- by Vanessa Lee
Owner and barista of the Facebook community - Coffeer, Alex Lai joins Forbidden to talk about, well, a lot: how he switched from an editor to a barista, his coffee sharing experience during his working holiday in France, and his advice to people who are also looking for a new career journey.
1. So, which coffee shop are we at?
We are at Common Room & Co. in Hong Kong. It is a complex multiple functions space. Here is a combination of café, book store, makerspace and art gallery. This is one of the rarely unique space in Hong Kong, which aims at connecting different people together.
I work here since the shop opened one and half years ago after I came back to Hong Kong from my working holiday in France.
2. As I know, you worked in a completely different industry before you became a barista, can you tell us how did you start your coffee journey?
Yes, photography was my passion. I worked before as an editor in a photography magazine. I wrote about new cameras and lens in the market, as well as the culture of photography.
Until the magic moment happened in 2013 when I had my fist pour over in Tai Wan. It was the first time I had a “true” cup of coffee. It changed my life. I first bought brewing equipments and self-learnt at home. Later on, I was more obsessed because I had experienced the unlimited possibilities in coffee.
I couldn’t help but totally fell in love with coffee, even more passionated than I was in photography. I spent around a year meeting barista in different coffee shops before I decided to go for my Europe “Coffee Trip" in France in 2015.
3. So you first started your coffee journey in Tai Wan. And why did you go to France?
There were a few reasons.
First, like most of the others, I wanted to explore the world a bit more. I always love France as I learnt a bit of French in university. And I am interested in French culture.
Second is I wanted to challenge myself if I really had a bigger passion in coffee then my pervious work - photography. I saw this as a time for me to reflect and understand more about myself. I took some simple brewing equipments with me and hit the road! As I believe coffee is a media to meet people, I held coffee sharing sessions in hostels. This led me to seeing a new world and a lot of new friends. From this experience, I improved hugely on my skills in communicating and presenting coffee.
Third, I also wanted to understand and learn more about other countries’ coffee culture. I worked in a coffeeshop in France and experienced the work as a French barista, which was quite exciting.
4. Interesting! I believe following your heart and passion will lead you to where beyond your imagination. Now you become a barista in Hong Kong, what inspiring lesson have you learnt from your trip that you apply now to your barista work?
I think my job now is the extension of my coffee sharing experience from the trip.
When I came back from France, I met this place - Common Room & Co. . This name reveals its goal - to serve as a common room and share different things in the same space. From design to the actual operations, here emphasises communication. And this is what I learnt from the trip.
Also because of this special experience, I created a drink item - Common Brew on our menu. Customers can brew using the same coffee beans and same equipment with their friends. After that, they can of course try each other’s coffee. Then, they will experience the fun of brewing, as well as the possibilities of coffee.
5. Now, a more personal question, you went from simply coffee lover to a barista, what do you think coffee means to you?
I think coffee is a gift to me since the beginning.
It gifted me a media to connect people from all around the world.
It gifted me a job that I love. And led me to this unique space in Hong Kong.
6. You have come all the way to here. Now, what is your next step?
I want to write a book! It will include the story of me and coffee. And of course the experience and fun things happened during my working holiday. I will also continue to use coffee as a stage to cooperate with different brands and people, like some cross-over events to exchange ideas with different people in the industry and to promote coffee culture in Hong Kong.
7. Can’t wait when your book is out! Lastly, do you have any advice for people who also want to start a new journey from their current career like you?
Want to know what’s the advice from Alex to you?
P.S. I hope you enjoy the interview with Alex. I love his story and how he simply enjoys doing what he loves.
I love connecting barista and passionated people in the industry. Wherever you are in the world, I’d love to connect and chat about coffee. Comment below if you know interesting barista to explore!
Common Room & Co.
Address: G/F 198 Tai Nan Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong