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dfan92
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Joined: 26 Jan 2011
Posts: 11
Location: Houston
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Thu Mar 24, 2011, 9:48pm
Subject: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

I will be in Hong Kong and the adjoining areas for a summerlong internship, and I will mostly be staying on the Island side for most of the day, I'm commuting from the Shatin Area to Sheung Wan. Are there any notable establishments along that area?
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boblam
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Joined: 13 Mar 2011
Posts: 59
Posted Sat Mar 26, 2011, 2:52am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Updated September 7, 2014
In term of area, Sheung Wan and Central remains a hot bed for lots of Indie cafes with as much as fifteen cafes or more and the highlight of the area is The Cupping Room (Derek Chiu, 1st runner up at WBC 2014, Dawn Chan, HKBC 2014 champion and Benny #4 at HKBC 2014 work here), Brew Bros, Coco Espresso are highlights of the area.  Nevertheless, Quarry Bay in the east side of the Hong Kong Island seems to be an up and coming with Pregio, Xen and Espresso Alchemy (will visit later) so you have a choice now.  Tai Hang as an area remained an overrated coffee area as far as I remember; only if you look for ambiance and things.

1. The Cupping Room, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.  A must visit café in Hong Kong if you only have time for one café.  This café can be called the house of the champs as its barista ranked in the top three of Hong Kong since its inception in 2011.  (Derek - WBC 2014 1st Runner Up, Dawn Chan - HKBC Champ 2014 that will represent HK at WBC 2015 in Seattle and Benny - #4 of HKBC 2014)

In addition, Derek Kapo Chiu won the first runner up at WBC 2014 in Rimini, Italy.  On top of that this is a working barista you can really drink coffee from him days in days out and his performance on stage reminds me of what Derek did exactly back to his own café.  As such, you almost can relive the experience at WBC 2014 that you watched on youtube by just go visit The Cupping Room.  The Cupping Room is the first one to employ the Mahlkoenig EK43 in Hong Kong and manage to squeeze the best out of EK43 to a rather tasty but no peak no valley flatter cup which is quite interesting and what set EK43 apart from other grinder due to its consistency.

The espresso here is a top notch and a given any time you drop by. The cup was pulled longer but not over extracted and still maintains a full taste spectrum of any coffee they carry. Its brew coffee has its own distinct style with lots of taste.  The cafe also pioneers the exclusive cooperation with an overseas roaster to roast the coffee picked by the cupping room and the suggestion of that roaster. And not just any other roaster but one of the best hands in the world, IMHO. The Cupping Room introduces to Hong Kong Andy Sprenger, champions of many titles from the US I lost count and the owner of Sweet Bloom Coffee Roaster based out of Colorado with a decade of experience in various capacities at Ceremony Coffee in Maryland.

It seems The Cupping Room has an unstoppable winning streak so far but the most important thing is that they show they care on each and every cup that they serve to each customer, winning praise and accolade with each customer one cup at the time. This sounds simple but really cafe of this caliber tends to look for something else outside its own backyard. It is not uncommon that hobnobbing with coffee luminaries and the change in focus to some new and challenging stuff makes the cafe lost the main picture which is customers who sit in front of them but these top guy tends to prefer shooting the moon than do something less exciting via serving great cups of coffee and won one customer at a time. The Cupping Room is not like that as far as I remember and this is the quality of great coffee people, IMHO.

Yes, it does have what I call a misstep. The Cupping Room tries its own in house roasting once and the result wasn’t too bad but it felt more like work in progress. Yes, good cafe will try hands on things and made mistakes on the way but what separate the good and the great is that they know their potential and strength and makes a good use of it with a focus on one customer at a time.

To me, the cupping room is a place one need to visit if you think about good coffee, not just in Hong Kong.

2. Freshness Coffee, Upper Central:  Freshness coffee is probably the most underrated cafe in Hong Kong, IMHO. Michael KT Wong’s hand drip is a given for cups of coffee and to me one of the best hand drippers in Hong Kong but his skill on espresso and milk is getting right up there with the top. This is the first place I think of hand drip these days. The cafe is run by owners that I had known long before they decide to open the shop and they are really nice people so you can expect great hospitality there. This is a multi roaster cafe featuring coffee from both local roasters and international so there is no shortage of good coffee at Freshness, IMHO.  One of the place I suggest you to check it out.

3.  Crema Coffee, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=15288 – The best espresso bar in Hong Kong for me.  I had a great cup on my recent visit to its new location, somewhat back to its old glory day as the café seemed to roast its Monsooned Malabar Gold (with its in-house roaster) lighter than a year before.  Best rich and velvety milk drink too; however you have to ask for warm milk drink to be on the safe side on temp as local prefers hotter than hot drink.  If Terry or Fiona are in that time and did coffee for you, you are in luck!  :)

4. Brew Bros, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong: Japanese barista with background from Australia using Market Lane coffee as its default roaster. The brew skill is good and it is perfect if you like coffee from Melbourne.

5.  Coco Espresso, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=19001 - ***Sheung Wan shop is under renovation while a new shop is now at Pacific Place Three.***    The coffee had been kinda easy to drink for newb at best and the owner told me a long while back that the taste is inspired by Vittoria Coffee of Australia though the bean was roasted fresh locally by LM agent.  The cup quality has tremendously improved lately, ie tastier black coffee and more velvety milk drink, complimenting its spot on drink temperature.  The serious limitation here is now its espresso machine, IMHO. The new 2 paddle group PID LM Linea finally arrived and modernized the cup profile to be quite similar to what I get from GB5, ie clearer, less body kinda thing.  Another strong point that is difficult to find elsewhere is the homey feel of the place which barista themselves play a major part.  It’s nice to sit there in the afternoon either reading or talking with barista on things.  Not an easy feat in Hong Kong market where everything is on a rush.  Coco also offered siphon brewing of single origin coffee from Square Mile Coffee and other local roasters.  You can trust Johnson on freshness of the bean and his openness in discussing about coffee.  Very decent siphon brew I had so far

Other cafes in Hong Kong that I like include

6.  Pregio by Barista Caffe, Quarry Bay: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=75621 Owner Chester Tam is well know figure in local media and a trainer/teacher on coffee.  Apart from decent Italian food for local standard, its coffee program were impressive with high quality grade bean from quality green supplier like sweetmarias on offer at the shop.  His own espresso blend was also great and a must try, closer to what progressive roasters use in North America and not easy to find in this part of the world that likes more oily roasty tone in their coffee to go with milk or to act as digestive after the meal.  This is the blend that won Grand Barista Champion in 2011 too and I consider one of the best espresso blend in Hong Kong.  This cafe is breathing on the next of the top rated cafe out there.  With time, it will further improve.

7.  Espresso Alchemy (EA), 4-6 Hoi Wan Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong  http://www.openrice.com/english/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=94780 A great addition to Quarry Bay coffee scene and a must drop by particularly those who likes coffee from down under.  Owner/roaster Peter Law is a genuine nice guy from Melbourne finally break the monopoly of the Sydney coffee group in Hong Kong on Australian coffee with experiences under his belt in roasting coffee in Aussie.  Probably the first Giesen roaster in Hong Kong which shows up amazingly in the cup at EA.  Single origin is a must and another milk drink style from down under with strong chocolate backbone plus a touch of acidity.  The EA house blend is big bold and forward with acidity while I love it Single Origin espresso.  If Peter is in the house, you are very lucky.  I would have move this one up a notch if the milk texture was a big better and sweeter but this is nit picking.  A must drop by in Quarry Bay!

8.  CENG (Coffee Engineering), Shop 2101, 21/F, Radio City ( Solo Building ), 505 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay www.coffeeengineering.com - Coffee Tasting, Training, showroom for coffee accessories, roasted coffee bean.  Filtered coffee on offering only for now and both V60 and Kalita type cone are tasty and delicious.  Small shop but nice view on 21 Floor should help make up for any short fall.  A very nice barista with tattoo.

9.  18 Grams in Time Square inside City Super. Don't look down as just a coffee kiosk inside a grocery store for tired feet to sit and forget about it.  Sara, the main barista over there, consistently makes a killer Aeropress that match the best hand drip coffee in Hong Kong, ie Knockbox when it was still in Sheung Wan - not at the current location in Mong Kok which I haven't visited for a long while, Michael KT Wong at Freshness Coffee.  The weakness is that 18 Grams roasted coffee might make it difficult for you to see through her brew skill.  A bag of coffee from good roasters like Sweet Bloom (you can get it at The Cupping Room in Hong Kong), or Fresh/hkcoffee.com will allow her skill to shine as far as the bean goes.  Crisp, clean and clear you can see through layers of taste is what I called her Aeropress cup. Bring your own bean, pay for the most inexpensive filter coffee there, sit back and enjoy the ride of great brew skill.

10.  Café Corridor, Time Square, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=10246 and http://www.coffeeassembly.com/ Felix was among the earlier force in the industry as a roaster and re-entered the café scene a couple of years back.  He brought back his love of coffee from Australia after a short stint of working in the café over there.  If you like dark roasted coffee, this is the place.  El Al, 2010 GBC winner, joined the café and seemed to make the perfect team there.

11. Xen Coffee, Quarry Bay: http://www.xencoffee.com/ Claim to fame is its all politically correct issues and Indie vacuum pot coffee (siphonist?).   Remain the destiny for siphon coffee lover though its coffee seemed to lack acidity to fit the local taste profile.

Delete:  A drop in quality, customer treatment or too long a time of the last visit to be sure of quality, rating and comparison excluded these places from the list: Barista Jam, Knockbox Coffee Company in Mong Kok, Fuel Espresso and Holly Brown

You can find more info about cafés in Hong Kong at
www.openrice.com The name openrice came from the word-by-word translation from Chinese which means serve a meal.  Plug in the café names above in its search box and you get opinions from local how they like it.  Don’t be scared on Chinese writing as one will benefit from pictures post there.
www.cnngo.com The Asian site of cnn remains in beta stage but gives some basic idea of what’s what and who’s who in the scene.  Interesting links include
 a. Click Here (www.cnngo.com)
 b. Click Here (www.cnngo.com)
www.timeout.com.hk Offer some pictures and more of café scene in Hong Kong.. Interesting link included Click Here (www.timeout.com.hk)

Enjoy
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boblam
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Joined: 13 Mar 2011
Posts: 59
Posted Sat Mar 26, 2011, 2:54am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

I did post some cafe I know of but am waiting for moderators' look/approval as the length and link was marked as spam... :)

Until then.. :)
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dfan92
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Joined: 26 Jan 2011
Posts: 11
Location: Houston
Expertise: Just starting

Posted Sun Mar 27, 2011, 10:35am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

This is very comprehensive, much thanks!
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boblam
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Joined: 13 Mar 2011
Posts: 59
Posted Tue May 31, 2011, 8:27am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Updates for some cafes in Hong Kong
  1.  The "up and coming" area called Tai Hang, closed to Causeway Bay... Very nicely decorated due to space but it's either "imported italian coffee" with robusta or the barista refused to be trained.  These cafes are Kindergarten, Unar Coffee Company and Cafe Y Taberna, in order of my liking... Please type the name in local website openrice.com for more info, picture and location.. In conclusion, existing quality cafes in Sheung Wan (Barista Jam, Coco Espresso and Soft Aroma) and Causeway Bay (Cafe Corridor and 18 Grams) had absolutely nothing to worry about considering the level these much hyped cafes delivered ... :(
  2.  Up the ante:  
    • Barista Jam:  Start using VST basket, preferred 18 grams basket to 21 grams.  This is the cafe coffee enthusiasts should make a pilgrimage to if they are in the area... A surprise is in the shop too... :)
    • Coco Espresso: A version 2.0 of sort
       * New Espresso machine - PIDed Linea which replaced HX machine Astoria so no more annoying temp surfing and
       * New grinder conical burr Eureka Olympus K
      This combination gave a much clearer cup while maintains its previous character...  Nice.
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Paul_Pratt
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Paul_Pratt
Joined: 2 Sep 2002
Posts: 303
Location: Hong Kong
Expertise: Professional

Espresso: Marzocco SMAL + GS
Grinder: Vulcano
Drip: Pourover cone works best for...
Roaster: Probat
Posted Fri Jun 3, 2011, 1:36am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Hi Bob,

I thought I would chime in since a bit of history is in order.  The machine now at Coco is temporary as you may know. We worked with Johnson to come up with something a little different for his shop, something that reflects his style that would make him stand out. We really tried to steer him away from GB5 for reasons of individuality and what works best in his tight space.  The answer will be revealed shortly, but lets say that I was able to pull favours and he is having a machine custom made that is a great solution for him and will give him the ability to push his skills further.

The machine he actually has (on loan) now is a very special machine for me because it was my own personal machine when we opened our first shop at 180 Electric Road in Jan 1998.  See the attached picture, behind the counter is some 24 year old idiot :)   You will also see the first Mazzers for HK that my partner hand carried from Italy, they were also, if I remember, 110V.  The other 2 original Mazzers we bought back in '97 I think are in Mui Wo.  Before we got the mazzers we used Anfims and Eurekas.

The 3 group Linea is also from 1997.  I gave the machine to Eddie back in 2008 when he bought my roasting business and he is not allowed to sell it to anyone but me!

The new Strada at Barista Jam is also quite a special machine since I managed to get one of the first EP machines and one of the first 2 group machines ever made. I understand they are not using it yet for drinks,  I'm not sure why since it has many programs already and if they are that afraid of it they should just set it to the same profile as the GB5 off-9bar-off !!  It makes no sense to me.

Over the years I looked at Tai Hang a lot since I lived there for a long time. A lot of the fantastic old walk-ups are gone already. We even came close to signing a space for a roaster there back in 2001 but it was too residential for it to work even with an afterburner.  To be honest re: those small cafes we should give them time to develop, I wouldn't venture inside without some strong recommendations.  Cafe Corridor took a long while to get up to speed and it was only really the 2nd time around that they started to get noticed.

Paul_Pratt: 180ElectricRoad (Small).jpg
(Click for larger image)
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boblam
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Joined: 13 Mar 2011
Posts: 59
Posted Fri Jun 3, 2011, 7:59am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Hi Paul,  long time no talk since I bought the roasted coffee from you in 2007.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the REAL guy that knows a lot, not me... :)  He's a legendary not just in Hong Kong but more likely outside too, AFAIK..  My pleasure that Mr. Pratt joined in this post.

Paul_Pratt Said:

Hi Bob,

I thought I would chime in since a bit of history is in order.  The machine now at Coco is temporary as you may know. We worked with Johnson to come up with something a little different for his shop, something that reflects his style that would make him stand out. We really tried to steer him away from GB5 for reasons of individuality and what works best in his tight space.  The answer will be revealed shortly, but lets say that I was able to pull favours and he is having a machine custom made that is a great solution for him and will give him the ability to push his skills further.

Posted June 3, 2011 link

So, it wasn't me who steered him away from GB5.. :D

Also, William told me he was surprised too Johnson get Linea.

For what it's worth and if Johnson still remembered, I told him not to get GB5 as his requirement, consistent cups, does not need $$$ machine and Linea will be excellent.. To tell the truth, I still like cups pulled by Terry and Fiona from Linea until these days, my all time #1 HK espresso bar, and I don't see why they need to change... If it ain't broke...

Yes, I was told about the machine is actually on loan but did not have the clear idea and detail on his new Linea so thank you very much for your information... :)  I'm happy for him and this is great for the coffee enthusiast in Hong Kong... :)

Paul_Pratt Said:

The machine he actually has (on loan) now is a very special machine for me because it was my own personal machine when we opened our first shop at 180 Electric Road in Jan 1998.  See the attached picture, behind the counter is some 24 year old idiot :)   You will also see the first Mazzers for HK that my partner hand carried from Italy, they were also, if I remember, 110V.  The other 2 original Mazzers we bought back in '97 I think are in Mui Wo.  Before we got the mazzers we used Anfims and Eurekas.

The 3 group Linea is also from 1997.

Posted June 3, 2011 link

Wow!  Lots of memory in there!!!  I will try to go 'cherish' it, taking more pictures this weekend or next.  I had an espresso there last Wednesday when William at Barista Jam told me about his new machine..  I like the cup ie everything is mellow but you can distinguish all the nuances vs. everything stick out like a sore thumb, particularly Sumatra, when he used Astoria last weekend.

I gave the machine to Eddie back in 2008 when he bought my roasting business and he is not allowed to sell it to anyone but me!

Seriously, I love the "string" attached with Eddie... hahaha :D

Paul_Pratt Said:

The new Strada at Barista Jam is also quite a special machine since I managed to get one of the first EP machines and one of the first 2 group machines ever made. I understand they are not using it yet for drinks,  I'm not sure why since it has many programs already and if they are that afraid of it they should just set it to the same profile as the GB5 off-9bar-off !!  It makes no sense to me.

Posted June 3, 2011 link

Maybe those "privileged" regulars knew about this fact but I don't... Thank you very much.

I also don't understand the reason why it is a "display" model and I am not sure he wants anybody to know it earlier so I just left it as "a surprise is in the shop too"... Since you mentioned so I can talk freely about the machine now.  If William is mad, I told him to read this post then.. :D

Paul_Pratt Said:

Over the years I looked at Tai Hang a lot since I lived there for a long time. A lot of the fantastic old walk-ups are gone already. We even came close to signing a space for a roaster there back in 2001 but it was too residential for it to work even with an afterburner.  To be honest re: those small cafes we should give them time to develop, I wouldn't venture inside without some strong recommendations.  Cafe Corridor took a long while to get up to speed and it was only really the 2nd time around that they started to get noticed.

Posted June 3, 2011 link

It is getting so cool now there's lots of customers at Unar after 9PM!!!  But I hope it does not get any further gentrification.

Well, I don't want to be untruthful to myself and others about what were in the cup when I had it.  Also, my opinion is also very contrast (pole apart) to those who wrote very positive comments on these places.  I think it's very misleading but that's just me.  As this is the place newbie is more likely to start his coffee journey due to nice decoration and approachable location, I like to remind them that it's at best a very very early step and the real things were just a stone throw away.  In my writing, I did stretch myself far and wide to mention some good thing about them, hoping they took this time to develop and this is all I can do.. But this is a coffee enthusiast forum, I just don't want to sugar coat it... Hope you understand... :)
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Paul_Pratt
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Paul_Pratt
Joined: 2 Sep 2002
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Posted Fri Jun 3, 2011, 9:34pm
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Dear Bob,

Also, William told me he was surprised too Johnson get Linea.

For what it's worth and if Johnson still remembered, I told him not to get GB5 as his requirement, consistent cups, does not need $$$ machine and Linea will be excellent.. To tell the truth, I still like cups pulled by Terry and Fiona from Linea until these days, my all time #1 HK espresso bar, and I don't see why they need to change... If it ain't broke...

There are a few things to note here. Since around 2005 almost 99% of machines sold in HK + Macao have been GB/5 or FB80. Maybe one or two lineas only.  I would be lying if I said the main reason was due to PID temp control, in part it is,  but it was heavily influenced with other internal components that come with a GB5 to reduce the workload of the follow-up service.

Terry and Fiona's machine is one of the old school machines with a PID which I did for them in 2005. You are correct that there would be a noticeable different in the cup since it has a different group to the GB5 and 80's.  Without going into details I believe it is not about temperature but about flow restriction and extractions producing a fuller bodied coffee, this is my own personal preference of group as well but many people would say the opposite and prefer the new group design.  Temp control is just one component if you ask me.

Anyway now we can push for a special machine for Coco using new components with the old school set-up. So let's wait and see.  I think they and the customers will be happy. His Astoria machine is actually also non standard machine as well. It is a HX machine but uses a custom order group design and HX system, different than a standard HX thermosyphon and much different than other CMA machines.  Very cool and I think it produces a very well rounded coffee.  

Maybe those "privileged" regulars knew about this fact but I don't... Thank you very much.

Actually HK + Macao have a lot of treasures hidden away.  In Macao you will find GB/5 number 5 or 6 I think, it was the very first GB5 exported for sale, the first 3 or 4 went to the WBC in Seattle in 2005. We got the first one, for Hofex in 2005.  I want to buy it back so I can't tell anyone where it is :)  Only Felix knows where it is since he and I installed it.  

I also don't understand the reason why it is a "display" model and I am not sure he wants anybody to know it earlier so I just left it as "a surprise is in the shop too"...

The Strada is quite intimidating since it is so full of gizmos. But it is possible to run it as a normal machine and not let it get the better of you.  To run it in full manual mode would be a big mistake in a shop if you ask me. The manual mode is for playing and experimenting, the customers would only get the pre-programmed versions.

Well, I don't want to be untruthful to myself and others about what were in the cup when I had it.  Also, my opinion is also very contrast (pole apart) to those who wrote very positive comments on these places.  I think it's very misleading but that's just me.  As this is the place newbie is more likely to start his coffee journey due to nice decoration and approachable location, I like to remind them that it's at best a very very early step and the real things were just a stone throw away.  In my writing, I did stretch myself far and wide to mention some good thing about them, hoping they took this time to develop and this is all I can do.. But this is a coffee enthusiast forum, I just don't want to sugar coat it... Hope you understand... :)

Yes I agree, this is what is missing in HK. So much fluff, talk and self proclaimed "experts" in HK - the truth hurts sometimes. But if it elevates things then everyone wins.   Even though I had a very very small part of the set up of Crema it was great to see Terry realise his dream (he was a coffee nut for several years before the shop) and the way they go about their business without much fuss or fanfare is brilliant and a lesson for others.
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boblam
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Posted Fri Jun 3, 2011, 10:51pm
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Wow!  Again, thank you very much for all the information and details.

I just came back from Coco Espresso and, while I had somewhat different cups from the one I had on Wednesday which I prefer, it's really steps upward from what I have had there over the years with Astoria, making me looking forward for an even better cup from Coco with a new machine coming soon.  Also, saw a VST 18 gram basket lie sort of hidden under the Linea...  :D Will be going to Barista Jam later today... :)

This is really an exciting time for coffee scene in HK, particularly after Moses Chan's TV program in 2009, allowing more interest and $ to easily come into the business.  For a micro level that I witnessed myself, customers came to Coco, have coffee and asks details on coffee and type of grinder, etc and the recommendation they get to go to specialty shops.  I felt really good as this is a good foundation for good cafes/coffee culture going forward so I hope it feeds each other, resulting in less struggle for any coffee lover to get a good cup of coffee in HK in the future, ie one just drops by a cafe, get a cup and it's good...

Again, thank you very much Paul for your time and post.  :)
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Paul_Pratt
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Posted Thu Jun 9, 2011, 5:35am
Subject: Re: Places for Coffee in HK, Pearl River Delta
 

Bob we will test the Strada this saturday afternoon at BJ.  Nothing fancy just come down I think from 3:30pm onwards.

Paul
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