By Arthur Tam
More and more, millennials are choosing to forgo the corporate life. For many of Hong Kong’s young workers, the pursuit of passion and a different work-life balance have become the top priorities. This includes 28-year-old Alfred Kwok, who says he can’t fathom clocking into the traditional corporate grind. Kwok’s daily grind is of a different variety: coffee. In July, he won the 2017 Hong Kong Aeropress Championship. You will also be seeing him making coffee at the Tong Chong Street Market Pop-up Farmers’ Stall, outside Dorset House every Wednesday in September.
We sit with the up-and-coming barista to talk about how he fell into the world of artisanal lattes and why many of his generation is choosing not to climb the corporate ladder.
I’ve had a series of odd jobs since graduating with a biochemistry degree. My first job was doing administration work for a local art group.
Then I started working in the control room of a fire station coordinating distress calls. This job gave me a sense of satisfaction because I felt like I was contributing something to society. But it wasn’t part of any long-term career plan. I just wanted a job that would help me save enough money so I could go on a working holiday with my girlfriend.
After I had enough savings, I moved to Melbourne for nine months and started working in a café. I enjoyed the experience, and that’s when I discovered that I really liked the process of making coffee and the culture surrounding it. Different types of people can connect over a cup of coffee. It creates a kind of kinship that can cross cultural barriers.
Upon returning to Hong Kong I tried finding barista jobs, but it was quite difficult. The coffee culture here is not as developed as in Australia (and especially Melbourne). Also, I didn’t want to work long hours.
I need to get off work at a reasonable hour, like 6pm or 7pm. But unfortunately, Hong Kong’s work culture, at times, dictates people to work until the wee hours. I just can’t accept that.
So instead, I started a Facebook page called Taste Like Coffee (facebook.com/tastelikecoffee), as a platform to share my passion for coffee. During this time I decided to enter the 2017 Hong Kong Aeropress Championship – and won. Now I’m preparing for the international finals in South Korea – where winners from 50 countries will compete – while also working part-time for Swire Properties.
I tried working full time at a corporation, but that only lasted for about a week. There were a lot of standardised, bureaucratic systems there that I found creatively stifling. Taikoo Place is different to me though, because there are a lot of opportunities for people to interact and participate in activities like busking, film screenings and the pop-up farmers’ markets. It’s much more than a workplace to me.
I’m going with the flow in regards to everything that I’m doing with coffee. I’m just checking off the boxes as I go and I don’t want a full-time job. I like gigs like serving coffee at a pop-up shop, this time I’m taking the opportunity to serve coffee to people in Taikoo Place while contributing to fight food waste. The next goal is to save up enough money to open up my own coffee shop.
Find Kwok every Wednesday in September at the Be Nice to Life stall outside Dorset House, where he’ll be making coffee. Customers are encouraged to bring their own cup or pay HK$60 to get an eco-friendly eight-ounce FoFoCup, which is reusable and folds into an easy to carry size. All proceeds go to Food Angel, a Hong Kong NGO helping to feed disadvantaged communities.