This article originally appeared in the February 2016 Issue of Foodie: Beautiful Bakes
Why do you think coffee has become so popular in Asia recently?
As our world becomes increasingly connected, so follows the spread of laudable ideas, concepts cultural practices and importantly, food and drinks. Asia's rising enthusiasm in coffee stems from its fascination in coffee’s rich history, complex production processes and definitely its aromatic tastes – a journey that can never end as long as one continues and is willing explore. And I would add that Asia is not just progressively keen in coffee, but they're also diving into the realm of specialty coffee. We have found that coffee consumers are appreciative of and seek to be educated about the delicate stories behind each cup of joe – it's a practice, a lifestyle that never ceases to satisfy.
Why do you think coffee has become almost like a hobby to some?
I believe this comes from the wealth of knowledge that can be gleaned and excavated. Coffee satisfies human curiosity in too many ways - whether it's learning about the technical aspects of growing and production, to being mindful of the geographical and social issues in coffee growing regions; to finally, one almost becomes an epicure through coffee appreciation and tastings – such abundance of senses are provoked and enjoyed. There's also such a human touch that comes from coffee too - relationships forged from having shared a cup together - and that's indispensable to its formation as a popular hobby to many.
Why did you found The Coffee Academics?
My father was very supportive of allowing me to explore the world and uncover my passions at an early age. So since I was a young girl, I traveled to Europe and immersed myself into its rich coffee and wine culture. This unearthed my love for cafés and the third space; and eventually led me to the establishment of Caffe Habitu in 2003. In time, I observed a mounting ardor in specialty coffee and I wanted to pioneer this concept in Hong Kong with a brand that exclusively purveys quality specialty coffee and offers a proper education to connoisseurs and practicing professionals alike. This was how The Coffee Academics was born.
What’s your personal take on the strong recommendations to drink a coffee in a certain style i.e.: you must have this coffee without milk, or, you must have this one with sugar? (We have been experiencing this a lot at different artisanal coffee shops around Hong Kong) Is it for the best for coffee to be taken the way the coffee shop intends or more important to adhere to personal preferences?
At The Coffee Academics, we pride ourselves in working really hard to provide a unique and differentiated coffee experience for our guests. Not only do we have strong recommendations on how to drink coffee in a certain manner, we educate our guests on how we arrive at our particular conclusions. We offer a rich selection so that every palate is indulged.
And because we are such advocates of personal preferences, our exclusive custom blend service helps us connect with our customers to create a unique blend and style that suits each person's personal preferences and personalities and makes an unforgettable personal statement. I would think one should try the recommendations set by individual specialty coffeehouses to see what flavours and experience each tries to communicate through its coffee. Honestly one may like it or hate it but ultimately each person's palette, background, preference, choice is different and we are the best to know who we are and what we like. That's when custom blending is precious.
How do you take your coffee?
I have quite a sensitive palate so you won't usually find me with a very strong cup of coffee. For my birthday in 2012, our master roaster actually developed our very first custom blend by weaving together one based on my preferences and personality. It is the JWF Blend, which we serve in all The Coffee Academics outlets and it is a light, fragrant and fruity mix that I enjoy in a flat white.
How would you describe The Coffee Academics?
The Coffee Academics is more than a coffeehouse. We offer a boutique coffeehouse experience under a cohesive brand and bring to the table award-winning specialty coffee, exquisite world-inspired dishes and offer a curriculum of coffee training and sensory classes that can help our guests experience the rich world of coffee in exciting, unique ways and help train up coffee professionals to further develop talents in the coffee industry.
What’s involved in a coffee cupping class?
Our coffee cupping class is a teaser into the exciting world of experiencing coffee in a whole new way. Our dedicated coffee trainer will take you through the history and origins of a selection of coffee beans and help you smell, taste and conduct your own profiling of each blend and form your own unique justification, judgment and preference for each blend.
Which is better, the taste or the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee?
Oh! That's a tough one to decide! I do not think that coffee is complete without either one.
What are your coffee-related plans for the future?
We are excited to be expanding to Singapore's esteemed Orchard Road precinct at the end of this month with a 3,000 sq. ft. flagship. It encompasses 7 innovative sensory stations. These include an espresso bar, a slow brew kiosk, a custom blend concierge, a roasting station and more. And in March 2016, we're planting our first China outlet in Shanghai's French Concession precinct. There's a lot happening but I wouldn't have it any other way. And I am thankful that I have coffee to help me get through it all!