“Hong Kongers don’t have time for another coffee shop,” says the owner of Clean Coffee, Cynthia Lok who does not disappoint when it comes to a unique coffee experience in the city. As huge fans of their cafe and laundromat location in Sheung Wan our team was very excited to visit their new ‘tap and go specialty coffee bar’ in TST.
Riding the elevator down into the basement of Chunking Mansions you can the soft pink hues of Clean with their iconic decore reminding us of a futuristic, American diner. The stylised food vending machine and innovative automated coffee taps make this one of the fastest places to get coffee and a bite to eat in the city. Clean’s mission has always been to make sustainable living more affordable and accessible, with this new concept well within those confounds.
Talking to Cynthia, you can tell she knows her coffee and is mindful of the myriad of challenges faced by coffee-growing communities. “Coffee prices are skyrocketing because of the climate crisis and global supply chain issues, and Hong Kong prices are even higher because rental prices are so high,” says Cynthia. Even so, a cup of Clean coffee won’t cost you more than HK$30.
Clean has a few concepts that take customers a little while to get used to, like not charging for oat milk but charging for dairy. “It is a change of behaviour and a conversation opener, we often lose our voices explaining the situation that oat milk has a lower carbon footprint.”
“It took a while for people to wrap their heads around the way we do things, and some would even prefer to go elsewhere just based on principle. But now we have got to a place where we have loyal customers because they believe in what we are doing and our commitment to sustainability” Cynthia explains.
The landlord in TST approached Clean to revitalise the basement of Chungking Mansions. Clean jumped at the chance to innovate the way Hong Kong people drink coffee “we always look to other countries such as Australia and Japan, for coffee culture, so when we were approached, we knew we wanted to do something different. Our new venture was really inspired by the fast and intense pace of Hong Kong, so being able to provide sustainably sourced specialty coffee quicker was the ultimate goal. At that time, we didn’t know what the right model was… we looked at the robot arm too, but we realised apart from replacing the human arm with a robot, the flow of making coffee was the same. I walked past some beer taps one day and that’s when I thought, if beer and cocktails can come out of a tap, why can’t coffee too? The solution didn’t exist on the market that time, so I searched across the world for help and we finally landed on the customised taps that we have today. Having said so, the taps are just the presentation, the real work and innovation comes from our new brewing method which took months to perfect. I’m still amazed we managed to make coffee that has a similar intensity and body as espresso-based drinks, but without using an espresso machine” Cynthia told us.
Coffee is brewed freshly on site every day in the kitchen in the back, and checked regularly to ensure quality. “We’re still refining the recipe and work flow every day; coffee can be very volatile, small changes to water pressure, humidity, weather can affect the flavour profile completely”, said Cynthia. Also, because Clean uses oat milk, there is an extra challenge of ensuring each cup of white coffee is creamy and smooth “which is quite difficult as we don’t have the power of the steam wand from an expresso machine. Having said so, we’re so proud of what we’ve created and we’re excited to create new experiences for the Hong Kong coffee world”.
The store is neatly set out with two vending machines, a heated vending machine for pastries, and the other that sells Sustainabl. Planet’s truly sustainable takeaway cups. There is a recycling bin on site to ensure Clean helps close the loop on their waste. “The coffee industry is known to have a lot of waste, and coffee cups are the one thing that is easy to fix,” says Cynthia.
“We love working with suppliers, like Sustainabl. Planet, who share the same values as us. My experience with the Sheung Wan store looped me into the composting topic, but as you learn more, you find out that there is a lot of greenwashing and that Hong Kong doesn't have good composting facilities. But for most people, it is hard, and composting is a luxury.” Knowing that the HK Government is working to increase awareness of recycling with their Green@Community centres, it makes sense to work with Sustainabl. And use their bamboo paper cups and FSC-certified pastry bags that can be recycled into paper pulp.
Located at Shop 12, Heath, B/F, 36-44 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong Clean’s coffee shop is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm. We recommend you visit soon!