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A Breath of Fresh Coffee

Baniel Cheung
Baniel Cheung delivers a lecture

Following a lengthy career as a consultant for many household brands, Baniel Cheung decided to turn his hand to “consulting” for his own brand to fulfil his dream – opening a Japanese luxury café, named Kohee (coffee in Japanese).

Cheung, who is also an Honorary Assistant Professor teaching in the Global Creative Industries programme at the University of Hong Kong, has been fascinated by Japan for many years. Five years ago, the thought of “consulting” his own brand popped up in his mind, and the concept of opening a Japanese luxury café in Hong Kong has been on his to-do list ever since.

In 2013, when a traditional Japanese luxury cookie and coffee brand – Ginza West – approached him for consultation and partnership in their expansion into Hong Kong, their first international venture.

Ginza West, with a nostalgic coffee shop in the Ginza district in Tokyo, is famous for its handmade cookies and coffee. Specialising in baking crispy and multi-layered handmade cakes, Cheung says it counts Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Akihito among its patrons.

Cheung heard opportunity knock.

“I talked to them many times but they insisted to only export their confectionery products to Hong Kong and not their coffee at that moment,” Cheung said. “I helped them expand their business according to their interest but this further enhanced my desire to create my own luxury café.”

Bringing in Japanese Lifestyle

It took Cheung two and a half years to bring Ginza West into Hong Kong. “Most of the time spent was dealing with the Ginza West representative over the different consumer cultures in Japan and Hong Kong,” Cheung said. People from Japan and Hong Kong value things differently, especially when it comes to brand and employee management. “They value the tradition and history of the brand while we value brand growth,” Cheung said.

Cheung, as the partner and Hong Kong representative of Ginza West, faced challenges balancing Ginza West’s concerns while successfully launching the brand in Hong Kong. On Christmas day in 2015, the bakery shop was launched.

The shop on The Avenue in Wan Chai quickly became popular and made headlines after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made a visit to buy sweet treats for journalists during her election campaign in early 2017.

Having successfully brought Japanese food into Hong Kong, Cheung brewed a plan to open a Japanese concept café, which would also feature Japanese beverages.

‘Consulting’ for his Own Brand

Kohee brings an authentic Japanese luxury café experience to Hong Kong
Coffee girl
Each step in creating the handmade cup of coffee aims for perfection

Earlier this year, Kohee was launched. It is a Japanese style luxury café in the chic Mira Moon boutique hotel in Wanchai serving high-quality coffee and handmade confectionery products. Renowned Japanese coffee roaster Hide San designed and gate-kept Kohee’s coffee. He has professional experience in the Japanese coffee industry.

Kohee is a perfect interpretation of Japanese high-quality coffee style – “Hide Style”, which encourages perfection in coffee – in the final presentation and each coffee-making step. Handmade is another key feature; good communication between the barista and customer, sharing about coffee, is essential. A “Hide Style” café must keep itself fresh for customers, regularly updating the coffee and food menu.

Kohee quality is exemplified by its 90-second freshly handmade coffee policy, which ensures the coffee is at 85C when the customer takes the first sip.

“There are not many luxury cafés in Hong Kong that are serving very good quality coffee, I was always looking for one,” Cheung said. Kohee is the ideal café that Cheung was always looking for. “It is spacious and quiet, the coffee here is good, it is the perfect place for me to handle business,” Cheung continued.

The Next Stage

One month on, Kohee already has loyal customers, especially businessmen and hotel residents. The brand is looking to scale up its business.

“We are going to partner with a famous children’s play-group brand in Hong Kong. Kohee will open shops in their play-group branches targeting parents who need to wait for their kids to finish classes,” Cheung said.

The expansion plan includes a new idea – Cheung plans to combine Kohee and Ginza West.

“The new concept café will provide Kohee’s coffee and Ginza West’s handmade bakery products. While the cookies are served with coffee in the café, customers can buy the cookies at our bakery section in the café or online,” Cheung explained.

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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