Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. Each week in 27 Questions, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims, aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same duration it takes to sit through a two-minute speed date.
In the midst of this year’s Mid-Autumn festivities, we’re taking a beat to grab a cuppa with Cara Li — one half of the duo behind Hong Kong’s first purveyor of contemporary matcha drinks, Matchali. Along with cousin Laura Li, Cara started the popular green tea-based beverage business in early 2020 — at a time when many Hongkongers were already obsessing about healthier, more nutritious lifestyle choices.
It’s a demand that the 29 year-old culinary arts grad is well-placed to tackle, with health consciousness being a lynchpin of her burgeoning new brand. “Whilst matcha is impressive on its own,” says Cara, “we like to kick things up a notch with the addition of superfoods which embrace seasonality and go big on nutrients.” “We’re also big on plant-based milk options and offer minimal to no sweeteners — all without refined sugar.”
The crux of this concept — stylish, healthy beverages that just so happen to photograph well — isn’t necessarily original, but there’s plenty of evidence to support Cara’s reputation as its most capable champion in Hong Kong. The Matchali co-founder’s many delightful creations — activated charcoal lattes, hojicha cocoa, tea-infused pastries — are as much about flavour as they are nutrition — made possible by her experiences at the National Gourmet Institute and from a stint staging under award-winning chef Daniel Boulud.
Stooped over a couple chawan with whisk in hand, we speak to Cara about her passion for ceramics; the tripartite requirements for a ‘real’ Hongkonger; where you’ll find her go-to Negroni and much more.
1. What is your life motto?
2. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?
Probably a toss-up between Mott 32, Yardbird, and Sushi Zo.
3. What was your first job?
Working on the shop floor of Joseph Boutique in London — I was doing my BA in fashion business at the time.
4. What is your drink of choice?
5. When was the last time you drove a car?
I actually drive everyday: to and from work, and between our various store locations.
6. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
7. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Cheese! I’m a huge cheese lover.
8. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
Honestly? There’s nothing I ‘hate’ about living here. For years I resided between New York and Hong Kong, so being back more permanently (surrounded by friends and family) has made me very content.
9. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
A tie between Copenhagen and Mexico City — both great food destinations of course!
10. How often do you prepare your own meals?
All the time. Given my culinary training and how much I enjoy spending time with family and friends; cooking is a great means of relaxing.
11. What is your greatest fear?
Anything which involves being attached to a harness and rappelling down a mountain backwards!
12. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Probably potato chips — my preferred flavours are salt and vinegar or cheese and onion.
13. What is one movie everyone should see?
‘Father of the Bride’ (1991): such a funny, feel-good rom-com that always makes me laugh.
14. What is your typical Sunday like?
Some kind of exercise, followed by yumcha and a check-in at our various stores.
15. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
Boarding school in Switzerland. At the time, I don’t think I fully appreciated how idyllic it was when I was there — the beautiful mountains, fresh air, the food…
16. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Probably London — I’ve lived there before but would definitely like to revisit it.
17. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
A shared love of hotpot, hairy crab and karaoke.
18. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire.
19. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
XYZ — though you’re surrounded by people, I find you really get in the zone when you’re spinning. It’s almost like a form of meditation.
20. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
The Christmas holidays — till this day I love the traditions (and food!) that come along with it.
21. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
Bibliotheque by Byredo.
22. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
Lately, I’ve been really into slow-roasted meats.
23. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
I’m lucky to have a great business partner in the form of Laura: our personalities are really quite different but they complement one another. She’s always taught me to be less reactive.
24. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.
Does pizza count?
25. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? Which do you wear the most often?
They’re too numerous to even count — but definitely a lot of sneakers and sandals. I’m on my feet most of the day, so comfort is essential.
26. Would you rather never be alone for a single moment, or be alone for the rest of your life? Why?
I value alone time but I definitely don’t think I could do it for the rest of my life!
27. What is the last dream you remember waking up to?
The details are vague but (as usual) it was work-related [laughs].