Who doesn’t love a good cup of Joe (and the instant pick-me-up it provides), especially when you’re living in a forever bustling city like Hong Kong? When it comes to a good, robust brew, there’s probably no one who knows the ins-and-outs better than Benny Leung, co-founder of NOC Coffee Co, a craft coffee chain that opened its sixth store recently in Tin Hau. We chat with him about how far.
Hi Benny! What made you decide to start your very own coffee chain?
A good friend of mine gifted me with a capsule coffee machine many years ago, and that kick-started my curiosity to visit coffee chains and specialty coffee shops in Hong Kong. Whenever I travelled abroad, I got so impressed by the baristas’ artisanal skills and the quality of coffee compared to that in the pods, that I decided to give up my previous job in F&B to become a barista myself.
Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind NOC?
NOC is the acronym of Not Only Coffee. From my experience in the industry, it’s not just tasty food and beverages for an eatery to succeed, but also of exceptional customer service, a positive mindset, space design, hygiene and a lot more. These have been integrated into NOC’s core values.
Of course, NOC can be an acronym of other phrases as well. As an inside joke, I tell my team NOC also stands for No Other Choice – I want to provide a coffee experience so perfect, that customers will have No Other Choice than coming to us, or it can be No Other Colour: we intentionally choose only simple and clean colours for our spaces and tableware, so that the vibrancy of our coffee, food and staff will pop.
Is that the reason for the minimalistic aesthetic of your stores?
I’m a minimalist, and our design aesthetic comes from my preference for simplicity and appreciation on Scandinavian design. NOC’s palette, including white, light wood, and light concrete, is selected with the intention of curating a pure, undistracted cafe experience. From our state-of-the-art bean roasting process all the way to the chairs from Normann Copenhagen, and not to forget the hand-products we offer in the bathroom as well, were meticulously decided upon.
Is there a specific trend that in Hong Kong when it comes to coffee and cafe culture?
Coffee shops in Hong Kong are always among the first in the world to adapt new technologies and innovative brewing methods in the coffee industry, meaning customers get to taste a wide variety of coffees, brewed in different methods. Like most cities, there’s such a wide variety of coffee shops to choose from that I wouldn’t say there is a specific trend that makes Hong Kong unique, but there are plenty where you can have a unique experience.
Do you think there’s a rise in Hong Kongers diverting away from traditional coffee in favour of more Westernised cafes?
I don’t think the coffee offered in more Westernised cafes are a substitute to those you find in cha-chaan-teng style restaurants, in terms of product and experience. NOC coffees are perhaps more functional, giving Hong Kongers a caffeine kick to help them get through a work day or to enjoy the brew in a chilled setting, or simply a place for casual business meetings.
On the other hand, the cha-chaan-teng style food and beverages probably still hold more ‘emotional value’. A lot of us still love the familiar taste of Hong Kong style coffee paired with a traditional Hong Kong breakfast.
What is the experience that guests may expect when they visit the new Mercury Street store?
The new Mercury Street store is a few minutes’ walk from central Tin Hau, a bustling area known for serving up local delicacies. With an area of around 1,700 square feet, we conceived another urban sanctuary in everyday chaos of Hong Kong city. A sense of spaciousness is accentuated by floor-to-ceiling windows, white LED fittings highlights the L-shaped coffee bar while natural elements like wood are included to add warmth and texture.
Sustainability is all the rage these days. What are some things that that NOC is actually doing to be more eco-friendly?
As a young brand, I think it’s important for NOC to take the initiative to bring our attention to reducing environmental impact. We source all disposable items from biodegradable materials, as part of our vision to become a zero plastic store. Compared to countries like Germany or Taiwan, Hong Kong is not good at being eco-friendly, so we encouraged our customers to bring their own reusable cups, which we’ll offer 10% off any beverage.
We’re curious; what makes your house roasted coffee, No.18 and No. 34, unique?
No.34 was our first house blend, created in celebration of Graham store (in 2015) where it all began. Wanting to create a smooth, fruity espresso blend, we curated Colombian beans for a medium body, Guatemalan for sweetness and balance, and Ethiopian for acidity. We recommend sipping No.34 in black, so that you can enjoy its aromas to the fullest.
Our second house blend, No.18, was named after the shop number of our Gough location. The blend was designed to be a heavy-bodied espresso blend with aromas of dark chocolate, so we combined seasonal beans from Colombia and Brazil, and roasted them a little bit darker. The rich mouthfeel and nutty notes make it perfect with or without milk.
On top of this, we are the only café in central Hong Kong to roast our coffee in front of customers, giving them full access to seeing the entire process.
Lastly, how do you personally like your coffee?
I drink a piccolo first thing in the morning, and sip on a large black coffee in the afternoon. If it’s a particularly busy day, I’ll also have a strong flat white – we’re told it’s the best outside of Melbourne.
NOC Mercury Store is located at G/F, 23 Mercury St, Tin Hau, Hong Kong, p. +852 3619 7500. Opens daily 8am – 6pm.