Tranquilly tucked away in a lush part of the northeast campus, CW Chu College is like the back garden of the University. If you happen to spend some leisurely time here, the recently opened COFFEE Lover Café is the place you don’t want to miss before returning to the hustle and bustle of the main campus.
According to Mr. Timmy Tsang, director of the CW Chu College Canteen, the location of the College was one of the reasons that attracted him to come here a year ago. ‘Unlike most of the university canteens, the environment here is much more relaxing, which allows me to come up with creative cuisines for those who wouldn’t mind taking a little more time to enjoy their culinary experience.’
Mr. Tsang had been offering catering services on various university campuses in Hong Kong before coming to CUHK. This summer, he invited a group of coffee experts to set up the COFFEE Lover Café in CW Chu College, offering freshly brewed coffee, floral tea and homemade desserts.
One of the members of the COFFEE Lover team is Mr. Johnny Liu, who used to be a fashion designer and had once owned his personal fashion brand. About a year ago, he decided to devote all his time and energy to pursue his dream as a barista and pour his creative energy into coffee-making. For Johnny, a café should be more than a place selling food and beverages. With the concerted effort of the team, COFFEE Lover Café presents itself as an artistic workshop with a special mission──to stimulate the senses and touch the hearts of its customers.
Coffee and music
Many people visit a café not only for its coffee, but also for the music. Research has even proven that music can alter the taste of coffee and even make it taste ‘better’. Besides the songs played at the café counter, COFFEE Lover also has a special menu designed to evoke its customers’ sonic imagination.
All of the beverages listed on the menu are named after the songs of the late singer-songwriter, Danny Chan. If you hear someone ordering a cup of ‘Good-bye Puppy Love’, don’t be surprised because it only means ‘Iced Mocha’. The song titles are paired with different types of freshly brewed beverages according to their unique flavours and characteristics. The romantic melodies of music may enhance your experience of coffee and even bring back special memories in life.
When you start reading the menu at the counter, it is difficult not to be distracted by its colourful decorations. The Café is designed to look like a food truck or a tree house in the forest covered with flower petals. Behind the counter, the barista demonstrates his meticulous skills in latte art and presents the brewed cups on hand-made wooden trays. These trays are all designed and handcrafted by Johnny, who takes pride in turning every single one of them into a piece of art.
One of the most popular beverages in the café, the ‘Dreamy Sweet Tea’, also offers a unique visual experience. On top of a delicate tea cup hangs a cloud-like cotton candy. Upon melting, it will fall into the cup and create a spectacular ‘sugar rain’. Very few customers can start taking their first sip of tea without snapping a few pictures of this magical moment.
Gustatory vs. olfactory perceptions
People are often attracted by the pleasing aroma of freshly-brewed coffee but sometimes, the taste of the coffee itself can be quite disappointing. Mr. Tsang explains, ‘When a café is infused with aroma, it means part of the coffee’s taste is lost to the air. In COFFEE Lover, we would like to save all the flavours to those who are actually drinking our coffee and make sure it tastes better than those with great scents.’
Coffee addicts or aficionados are encouraged to try the café’s specialty──the ice-drip coffee. Its entire brewing process takes almost a week, as coffee molecules are extracted by the slow dripping of melted ice water. After several repeated cycles of filtering, the brew will then be placed in the refrigerator for natural fermentation.
‘The cold brew resembles the taste of whisky, with a faint wheat flavour. Even though more coffee ground is used, the cold brewing method has a milder and less acidic taste compared with coffee extracted by hot water,’ says Mr. Tsang.
A café that warms your heart
The careful manipulation of water temperature and brewing time is a basic skill for making a delicious cup of coffee. But for Mr. Tsang and Johnny, the skills of a barista are not the only requirements for a good café. ‘What matters the most is communication,’ Mr. Tsang says.
‘A café should offer a warm and welcoming atmosphere for customers to relax and share their comments openly with the baristas.’
The College culture of CUHK has an important role to play here. Mr. Tsang and Johnny have a very close relationship with the members of CW Chu College, as the dining area is where everyone gathers and chats. Mr. Tsang remarks, ‘One of the students even bought me a sweater when he graduated. I think it is not easy to build the same level of friendship with customers elsewhere.’
COFFEE Lover Café also embraces the humanitarian culture of CUHK. They are currently taking part in a charitable campaign──for every cup of coffee purchased, one dollar will be donated to a charitable organization in Hong Kong. They are also planning to promote the collection of used items to save the environment and reach out for more people in need.
With a commitment to serving high-quality coffee, connecting the members of the CUHK community and helping the environment, a small outdoor café located at the edge of the University campus has the mission and vision very different from those of an ordinary commercial coffee shop. Their passion for excellence and creativity deserve our support, our appreciation and, most importantly, our curiosity.
This article was originally published in No. 487, Newsletter in Nov 2016.