The Café-Lover’s Guide to Sham Shui Po
Located in the heart of Kowloon, Sham Shui Po is a diverse and evolving neighbourhood with lots to explore. Chatteris’ own Jessica Tang sheds light on the area through her favourite places to grab a refreshment.
Sham Shui Po – vibrant and local
One of the first things you often hear about Sham Shui Po is it’s high population density and its reputation for being a less privileged district in Hong Kong. It can be a sharp contrast to Central with it’s the glitz and glamour attracting people like a magpie to a sparkling trinket, but Sham Shui Po’s richness of culture is what makes it special. An immensely vibrant district full of massive chunks of personality scattered about every street. We can thank the locals who keep the area flourishing. Its locality is what really makes it shine.
Change, community and coffee
Firstly, there is a lot to cover in Sham Shui Po: from the history, the lively markets, the electronics arcade, second hand stores, authentic local eats and textile industry. But today we are going to focus on the coffee shops. A new and thriving scene however it has not been without its controversy. The fear of gentrification is very real in this area and it is hard not to see these new modern renovations as symbolic of this shift – setting up attractive spaces but having no knowledge of the local culture. Attracting new and affluent visitors who understandably want a great snap with their caramel macchiato but inadvertently feeding into an industry that is pricing out the local community by driving up prices of space. Rental prices rose a shocking 54% in 2020, compared with 2017, according to a Bloomberg calculation using Midland Commercial data.
Arguably, some of these establishments are actively trying to give back to the community or establishing creative spaces for local artists. Many of which I will be highlighting in this blog (see PHVLO HATCH, form society and openground). There are pros and cons. I love a good coffee shop, hence this post! However, I do also ask you to look beyond these isolated bubbles of caffeinated goodness and also appreciate the area as a whole. There is a distinct feel of community and the heart of the area is really kept pulsing by the locals who give the heart of the area life, keeping it not only beating but thriving. When you visit this area and get to know it, you really do feel the waves they are making.
The Crowd Pleaser: The Park by Years
Address: 132號 Yu Chau St, Sham Shui Po
When you don’t know where to go there is always The Park by Years ready and waiting for all your varied coffee needs. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, adventurous or picky – there’s something for everyone here. Pop in for a quick coffee or an extended evening meal. They have a stocked menu for both food and drink. There is even a lifestyle shop next door with a few products stocked in the cafe itself. Their menu changes seasonally which means you can change things up a little even after your nth visit. Years is not especially unique, with a few branches across Hong Kong, but that’s often what you want – a solid and consistent choice.
Address: 198 Tai Nan St, Sham Shui Po
A personal favourite of mine. Solo coffee drinkers frequent here with a laptop. So grab your journal or book and plug into lo-fi beats to chill and study to, let’s pop into openground! The atmosphere can be quite clinical if you are expecting to come here for a catch up and chat with a friend. The calm concrete interior, big open table space and dinky little bitter coffees is best enjoyed for quiet productivity. There is free WiFi as well as zines, magazines and lifestyle items you can browse next time you’re looking for a gift for a hipster pal. There is an air of “we drink coffee” bitterness with their drinks whilst still remaining accessible for casual caffeine consumers. I recommend the dirty (ice cold milk topped with an espresso shot) or mocha.
Instagramable: Colour Brown x PHVLO HATCH
Address: 13 Wong Chuk St, Sham Shui Po
Sustainability focused whilst socially aware, a creative hub as well as a renovated textile shop turned cafe, Colour Brown x PHVLO HATCH was founded by a fashion graduate of top fashion university Central Saint Martins so you know the interior and design are going to be on point. Colour Brown is the coffee shop that operates on the ground floor and Hatch is a local NGO dedicated to training underprivileged women and youth from the local community. Many cafes in Sham Shui Po are very instagrammable but something about PHVLO HATCH makes you feel very much like you are in a space that is meticulously curated and considered. I recommend you grab a cake, drink (complete with a metal straw) and even a meal but avoid the green breakfast unless you are on a health kick and want a plate full of, well… green.
Chill zen vibes: 小房子 The Hut
Address: 196 Lai Chi Kok Road, Tai Nan St, Sham Shui Po
What better place than 小房子 The Hut with a muted earthy interior. There is no English menu so get Google lens ready but I suggest trying menu item number 1, an onigiri set with a choice of two sides and go for the matcha warabi and miso cucumber. There is also an interesting selection of tea distinct from the usual breakfast or green tea. The price point is on the higher side but personally I think it’s worth it, you’re paying for the experience too after all and sometimes you want to experience a tiny snippet into the zen Japanese lifestyle. Upstairs is a floor seated area (remember to take off your shoes!) but if it’s your first time I recommend sticking to the ground floor. They have recently put in a new display of dried flowers and I highly recommend you go soon and see this florally heightened experience!
Cozy local: 合舍 Form Society
Address: 186地下, Tai Nan St, Sham Shui Po
Form Society operates with local awareness using it’s collaborative space to host workshops and artistic talks whilst offering a quaint space for a quiet mindful drink. Located at the back is an intimate seating area and raw wood coffee counter. Perfect for you to perch on after you have had a quick mooch of the zines, magazines and art on offer from local artists. They only offer almond milk which is lovely and rich so come here to try an interesting latte, the genmaicha latte is great.
Keung Kee Dai Pai Dong
Address: 219 Ki Lung St, Sham Shui Po
Dai pai dong’s are now fewer and far between but these open air food stalls are iconic in Hong Kong’s culture. Keung Kee was one of the thriving dai pai dongs in Sham Shui Po offering a wide selection of dishes but have since specialised in hearty noodle dishes. Since Covid-19 business has been slower and unfortunately they are closing permanently on the 31st May, so support your local and grab an iced lemon tea! It’s iced and sweetened to perfection! Alternatively, opt for the Hong Kong classic yuen yeung, a blend of coffee and tea. There is something undoubtedly charming when it comes to immersing yourself in local dining.
Sham Shui Po is of course much more than just the coffee scene, here are some local businesses you can go support. If you need a quirky gift head to foreforehead. Support a local hero and dine at Pei Ho Counterparts who’s owner donates meals to the underprivileged. Fuk Wing Street or “toy street” to get yourself a lego set of your favourite Hong Kong street scenes. Eat some delicious Hong Kong desserts at Luk Lam Dessert. Browse the vintage Japanese wares or pick up a city pop vinyl at Showa City Club. Shop at concept store and art space WSNXT or second-hand at Redress. Those lucky enough to live near Sham Shui Po will pick up a million new creative hobbies and frequent Yu Chau and its neighbouring streets for beads and yarn. For your next new radical book, head to the lovely book store 拳書館 Book Punch with an amazing selected collection of English books.
There are an abundance of cafes and things to see in this district but here is a small selection of what’s on offer. I focused on some of my favourites but there is much more for you to explore in your own time. There’s always something new to discover in Sham Shui Po!
Interested in tasting your way around Hong Kong’s vibrant neighbourhoods, like Jessica? Apply now to become a Chatteris Tutor.