I was spoiled in San Francisco, where the gods’ bladders issued forth the finest coffee anywhere in warm, strong, healthy streams. Coffeeshops like Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, and Sight Glass represent the cutting edge of what is sometimes called Third Wave coffee. They introduced the food-obsessed population of San Francisco to single-origin beans, micro-roasting (with roast dates displayed on every batch), and a variety of brew methods that were newly invented or long forgotten. There is a mix of art and science, and a good measure of marketing magic too to create an air of mystery. Water temperature, weight of beans, and brew time are all carefully measured. They talk about extraction and yield, use dazzling contraptions that look like chemistry sets, and often roast the beans in the back so you can see how fresh the beans are. I always ordered my coffee hand-dripped in a Hario V60 or siphoned because they produce the cleanest cups of coffee, allowing one to detect subtle tones in the aroma and flavor. When the beans are roasted correctly, freshly ground just before serving, and properly brewed, one can taste – depending on the beans – blueberries, honey, thyme, white peach, corn flakes, maple. This was my coffee life back in San Francisco.
Then I moved to Hong Kong, and the gods’ bladders ran dry. Here, most places seem to serve espresso based drinks (which I find too brutal and overpowering) or french pressed coffee (which produces a very muddy, cloudy mouthfeel) using old, over-roasted beans. Occasionally, my friend B personally roasts coffee beans and ships them to me, giving me temporary relief. I treasure these beans and I take them and my portable coffee making kit – a Hario V60, several paper cone filters, a small hand grinder – with me when I travel, except to Seoul, where the Third Wave of coffee has penetrated the city more pervasively than even in San Francisco. The trend-obsessed Korean culture has resulted in at least one good thing. But back in Hong Kong, desperate for hits of caffeine, I held my nose and drank the local brew when B’s beans ran out. There was talk about a few local coffeeshops that served good coffee, but I found them lacking. Then in early 2012 Rabbithole Coffee opened.
Rabbithole is a small coffeeshop with a single narrow table in the center. Along the two long walls are multiple espresso machines of various types and equipment for at least several different brewing methods. Given the ratio of work space to customer space, one might immediately sense that they take coffee making quite seriously. And they do. Ask for a cup of hand-dripped coffee and you will see them measure out beans (15 grams), wait until the boiling water cools to their preferred temperature (85 degrees), and pour the water over the filter into a cup on a digital scale to make sure they’ve produced exactly 200 grams of coffee. They will vary the measurements based on the beans. They also siphon, ice drip, and create a list of espresso-based drinks too. I don’t always agree with all their decisions – I prefer a finer grind and slightly higher temperatures for my hand-drip - but their coffee is the best I’ve found in Hong Kong.
But what really sets Rabbithole apart – and this, though not sufficient alone, is as important as the coffee itself – is their welcoming spirit. The staff, led by Mike, the gregarious Chinese-Australian owner, includes fresh-faced Taco and otherworldly Alice (seriously, she might be from another planet) who make sure you don’t feel intimidated by all the gadgets and the heady culture often associated with Third Wave coffee. They will walk you through each brewing method, demonstrate every espresso machine (all of which are on sale), and invite you to sample various cups of coffee even though you ordered just one. Given that it’s hard to find a seat at the table during most times of the day, this philosophy seems to have paid off. But this isn’t a problem for me since I prefer sitting at the balcony which has a wonderful view of the escalator. I often pull up a chair right to the edge and pose with coffee in hand for the tourists. Sometimes I wink at them. Sometimes I make a phone gesture with my hand to my ear, signaling them to call me. Once in a while, they’ll respond with a phone gesture of their own, signaling that yes they will call. I finally have my coffee life back.