If you trudge up along the Gough Street stairs from Queen’s Road Central that deposits you off at Shing Wong Street (or further up to Hollywood Road), you will be rewarded with the mouth-watering aroma of roasted cocoa beans at the top of those 87 concrete steps. With a mix of hot chocolate and a faint hint of nuts (or maybe a type of spice?), that heavenly scent belongs to none other than Hong Kong’s newest bean-to-bar chocolate cafe, Hakawa Chocolate.
Sally Kwok and Mandy Wong, the co-owners and chocolate makers behind the artisanal, handcrafted chocolate company have been churning out small-batch cocoa beans to bricks of chocolate since last summer. The process, called bean-to-bar, denotes that every step of their operation is done by the chocolatier. There’s no remelting of chocolate and repackaging it as their own (that process involves using couverture, commercially produced blocks of chocolate FYI). Instead, Sally and Mandy source their raw organic cocoa beans from co-operative farms in Sri Lanka. Bringing them back to Hong Kong, it all gets lightly roasted in small batches, winnowed (removing the outer shell from the nib), and ground over the course of several days before resting for a minimum of three months to develop flavor. Self-taught, inventing and rejiggering equipment to fit their chocolate needs, this labor of love takes months until the final product is ready.
“One of the reasons Mandy and I set up shop is that we wanted to do something authentic here in Hong Kong,” explains Sally. “When we make our own chocolate bricks, we know it’s exactly 72 percent cacao and 28 percent organic cane sugar. There is no additives or chemicals. The result is a simple bar of chocolate that is supposed to taste exactly what it is.”
Their name, Hakawa, is a mashup of their motherland, Hong Kong, and kakawa, an ancient Olmec (the earliest known major civilization in Mexico) word meaning cacao or chocolate infuses an amalgam of the traditional and their cultural heritage. With interesting flavors like Sichuan pepper, Himalayan salt, and goji osmanthus, most of their ingredients are locally sourced from nearby markets, like neighboring Yuan Heng Spice Company on Tung Street. One of their bestsellers? The Sichuan pepper bar, made with two types of peppers and four kinds of chilis! Note the sharp snap when breaking off a piece of the bar (an indicator of freshness and quality) and the glossy sheen indicative of the craftsmanship. Quality, handmade chocolate has deeper flavor than the typical, ordinary mass produced chocolate, which is clear when you sink your teeth into any Hakawa product: one bite into the Goji Osmanthus bar and I can immediately taste the distinctive and intricate flavors from the cocoa. Speckles of dried osmanthus flowers and goji berries adorn the thin brick of 72 percent cocoa bar, in which I can detect the fruity fragrance of the sweet flowering plant native to eastern Asia.
Wedged in an itty-bitty seven-square-meter corner, their storefront has a Scandinavian-chic aesthetic – with its clean white-tiled walls, and minimalist, stark silhouettes – which makes the space seem bigger than it ultimately is. But what they lack in size, they make up for in taste and innovation. Their drinkable chocolate is another highlight not to pass up. Two options are provided for their homemade cocoa drinks: 72 percent or 100 percent. All drinks are available with vegan milk options: they feature almond milk and soy milk! Watching outside the shop window as they prepare your cup of hot (or iced) chocolate is fascinating – weighing chocolate from beakers, warming the milk, breaking off and crushing fresh mint (I ordered an iced fresh mint chocolate) and mixing it all together – reminiscent of traditional alchemy in a teeny cafe, crafting some cocoa beans and mint into a delicious, refreshing work of art.
The next time you fancy the finer chocolate confections Hong Kong has to offer, stop by this charming shop on Gough Street. I’ll race you up those Gough Street stairs if I’m around!
Shop 1B, 49 – 51A Gough Street, Central, +852 6163 3563, find them on Facebook here.
Images courtesy of Hakawa Chocolate and Green Queen.