For most, there is no better place for working away from home or the office than a coffee shop. Lately I’ve taken more of an interest in independently-owned cafes. What started out as a desire to support small businesses during this COVID-era quickly turned into a new normal routine, as it’s easy to be won over by the diversity and charm of these new coffee shops. To give us a deeper look into the stories of these smaller cafes, we spoke with Foris Chan, owner of The Coffee Moment on Eastern Street in Sai Ying Pun.
Hand-painted coffee beans decorate the main wall, which was painted by Chan herself and modeled after a song. Over Ethiopian hand-drip coffee, she expands on the artwork scattered around the café. “I see this place as a gallery, it’s coffee art,” she says, while pointing at another mural of coffee plants. “I wanted to show the journey of espresso through the art.”
Before opening the café three years ago, Chan split her time between working as a sales director at a telecoms company and making glass sculptures. Despite being a long-time coffee enthusiast, opening her own place was never part of the plan. Instead it was a result of encouragement from her friends and good ol’ serendipity. “I was actually supposed to attend the 100th anniversary conference for glass making in Murano, Italy, but because it was such a big event I couldn’t book a hotel,” she says. “It was like a sign for me to do something else.”
It was then that she found the vacant lot that eventually became The Coffee Moment. “I really like challenges,” she says, recounting the difficulty of starting with no prior F&B experience. “All we had was an empty room. I did the whole interior design and hand painted the walls. I learned about the market and how to open this business myself, even the menu I did myself.”
It’s clear how invested Chan is in the quality of her ingredients. “I’m a foodie, so I have really high expectations for food,” she explains. “The matcha is sourced from Kyoto, and my tea is very high grade as well. Even the chicken I use is the best grade, because I eat it as well. It doesn’t say on the menu that it’s free range and hormone-free, but it is.”
When asked about why this isn’t made apparent on the menu, she explains that she left it off to avoid taking attention away from the food. “It’s a personal standard,” she replies. “I select the finest ingredients and hope the people notice, but I would say that I do not highly focus on it.”
In addition to sourcing high quality ingredients, Chan also set up her own roastery in Hong Kong. There is a deeply intricate process when it comes to sourcing, selecting, roasting and storing coffee. “If the temperature changes even two degrees, then the flavor will be totally different,” she explains. “Because the process is skillful, if you import from outside, it’s not the same … you can’t control the quality of the handling.”
The roastery has also allowed Chan to expand her business and supply coffee beans to other cafes as well as hotels and restaurants. “My roastery is quite specific, everything is tailor made. We tailor the flavor for hotels, restaurants and cafes … I’ll modify the flavors and ask the clients to try it and test it to make them unique.” While her business primarily deals with coffee, Chan mentions that they also roast cacao beans and produce chocolate, which makes its way into their mochas.
With all the steps Chan takes to ensure the quality of her food, it’s a wonder she manages to keep the cafe’s prices affordable. As Chan herself points out, “We try to charge the same as Starbucks, even though [specialty coffee] has a much, much higher cost.”
“This is the stable side of the business, rather than the retail side,” she says. “We close early, so I use the time after work to set up other events and workshops.” Beyond handling the operations of her coffee shop, Chan has also ventured deeper into the coffee industry, making a name for herself there. “I participated in a lot of coffee activities,” she says. “I assisted in the WBC (World Barista Championship) as a judge, and so I met people in the industry.”
Big-picture thinking is a notable trait of Chan’s, and it’s demonstrated in her other projects – hosting after-hours team building activities for corporate customers, providing consulting services for other prospective cafe owners and creating her own coffee equipment like brewers and grinders. “This is my brand,” she says. after a pause. “I do it really slow because I have so many things to do,” she chuckles. “So much work goes into it, so I really hope people can admire my work – my art.”
Chan gets up from the table and brings a second round of hand-drip along with several dainty glass sculptures she made for displaying coffee grinds. “I also want to build a big glass chandelier so people can enjoy the light while they have their coffee,” she says.
Chan’s hopes and dreams for her business naturally fill the conversation, fuelled by a caffeine boost. “I love coffee, I want people to enjoy it …many people think that it’s very bitter, but coffee can be light or have citrus, fruity or floral flavors,” raves Chan. She expresses her desire to share and inform people of the full journey of coffee. “I want to provide the one-stop experience from seed to cup … I don’t want to just focus on Hong Kong, but bring people around the world on field trips to see coffee plants and processing.”
The final few minutes of our time we spend just chatting as we finish our drinks. She asks me about my life, and I ask her about her ideas on how coffee brings people together (a cliched sentiment proved to be true this afternoon). As we part ways, she leaves me with three words that sum up her business – indulgence, art and connection. “It’s about enjoyment,” she says, decidedly. “Enjoying the coffee with music, making coffee art. I have so many ideas and I just need people to do it with me.”
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