Peeps in Hong Kong are constantly on the lookout for quirky new cafes to try, and KAFFE is a humble corner in Square Street that needs to be on your list.
From glitzy and glamorous malls, to busy and boozy spots for brunch, there is always a lot happening in The 852. With the ever-changing scene, some note-worthy cafes in Hong Kong fall under the radar. The most intriguing of Hong Kong’s multitude of offerings are often beyond the sight of the average tourist. KAFFE, Hong Kong’s first and only Swedish cafe, is one of them. Ensconced in Square Street, right up a turn from the iconic Hollywood Road, even the keenest eye and most diligent explorer may struggle to seek it out.
A cafe called KAFFE
As I approached the cafe, it took me a moment to register everything that it offered visually. Right below the big black board that said “KAFFE” in bold was a serving window, where a few customers sipped on their drink, amicably chatting with the staff. As I entered, I saw a serving area, similar to that of any coffee shop, with coffee maker machines, cups, and pastries under plastic covers. As I walked further in, there were sofas and tables for customers, and nearly every inch of the walls was covered by maps of Hong Kong, posters, and pictures. The glass-topped coffee table had a number of interestingly designed watches and quaint table pieces, creating a cozy, yet curious atmosphere.
The owner, Alexis Holm, answered many of the questions that I had in mind. The cafe, he said, was an ‘innocent creation’ that complemented the retail store for his company, ‘Tiny Island’. Originally from Stockholm, Holm moved to Hong Kong in 2009 to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors that amalgamated with his love for design. A few years into setting up his store, Holm realised that he needed to come up with a way to set it apart and catch people’s eye.
Fika gets us
It was then that it struck him that he could draw upon Sweden’s unique coffee culture to set up a Swedish cafe in the city. The Swedish word ‘Fika’ is used to refer to afternoon coffee with friends, an experience that transcends gulping down coffee to unleash bursts of energy to mindlessly power through dreary hours of work. Thus began Holm’s Herculean task of seeking out a Swedish baker and researching coffees he could bring in from Sweden. Today, KAFFE serves pastries and coffee crafted carefully with cinnamon, coffee beans and other condiments imported from cities around Sweden.
Holm believes that KAFFE’s purpose is to sell customers a unique experience in an organic, homely atmosphere. The unusually low countertop and the relaxed demeanor of the staff helps bridge the gap between the servers and the served, and the almost-’messy’ seating area creates a comfortable clutter. The cafe is open to customers wanting to spend time there, mulling over the Tiny Island maps on the wall, channeling their creativity for their work, or even just unwinding, chatting with their friends.
“It’s what ‘fika’ is all about — dialogue and sitting down and talking,” he says.
Doing things differently
The cafe’s lack of a high-maintenance interior and the fact that it doesn’t survive on its revenue gifts Holm the leeway to prioritise the authenticity of the Swedish coffee experience. The buns they offer taste much different from the buns sold in local bakeries, and the coffee is prepared such that it is “more sour and fruity and bean-specific” than the rich coffee favoured by most. Holm knows full well that KAFFE’s ambience may not appeal to all, and that their coffee may not suit everyone’s palate.
“We had two Italian guys come in here, try the coffee, and walk out. They couldn’t drink it, to them it tastes like fruity acid. So it’s not for everyone,” he explains.
Tiny Island, Holm’s company, designs maps, candles, umbrellas and other products that revolve around all things Hong Kong. It was born out of his deep interest in design, despite not having an academic or professional background in it. The idea of taking things apart, putting them together, and creating new things out of them fascinates him, and Hong Kong, a hub for innovation and novelty, seemed the perfect place to pursue his aspirations.
KAFFE straddles the line between a cafe and a retail store, a delicate balance that Holm makes great effort to maintain. Here, customers enjoy an international coffee experience while they shop for local memorabilia. Holm has his fingers crossed for the revival of tourism in Hong Kong, so that he has visitors streaming into KAFFE again, longing for a coffee break after visiting the Man Mo temple located a stone’s throw away.
“I think the world is waiting for it,” he says. “Either people are waiting for tourists or they’re waiting to be one.”
Holm believes that coffee and design are connected in many ways, an intersection that KAFFE represents. They both move the mind and inspire, and it is a staple for “every entrepreneur, designer and creator”, especially in the bustling city of Hong Kong. As for him personally, the two are inextricably linked.
“I need coffee. Otherwise I can’t design anything,” he jokingly admits.
KAFFE, 15 Square St, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, p. 5107 0447