “No Other Colour”; we intentionally choose only simple and clean colours for our spaces and tableware, because we want the vibrancy of our coffee, food and staff to pop.
What’s the inspiration behind NOC’s ethos?
The inspiration behind NOC’s ethos is our team. We are a team of baristas and chefs with an average age of 25 – we are young, energetic and motivated to try new things and change for the better, making it possible for us to curate the best NOC experience possible.
Why is design so important? What inspires your aesthetic?
In my opinion, there is so much more to design than just the look and feel. It should also convey an ethos and affect the way that people experience a brand.
I am a minimalist, and our design aesthetic is inspired by my preference for simplicity. NOC’s palette, including white, light wood and light concrete, reflects this simplicity. I selected this palette with the intention of curating a pure, undistracted café experience.
To achieve this, my team and I have been meticulous in deciding on every detail that goes into creating our stores, from our state-of-the-art bean-roasting process to our coffee- brewing methods – even the products we stock in the bathrooms.
By curating this minimalist environment, it allows our customers to enjoy fine coffee and food, free from distraction.
What makes Hong Kong special for coffee lovers?
Hong Kong is an international city that is up to the minute. We have access to first-hand knowledge and information and can get our hands on anything we want in this city. Coffee shops in Hong Kong are always among the first in the world to adopt new technologies and innovative brewing methods in the coffee industry, meaning customers get to taste a wide variety of coffees, brewed in different methods.
What experience do you want customers to have when they visit NOC? How does this set NOC apart?
I want our customers to enjoy Not Only Coffee, but the complete NOC experience, including our service, space design and even our choice of music. I believe each of these factors plays a part in making or breaking the customer’s perception of her/his cup of coffee. I hope the NOC experience is “just right” – we constantly remind our baristas to be the right amount of friendly – but not imposing.
We currently operate a handful of locations across Hong Kong Island. Not only do we offer curated coffees and food items, but we also offer our very own line of merchandise and roast our own coffee beans in our Roastery. In this sense, I think we provide a complete coffee experience when compared to other local coffee shops.
Why is sustainability important for NOC?
Under the environmental crisis, I think everyone, big corporations and smaller companies alike, should take responsibility in raising awareness and encouraging change in consumption patterns to help to save the earth. That being said, I think it is important for NOC, as a young brand, to take the initiative in bringing our customers’ attention to the issue and reducing our own environmental impact as much as we can. It’s what led us to source all disposable items we use in-store from biodegradable materials. It’s all part of our longer-term vision to become a zero-plastic store. We also reward our customers for taking their own steps to reduce their use of single-use plastics, offering 10% off any beverage whenever they bring their own cup – whether it’s one of the beautiful variations we sell or their own.
How do you take your coffee?
I drink a piccolo first thing in the morning and sip on a large black coffee in the afternoon. If it’s a particularly busy day, I’ll also have a strong flat white – we’re told it’s the best outside Melbourne.