Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coffee in Hong Kong - Class at Rabbithole Coffee

Siphoned coffee at Rabbithole
Rabbithole has been one of my favourite coffee shops of late, and I've been dropping by as often as time allows since they opened. One day, I took two of my geekiest (and probably therefore, closest) friends and we tried one bean made three ways, just to see what it'd be like. (You see what I mean by geeky?) As we were watching the staff at Rabbithole make our coffees, we discovered flyers in the shop for coffee classes. Originally I was only interested in the hand drip class (since that's how I make my coffee at home and am desperate to improve my skills) but Mike, the owner, aka "The Java Junkie" per Time Out Hong Kong's description told us that the introductory class would see us playing with all his shiny machines and trying out different methods. We were sold.

Mike showing us his latte art skills
Rushing out from the farms in the New Territories, I arrived around 15 minutes late for the 7.30pm class, arms swollen after being eaten alive by mosquitoes. By the time I got in, everyone else (about 10 others) were already sitting around on stools in the workshop-like space, listening attentively to Mike. He was lively and informative, giving us just enough of the basics about different roasts, grinds and coffee types to get us started. One of the most interesting bits of wisdom I got from Mike was that beans and roasting makes up for 90% of how good a coffee is, and the barista's job is simply to do his/her best to bring that out - ie. 10%.

Having a go at the Expobar
We started with espresso-based drinks - after a demo on the espresso machine, we were each given a shot to taste (especially as some of the students had never had an unadulterated espresso before), then he proceeded to talk about milk, texturing and then we got to try caffe lattes. Latte art is hugely popular in Hong Kong - it's hardly important (if you ask me) but I'll admit that it's quite fun, both to watch and to try!

Getting help with a latte art attempt
Then it was out turn. We split up into smaller groups and go onto one of the five machines. We were on the newer Expobar - I'd never made a coffee on a commercial machine before!

And here is my very weak attempt at latte art. We decided that it's an old bearded man with a droopy beard. Gandalf's fat brother, maybe.

In class - Siphon
We were also shown the siphon method. It's always so fun to watch, especially with that beam heater underneath (we really wanted to buy one but turns out, it's pretty pricey!) All three of them (Mike and his two staff) start making them on the long bench, and we're told that siphon is probably the best way of tasting the beans, but also the hardest to control. One swirl of the paddle when you're mixing the grinds in, and you change the temperature of the water.

Hand drip (aka pour-over, hand pour etc.)
The part most relevant to my everyday life was the pour-over. The best time-volume combo, we're taught, is 200ml of water, poured within 1 min 30 secs, with the water at 85 degrees Celcius. I get a bit of practice at home, but I tried it again here, using just plain water.

My practise pour
Voila! Then I was allowed to pour an actual coffee, to which Mike said, "at least it has some sweetness to it," which was probably a euphemism for "you suck" but anyway, I'll keep practising at home! I need a proper thermometer though; I've just been guessing what 85 degrees is, and I also tend to grind my beans too finely (I blame the mill).

Siphon, from an earlier visit
We also got talking about Aeropress, which apparently isn't superb, but decent enough and great for consistency. One of us already has an Aeropress, so I'll probably be stealing it soon. It was interesting as well that we used the same variety and roast for all the methods - an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, city roast. I'd say I like it used for espressi more than say, a siphon coffee, but I know we didn't all agree!

Tasting, practicals and a bit of theory & opinion thrown in for good measure - it was lots of fun. The hand drip one has been postponed indefinitely as generally it seems that people are more interested in espresso of intro classes - consider this a call from me to gather and form a hand drip class!!

Rabbithole Coffee & Roaster
2/F, 26 Cochrane St.
Hong Kong.
+852 2581 0861
Coffee shop hours: 11am-7pm daily
Click here for class schedules

View e_ting in Hong Kong in a larger map


  1. Honestly speaking, Rabbithole might be all fun and engaging, but they are not really up to standards.

    I have my own reason to have come to this conclusion. Example 1, saying that Siphoning is the be-all-and-end-all hardest to grasp is already too bold a statement. And if they do think that coffee lots and roasting are 90% of the equation, may be they ought to get their roasting right themselves. Some of their Single Origin estate beans are not that representative and loyal to their Farms and Terroir as yet in the taste even when using their best grinder on sight and Synesso machine, or via the Siphon.

    Not helped by the fact they keep insisting on naming one of their beans Operation Red Cherry, when it should read as Operation Cherry Red "OCR". This place is one of the pretenders with the most promise but isn't really delivering it. Sorry if I have to disagree so much this time around. Knockbox guys are a few notches above here, at least they have trained palates drinking enough from the UK and Tokyo! :P

  2. I like your bearded fat Gandalf :) I totally see it!

  3. Anonymous9:39 pm

    The Aeropress is far better than pour over. Even though I have a Reneka Techno espresso machine, the Aeropress is my favourite brewing method. Here's a review from coffeegeek.

  4. Real man don't do latte art! ;-)

  5. Bob Lam10:55 am

    @E-ting It's a page turner to read your writing on Rabbithole and I fully believe you have a right start here at Rabbithole.

    Ask Mike where you can have more new experience in Hong Kong that will keep you on the right track; there's lots of good coffee places out there in Hong Kong.

    Keep the writeup coming.. :)

  6. Clinton7:23 pm

    Having drank my way around London as well as Aussie/Kiwi, RabbitHole and Knockbox are my two go to cafes in Hong Kong. They have rather different approaches to coffee though. RH caters more for people after a good cup but also interesting in learning more about it. KB focuses on coffee tasting and probably appeals more to enthusiasts who already have a good appreciation of coffee but would like to further expand their knowledge. To my point, it's worth noting the beans (the regular ones, not guest beans) by both places are supplied by the same roaster, Fresh Coffee & Tea ( The RH beans are roasted more for milk and have more prominent flavours whilst he KB roasting is more subtle and layered. Both valid, just different. I always send my friends to RH first due to their central locale and style then suggest they also try KB as well.

    My other top cafe in HK for quality cup is Alchemy Espresso in Quarry Bay. Beans are by another local roaster, this time Fahrenheit 500.

    1. Does Fresh roast for Knockbox anymore?

      RH now roastes for themselves too, or the House Yrgecheffe was roasted seperatly?

    2. Clinton1:57 am

      KB will say who the roaster is and I've had stuff from FreshHk recently although they're roasting more and more of their own stuff.

  7. I've been trying a lil more Aeropress'ed coffees as of late and have to say that it's a true tech marvel. The uniform pressure it gives means that there won't be under-extracted grounds. Nor would there be extra bitterness from over extracted ones. I hope RH/ KB/ any other cafe/ school/ institution would start conducting regular cupping sessions too. Not only will it educate & expose more coffee lovers to various beans, it'll train their palates to distinguish different terroirs and roasts. Someday, HK might even be a must-go coffee destination like London, Melbourne, and Tokyo!

    1. Clinton11:25 pm

      hey Daniel, I've spent fair amount of time in Australia and London and I can tell you the 'top end' coffee in HK is easily as good as (and I dare say better) than those in Australia and London. That said, I caveat this does not relate to the typical 'good' cafe you would find in AU/LDN vs HK. The typical good in AU/LDN wins hands down but the top end...all three places are doing very interesting things. The average Hk cafe however is just that, VERY average. Also, if your benchmark of good coffee favours Australia's ie. rich milk with heavy roast beans (blended for milk) to punch through the milk, then that's hard to be beaten on these shores. However, the current trend, spearheaded by the US is very different to that ie. less dark roasts that emphasises the original flavours of the bean to bring out layers and flavours. One may enjoy (i certainly do) Aussie style coffee but that's not the only definition of 'good' out there. And the top HK guys favours more the US style hence they maybe making a good that is different to your reference.

    2. I adore Mike's passion, and I think Rabbithole is doing a great job promoting good coffee to people, but I find it doesn't make sense saying syphon and aeropress are two unstable/hard method to make coffee loh. Perhaps there are lost in translation? imho aeropress is marvelous. the aroma of coffee from aeropress is slightly subdue to some other methods but once you got the recipe right every cup's stay the same, no technique no practice needed. Syphon is a bit harder it's all the very tiny detail things count like the bubble but its physics confines the brewing temperature so 1 less parameter needed to be take care of. (yes there are a lot low temperature techniques but imo why don't you use other method instead?) for easiness and consistency among manual methods I rate French Press = Abit Clever > Aeropress ~= Syphon >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Hand Drip.

    3. Hey Clinton it's dangerous to brand Aussie coffee as "rich milk with heavy roast beans (blended for milk) to punch through the milk" - I have tasted some coffee from good roasters in Australia, they are not very light for sure but they reflect terroir very well - perhaps better than most England/US roasters!

    4. Clinton1:56 am

      Boris - likewise, I've had good aussie lighter roast too hence my comment about generalising a country's coffee as good or bad is a bit too broad. I think the best in HK, LDN, AU are all 'up there'. The 'average' quality tho...HK is behind certainly in my mind.

  8. There is something rather intriguing about the few coffee shops in HK that was mentioned because one should look at the context of how these places were set up.
    Understanding E-ting and various writers has a very broad experience of coffee tasting around the world, where not only the owners or baristas has years of experience, but also roasters and coffee beans brokers/ suppliers has such rich resources to source beans from. Not to mention lots of these famous roasters/coffee shops has the financial power to do direct trade: go to oringins, work with farmers direct, buy beans (minimum if I understood correctly is a container).
    So how do one write about a 'western' chef trying to make Hong Kong style dim sum or simple dai pai do food in Paris/ New York/ Sydney?
    With this in mind, looking at Rabbithole perhaps brings a different light, so does looking at few other places like KnockBox, Alchemy, etc.
    What I admire Rabbithole is finally without going way out of no where, bang in Central off the esculator, you have reliable coffee, whether it is espresso, flat white or hand brew coffee.
    It might not be your exquisit COE beans epecially roasted or they might able to tell you the name of the farmers who grown the beans or exactly which year of crops, etc, but with their sincere and warm attitude, they bring the best out of commodity coffee.
    That is coffee not every roaster would able to make the best of but they managed, and the baristas has the love and skills to make the best for your cup.
    Terrior? up to standard? not able to name the right name?
    Being a Hong Kong person, what I care is what I taste: the cup
    With knowledge of coffee, I have heard quite a lot here, yet, whether the cup matches the words, I have to say I was rather surprised at my limited experience in Hong Kong in visiting these places.
    E*ting, you are at the right place and time where a huge revolution is happening !
    It is amazing you actually joing the classes and try to get your hands dirty before writing about it!

  9. Bob Lam8:43 am

    Fresh/, the roaster behind Rabbithole, received outstanding scores from Ken Davids’s; the score/review was published this morning Hong Kong time.

    Fresh/ is the first HK roaster that was rated and published by Ken Davids, an coffee industry veteran. More about a long and distinguished career of Ken Davids here,

    Some comment from Ken on Fresh
    93pt Fresh's Sumatra Permata Gayo Fair Trade
    Ken Davids’ comment: "This is a particular (and skillfully) light-roasted presentation of the famous coffee type.”

    92pt Ethiopia Yirghacheffe Koke Espresso
    Ken Davids’ comment "A fine and versatile interpretation of the precious Yirgacheffe character as single-origin espresso."

    Direct link to Fresh's scoring:

    The Yirgh that received 92 points by Fresh is exactly the same coffee bean as what is served at Rabbithole.

    Rabbithole has two different roasters in the past, initially it’s the roastmaster at Fresh/ Later, it’s his handpicked roaster that continues to work for Rabbithole and and Fresh/ until these days. While the roasting is different in profile, RH’s coffees roasting remained under the same roast protocol until these days. One can easily do side by side comparison for these two coffees and see how similar they are in character.

    For some comparison, Social Coffee Company, 1st place Roasters Choice winner, 25th annual SCAA Symposium and Exposition 2012 and 2nd place for the same category in 2011 and 2010 received 90-94 points from Davids for 10 coffees sent to Davids. The famous Chicago based Intelligentsia received 90-94 pt for 4 coffees published during 2008-2011.