Caffè latte is my favourite coffee. It’s a combination of espresso and a large amount of steamed milk, and it has become one of the popular drinks among young people in Asia, with versions made with tea, including green tea lattes, chai lattes and oolong latte, to name a few. It’s also a canvas for latte art, with baristas using the coffee or tea to create patterns and drawings on the milk foam.
That foam is important, because it makes the coffee less bitter and makes it feel a bit like having a dessert – although I understand that coffee connoisseurs usually prefer a more authentic experience of drinking coffee, such as an espresso or a hand drip, so they can taste the coffee bean’s degree of roast and way the coffee tastes at different temperatures.
I recently moved to Europe for work. Here, caffè lattes are often served in a glass or in a mug. But I now feel nostalgic about the lattes I had in beautiful Chinese-style porcelain in Hong Kong. As I travelled around Hong Kong visiting different cafés, I was amazed to find that I could sip my beloved latte in elegant porcelain. I was telling this to some new friends while having dinner in a Japanese restaurant in London, trying to explain what I found exciting about the experience of drinking a latte from these cups. Perhaps it’s the way it blends Eastern and Western cultures; Hong Kong has always been a multicultural city, even if it is predominantly Cantonese.
Here are some cafés where my experience was so memorable, I still miss them. It’s definitely not new to mix Western and Asian food and utensils, but presenting caffè latte in these cups reflects the café, restaurant and pub owners’ creativity and the mood of their businesses. The experiences were indeed impressive. The presentation does matter.
Dose Peel Street
28 Peel Street, Central
My preferred type of china is Delftware, which is a type of blue-and-white, tin-glazed pottery made in the Dutch city of Delft, where local potters were inspired by Chinese porcelain after it was imported to the Netherlands in the early 17th century. I was so impressed to see the cup of latte in a Delft floral china cup at this pub in Soho that I felt that I should also order a tiramisu with the latte. Sipping the foaming latte from the china cup is definitely a different experience than sipping pou2 nei2 (普洱, pu’er) or jasmine tea with it. It’s somehow like eating dim sum with a fork instead of chopsticks: the feeling of challenging the cultural norm is exciting. It’s certainly even more interesting to drink it in a pub at one of the trendiest nightlife districts in Hong Kong.
1/F, Perfect Commercial Building, 28 Sharp Street West, Causeway Bay
Another amazing latte that I drank from a Chinese porcelain-style cup was an aqua-coloured one with patterns of jyu4 ji3 (如意, “good wishes”) surrounding the edge of the cup and some coeng4 wan4 (祥雲,“graceful clouds”) and floral patterns below. Although this wasn’t really a porcelain cup, only a plastic cup in the style of Chinese porcelain, it gave a similar impression.
It was served with a cinnamon latte. Stirring the cinnamon stick in the latte in the Chinese porcelain-style cup was like stirring a china spoon in a bowl of congee. I stopped stirring the cinnamon stick to watch cinnamon powder diffuse into the latte. It might sound bizarre, but isn’t it like dipping a jau4 zaa3 gwai2 (油炸鬼), the deep-fried strip of dough that is popular in congee shops in Hong Kong in a bowl of congee?
I had this wonderful cup of cinnamon latte at a second-floor restaurant in a small building discreetly tucked into a corner of bustling Causeway Bay. The space is decorated with sarcastic British-style humour, with a caricature of Queen Elizabeth II on the wall, surrounded by provocative messages and images. Again, what an experience of sipping a cinnamon latte with a traditional Chinese-style cup in such an environment.
12 Tung Street, Sheung Wan
I had another memorable experience at this small, moody café in one of the small streets of Sheung Wan. Decorated with old furniture, including old classroom chairs and tables, the cafe obviously targets man4 ceng1 (文青), referring to young people who like to read books, especially literature. Sensational Chinese sentences expressing nostalgic feelings of good memories are found on the walls of the café.
The latte was served in the kind of blue and white porcelain cup that used to be commonly found in many Hongkongers’ homes. This brought back memories of my childhood: memories of the good old days when we could express our thoughts and feelings without having to worry too much about whether we shouldn’t say certain things, especially the crazy chats with classmates on films and cultures after lectures.
A dry pineapple dessert, which was shaped like a flower, was a perfect match with the latte and the mood of the cafe. I couldn’t help but to browse the video segments of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, Fallen Angels and Days of Being Wild while I was sipping my cup of latte in the cafe.