Coa, a Mexican machete makes its way to Hong Kong

In the former British colony, bartender Jay Khan is rapidly conquering cocktail enthusiasts. Under the sign of the agave

Jay Khan, bartender patron of Coa, Hong Kong

Jay Khan, bartender patron of Coa, Hong Kong

Magical, mysterious, indecipherable... the allure of the Orient has been recounted by Western literature and cinema always on tiptoe, beguiled by its never fully-understood charm. Reverential love and awe have led tourists and entrepreneurs to visit and live in metropolises that have become meeting places of cultures, experimentation and avant-garde in various fields.

Hong Kong, the former British colony, now an autonomous province of China, is certainly one of them. It bases its identity precisely on the constant dialogue between the East and West of the world. It is no coincidence that the Chinese metropolis is a major financial hub and trading centre, but in particular it is a mirror as well as a forerunner of many trends in the world of mixing and hospitality. It is here that the top positions of emblazoned hotel, restaurant and bar industry rankings such as that of the 50 Best Asia and World are played out and conquered.

To find out why and to enter the folds of a future that is now within reach, we visited award-winning and non-award-winning cocktail bars, different in genre and style but all sharing a strong brand identity that makes them emblematic of a new direction in international bartending. They represent currents of thought and ideas of individual bartenders, but also concepts and formats of venues that, once again, speak mostly Italian, reconfirming the great professionalism and flair of our compatriots abroad.
Before entering these cocktail bars, however, a premise must be made in order to fully understand this world and its various declinations. Hong Kong is the capital of finance, the place where the population has the highest per capita income, and where different ethnic groups and cultures coexist: Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, Americans... Different people, different consumption habits and high spending capacity. Hospitality and the bar industry are consequently moving further and further away from a concept of globalisation to work in depth and offer unique, customised and constantly evolving experiences.

With this in mind, it will not seem at all strange that the bar at the top of Asia's 50Best Bars, celebrated on the 18th of July in the former British colony, is Coa, the temple of agave in all its expressions and a bridge to Mexico, where the verve and warmth of the Latin American country can be found in every drink on the menu. The work of the venue, which has been at the top of the charts for three years now, and of its patron Jay Khan are based both on twists on classics that are now iconic, but also on signatures that change every week drawing on seasonal ingredients.

Having fallen in love with agave since his first trip to Mexico in 2015 and with 15 years of experience in the beverage industry, Jay opened in 2017 with the aim of bringing all his spirits to the Asian scene along with an idea of hospitality that would represent the South American soul. Coa's interiors are strongly characterised by the use of wood and decorated with murals depicting deities and mythical figures as well as an original machete - Co-ah, after which the restaurant is named - used to cut agave plants.

Much more than a simple passion for products, Khan has managed to convey the love and passion he perceived for every single plantation he visited, while also finding a format that, year after year, is always fresh and successful. Certainly, as the bartender tells us, the first few months were not at all easy; indeed, he had to struggle to break down certain preconceptions linked to spirits such as tequila and mezcal before arriving at an undisputed success based above all on word of mouth and attention to the guest.

Khan's response to the lack of knowledge of the agave world was the creation of a list, almost a manual, of no less than 41 pages to offer customers a journey into this world and its many facets, accompanied also by dedicated workshops that led to the building of a real community.

Khan has invested all of himself in his project and talking to him, we’re surprised by the respect and consistency with which he pursues his idea and defends its goodness. These are two core values for him, which he also tries to pass on to his team, selected not on the basis of previous experience but by looking at their personal approach and characters, in a work based on hospitality. In his opinion, in fact, knowledge and experience can always be taught and learned.

Three Coa signature cocktails: La Paloma, Mole Negroni, Pepper Smash

Three Coa signature cocktails: La Paloma, Mole Negroni, Pepper Smash

Today, the experience at Coa is that of a cocktail bar that has managed to penetrate the fabric of the former British colony, paving the way for an approach to Mexican spirits that is very similar to that of wine in terms of variety, the impact of soil and climate, and the importance of the human factor.

For sure the most iconic cocktails include Pepper Smash, particularly interesting for its use of jalapeño and pineapple acidity combined with Tequila Blanco, Cointreau, agave syrup, sweet basil, perilla; Paloma de Oaxaca with Tequila Blanco, Mezcal, lime, grapefruit soda and salt crust in which the acidic and savoury notes combine with the smoky and Mole Negroni, a twist that uses the ingredients of the famous Mexican sauce, namely cocoa powder and poblano chilli, vermouth blend, Campari, Tapatio Reposado.

All that remains is to wait until the 17th of October to find out how Coa will rank in the World's 50 Best Bars, i.e. whether it will retain its current 17th place or move up in the rankings, just as the outcome for another cocktail bar enriching the Hong Kong scene will be important.


Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso

Shake & shock

The world of cocktails and bartenders as told by Identità Golose.


Claudia Orlandi

writer and screenwriter, she arrived at Identità Golose after training at Gambero Rosso's school of wine and food journalism

Author's articles list