Coffee culture

Coffee culture

Vincent Cheng Man-fai. Photo: Edward Wong

Zoe Mak talks to a man for whom the caffeine hit is more than a mocha or a latte - it's about appreciation and taste

Coffee has soared in popularity among city teenagers since foreign coffee chains hit town a decade or more ago.

Starbucks and Pacific Coffee are packed with youngsters on their laptops or iPhones out of school hours. But, for all the mocha, latte, skinny or soy choices, most coffee addicts do not know a lot about what they are drinking.

So says Vincent Cheng Man-fai, head trainer from Lavazza Training Centre in Hong Kong. He has eight years of coffee expertise and is glad to see more people drinking it, but thinks young coffee drinkers should learn to appreciate coffee.

Coffee is made from the seeds of plants from the Rubiaceae family. There are two main species of coffee: Arabica and Robusta, which share more than 90 per cent of coffee distribution in the globe.

Coffee plants - they are actually more like trees - mostly grow in tropical and equatorial regions. They need a humid climate with temperatures ranging from 15 to 30 degrees Celsius. They grow best in volcanic soils that are rich in nitrogen.

The tree has a life span of up to 30 years and approximately 900g of coffee beans can be harvested from each plant every year.

Arabica has egg-shaped, elongated greenish-blue beans. It accounts for more than 60 per cent of world production. It contains 1 to 1.5 per cent of caffeine and it is acidic, aromatic and sweet. It grows in Central and Southern America, Eastern Africa and India.

Robusta, which has rounded, yellowish-grey beans, accounts for more than 20 per cent of coffee production. It has a higher percentage of caffeine at 2 to 4 per cent. It is not as aromatic and it grows in western Africa and Southeast Asia.

But taste is still largely in the roasting. 'Italy doesn't grow coffee - the climate there is not suitable,' Cheng says. 'But Italy is famous for its roasting techniques, and there are more than 700 companies that roast coffee beans in Italy.'

Cheng points out that the taste and quality of the coffee beans are directly affected by the way it is roasted, temperature, humidity, and the skills of the people who handle the beans.

Young consumers in Hong Kong usually spend more than HK$30 on a cup of coffee, but not many know what they are buying. Cheng says: 'It's like red wine, if you like it, you should take some time to learn and appreciate it.'

How coffee beans are treated, ground and mixed has evolved into different tastes, textures and sizes in different places around the globe. Some chains add chocolate, caramel, Japanese green tea or even fruit to customise it and provide more variety. But Cheng claims that there is increasing demand for simple, quality coffee in Hong Kong.

'More local youngsters have learnt that coffee is more than just espresso and cappuccino, and that you can add other flavours to it, and more people are drinking coffee because they feel that it's trendy but I also think people are becoming aware and are now seeking good coffee in Hong Kong. They are willing to try different coffees from different shops,' he says.

He encourages young coffee drinkers to be adventurous and try out different brands around town. He says the taste of coffee is personal - some people prefer more acidic or aromatic. Everyone has a preference, but you need to know how to recognise it.

Over the summer, Young Post readers will be treated to a coffee exploration workshop. To subscribe to our summer reading programme, check out our website, click here.

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