Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a casual speed date. This week, we speak to Jennifer W.F. Liu, founder of The Coffee Academïcs.
These days, the opening of a brand-new coffee shop is familiar. Workaday. There’s one today, another tomorrow and next week? More, still. And on goes the cavalcade of exciting new lattes to spend an afternoon sipping; of recycled questions — Do you have oat milk? Does this come iced? What’s a, uh, cascara? — to ask. Yet, it wasn’t always so. It’s hard to imagine a time in Hong Kong when the choice for caffeine begins and ends with one of two choices, but those darker times did exist. Now, she most likely wouldn’t take credit for it, but Jennifer W.F. Liu, founder of The Coffee Academïcs, has a lot to do with how we enjoy coffee here in Hong Kong.
Innovation, for Liu, comes as it often does: from necessity.
“In architecture school, we’d pull all nighters and coffee became an important life necessity,” remembers Liu. “There were no boutique, niche coffeehouses in Hong Kong when I came back post-graduation, so that’s how my coffee project started off — as a side hobby. And the rest is history.”
Unlike chain coffee slingers that serve up mugfuls as hot and as fast as possible, with foreign denotations — the Grandes; the Ventis — meant to confuse and alienate, The Coffee Academïcs (TCA) is, instead, a place for education. For getting to know the ins-and-outs of the cup of coffee you’re sipping on. For knowing “speciality” coffee isn’t merely euphemism for “good”, that “specialty coffee” — TCA’s bread and butter — actually means the top 5% of the best Arabica beans with a grade of 80 points and above.
“Coffee is a social connector, regardless of culture, language, gender or ethnicity,” says Liu. “It connects to many important subjects and many experiences that I would otherwise neglect or didn’t realise.”
It’s this diversity of experience that informs so much of Liu’s interests, which, then, became businesses. You don’t become one of Forbes’ Asia Power Businesswomen by resting on your laurels, and Liu — one of Forbes’ Asia Power Businesswomen and the founder of a now 40-and-thriving TCA outlets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines — assuredly, does not.
From TCA came The Roastery Academïcs, a brand-new 12,000 square-foot roasting facility in Tuen Mun, which officially makes the coffee house one with the largest range and production capacity of any Hong Kong coffee brand. From TCA also came the TCA CONNECT Foundation, the brand’s philanthropic arm tackling human rights, LGBTQ issues, poverty, elderly care and more. Because for Liu, who takes a page out of her father’s teaching, business and charity goes hand in hand.
So, brew up a mugful — Liu is into single-origin hand pours these days — and get to know the woman behind The Coffee Academïcs, TCA CONNECT Foundation and, most likely, your favourite cup of coffee in the city.
Jennifer W.F. Liu Spills the Beans:
Name: Jennifer W.F. Liu
Neighbourhood: Hong Kong Island
Occupation: Design architect, founder and chairwoman of The Coffee Academïcs
1. What is your life motto?
It’s either all in, or don’t bother doing it at all.
2. What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten in Hong Kong?
Home-cooked meals by anyone I love and care for.
3. Who is your role model?
My grandparents and parents.
4. What was your first job?
An architectural apprentice in New York City.
5. What is your drink of choice?
TCA’s “Steam” in the summers and a piccolo latte in the winters.
6. When was the last time you drove a car?
Mid-2020. It was an Aston Martin DB9.
7. Which phone app do you think more people should know about?
Masterclass and Blinkist.
8. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Taiwanese “Sao Lung Bao”.
9. What is your biggest regret in life?
What’s there to regret?
10. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
Not having a common vision and goal for the city.
11. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? What were you doing/where did you go?
I love taking it to Harbour City to visit my TCA team there.
12. What is one movie everyone should see?
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
13. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
When I was around 23 to 25, fresh after graduation. I was still clueless about almost everything, which made me fearless, fun and super creative.
14. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Paris, je t’aime.
15. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
If they put spam and mini cheese sausages in hotpot.
16. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
“Fields of Gold” and “Shape of my Heart”, both by Sting!
17. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
I take a boat to a remote island, like Yim Tin Tsai outside of Sai Kung.
18. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Sunday Eggs Benedict at the Mandarin Oriental in Central.
19. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
I love fashion more than architecture! Haha.
20. What is your favourite scent in the whole world?
Frederic Malle’s Une Rose.
21. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
I’m a self-proclaimed vongole master since studying in Rome.
22. What was the best gift you ever received?
A little book of reminders from my dad, about dreams and to never stop chasing for one.
23. What energises you about your work?
As a goal getter, I am motivated by objectives and achievements.
24. If you could do it all over again, what is one thing you would do differently?
To enjoy my 20’s and 30’s, and start a business at 35 — not 25!
25. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
When he’s not there for me during my most difficult moments.
26. If you could snap your fingers and fix one thing about the world, what would it be?
What else except the world without Covid/Delta/Omicron?
27. Do you believe in astrology? Why or why not?
I’m a super Sagittarius! I run around a lot and have lots of energy when I’m excited. I love being free to create and explore. I know ten other Sagittarius and they are all similar too!
The Coffee Academïcs is now offering “TCA+ Delivers”, a door-to-door in-house delivery service with a limited-time 30% discount on drinks and food for self pick-up or delivery through 31 March 2022. Order via WhatsApp.