Here comes the neighbourhood

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2012, 12:00am


Sheung Wan's historic Tai Ping Shan Street is a good place to puzzle over the phrase 'intangible cultural heritage'. Now you can probably find people who will discuss it with you over a really good cup of coffee.

Until recently, this short stretch of street crossed by 'ladder streets' was the preserve of mechanics' and printing workshops. Pedestrians only passed through on their way to somewhere else. As rising rents pushed many small business owners out of Central, designers, architects, studios, serviced apartments, galleries, boutiques and cafes moved in. For the moment, the area retains much of the charm that first attracted them all. For a pleasant few hours pottering, walk west from Staunton Street, along Bridges Street and head down the steps.

One of the first of the new wave of cafes in this area was Homei (22-24 Tai Ping Shan St, tel: 28579991; Tucked between a photo gallery and an old-style workshop, it's a cute cafe with fewer than a dozen seats. You can grab a muffin and a latte to go, sit on the step outside, or enjoy the homey atmosphere inside.

Homei has a small menu of coffees and flavoured coffees and teas to go, along with a selection of lovingly made cakes and pies. Freshly made soup with garlic bread (HK$30) is a tempting lunchtime choice, and there's usually a moderately priced pasta dish on offer, too. The cakes of the day are a mix of classic desserts with a few twists, such as rose cheesecake.

Coffee lovers and all students of the bean will adore the Knockbox Coffee Company (shop B, 14 Tai Ping Shan St; no telephone). This tiny coffee shop in a former designer studio is up a side lane of Tai Ping Shan Street, below Blake Garden. At first glance, it looks as if you have walked into someone's personal chemistry lab. The counter is filled with glass flasks, tubes and all manner of contraptions that allow Knockbox to brew coffee many ways.

Like most of the cafes in Tai Ping Shan Street, what could be an intimidating experience - walking into a small space where connoisseurs and a style-conscious clientele are relaxing - is immediately diffused by the friendliness of staff and customers.

At Knockbox, a regular customer fetches me a glass of water while barista Jonathan focuses on making me a perfect shot of espresso, HK$20. There's an exotic selection of coffees from some well-known and up-and-coming regions, as well as regular featured beans. There is also good a choice of single origin coffees to make for 'a cup of excellence'.

Knockbox also roasts its own coffee, and there's a chunky Probat roasting machine from Germany stuck in the corner.

The next lane along is the new permanent nook for Teakha (shop B, 18 Tai Ping Shan St; tel: 28589185;, a former pop-up cafe. The design is slightly whimsical, modern Asian. Teakha describes itself as a teashop and zakka store.

Zakka means 'many things' in Japanese, and has become an all-encompassing term for shops and online stores selling anything that can improve your overall home and lifestyle choices.

Nana Chan, a lawyer and food blogger turned cafe owner and baker of delicious cakes, is often on hand. She serves teas from around world, including Indian chai, Hong Kong-style milk tea and matcha latte with Hokkaido black sugar, and Darjeeling teas.

Teakha has an irresistible selection of home-made cakes and scones. With a choice of ginger, fig, roselle hibiscus or scone of the day, the scones (HK$18) resemble large cookies and are softer and lighter than the English variety.

With delicious nuggets of crystallised ginger, the ginger scone could steal the show from any sickly frosted cupcake. Tea lovers can expand their knowledge with a visit to Tea Studio (shop 2 G/F, 11 Po Yan St; tel: 25811088) at the western end of Tai Peng Shan Street.

Follow the smell of incense, pass a cluster of small Earth God shrines no bigger than a shophouse storefront, then head down the steps. On the left is Tea Studio's decidedly utilitarian entrance.

Inside tea connoisseur Ivan Chiu and his wife, Tora, have created an oasis dedicated to tea and tea culture. A qualified tea connoisseur from Hangzhou's Tea Research Institute, Chiu's aim is to deal direct with select tea farms. The area's more moderate rents mean that they can keep prices reasonable.

Antique Shanxi furniture and carved windows set the scene for this most traditional of drinks.

Tea Studio has Puer tea cakes from HK$460 for 357 grams and loose green teas starting from HK$50 for 37.5 grams. The much sought after Wuyi Shan Dai Hong Pao (rock tea) is HK$230 for 75 grams and there's also Chiu's own refreshing blend of English breakfast tea.

He says connoisseurs and curious novices are equally welcome. Chiu takes great delight in helping customers select the tea that will suit their tastes and budgets.

'Tea is purely for self-enjoyment, and you must get to know the one you like,' he explains.

Besides informal tea tastings, the shop also offers tea appreciation courses for small groups.

If keeping it real is your thing, Tai Ping Shan Street has a few longstanding Hong Kong-style diners to give nostalgia junkies and heritage hunters a taste of cha chaan teng classics.

Located on a corner, For Kee Restaurant (shop J-K, 200 Hollywood Rd; tel:, 25468947) has a brisk turnover of loyal customers. The menu here is in Chinese only. If you can't read characters, there are some photos with numbers to help you navigate.

Try the excellent pork buns (HK$24), or a satisfying doorstep of a fried egg sandwich (HK$12), thick white toast (with crust), and a coffee or milk tea (HK$12).