How can Hong Kong’s Pale Ink, a sugar-free coffee liqueur, echo the global turmoil of the past two years?

How can Hong Kong’s Pale Ink, a sugar-free coffee liqueur, echo the global turmoil of the past two years?
Source: Perfume Trees Gin

In late 2018, Kit and Joseph Cheung founded Hong Kong’s first local gin brand, Perfume Trees Gin, as an ode to the city. But their most recent project, the world’s first sugar-free coffee gin liqueur, echoes the turmoil of the past two years.

Aptly named Pale Ink and marketed with subtle gray color, Perfume Trees Gin partnered with a local barista named Gary Au to create this unique liqueur. We sat down with the founders to learn more about this new extension of Perfume Trees Gin in a TMS exclusive.

Founding Perfume Trees Gin

Kit and Joseph birthed the idea of Perfume Trees Gin over a bottle and a drunken conversation. “I am a registered nurse and I’ve worked in a hospital for 10 years,” says Joseph. “One day I joined a bartending course during my off-hours. Kit was my bartending tutor. One night we had too much to drink, and we just had some crazy ideas. We both like to drink a lot, and we wanted to create our own gin.”

You might not view liquor as an art form, but Perfume Trees Gin may change your mind. “During the manufacturing of gin, we put very local botanicals in the spirit, and those flavors translate into the gin,” explains Joseph. Perfume Trees Gin includes traditional ingredients and signature botanicals, such as White Champaca flower, 15-year aged tangerine skin, Indian Sandalwood, Long Jing green tea and Chinese Angelica.

They selected each element with precision to reflect their nostalgia and love of Hong Kong. “We wanted to capture the feeling of Hong Kong through taste,” says Kit. The power of olfactory and gustatory experiences to evoke intense memories speaks to the poetry of their concept.

The creation of Pale Ink

Gary Au, Urban Coffee Roasters
Source: Perfume Trees Gin

After a year of planning, Perfume Trees Gin launched Pale Ink. Creator of Urban Coffee Roaster and the 2021 Coffee in Good Spirits Competition champion Gary Au carefully selected coffee beans from Ethiopia and roasted in Hong Kong. Perfume Trees Gin developed a double, cold brew method to infuse the roasted beans into the gin, which preserves the fragrant flavors.

Kit and Joseph named their coffee liqueur “Pale Ink” to express the anxiety and gloom of the past two years. “We used a relatively usual color on the packaging,” says Joseph. “It’s a traditional Japanese gray color, and a technique used in traditional Chinese landscape paintings that dilutes black ink.”

Perfume Trees Gin
Source: Perfume Trees Gin

Pale Ink incorporates Perfume Trees Gin as the spirit base. Storytelling doesn’t have to be limited to traditional art forms. Why not retell the history of a city through a spirit laced with locally grown botanicals?

Pale Ink has fresh floral notes and hints of fruit from the coffee beans. The White Champaca and Indian Sandalwood rise through from the Perfume Trees Gin spirit base and the deep taste of coffee lingers after you swallow.

Why sugar-free?

Source: Perfume Trees Gin

It’s no secret that healthier alternatives to products consumers love tend to explode in sales. “After we had the initial concept, we did a lot of research on the market,” says Joseph. “Coffee liqueur is the fourth bestselling liqueur in the word, but the sales are declining. We feel that the decline is not because people don’t like coffee liqueur but because people are generally more health-conscious. Especially when it comes to sugar consumption.

“The core value of our dream is that we want to do something innovative – something that no one else has done,” says Joseph. “So we came up with the idea of a sugar-free coffee liqueur.”

Pale Ink uses a zero-calorie natural sweetener called Natvia as a substitute for sugar. This stevia-based ingredient is made from all-natural resources. Every 100ml of the coffee liqueur contains less than 150 calories. To put this in context, commercial coffee can have up to 60g of sugar.

Most people consume coffee liqueur in combination with another drink. However, the overwhelming sweetness of the liqueur by itself can be repellent to consumers. Pale Ink’s use of Natvia, which significantly reduces its sweetness, makes it so that you can enjoy it, even neat.

For maximum enjoyment, Perfume Trees Gin recommends tasting Pale Ink for the first time, either neat on the rocks or with a splash of soda. This allows you to fully appreciate its complexity, from the scent to the taste. You can add Pale Ink to your cocktail repertoire or as a fun surprise in your coffee-based desserts.

Visions of the future

Source: Perfume Trees Gin

Perfume Trees Gin hopes to partner with a range of roasteries to explore the palate of global cultures within their Pale Ink coffee liqueur. They also aspire to find a place in bars worldwide.

“When a local goes to the bar, we want them to see a bottle of our gin on the shelf and say, ‘This is where I’m from,’” says Joseph. “This is our mission and our dream.”

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