Young China Plates is a monthly series in which we digest the latest food and drink trends making young Chinese people’s mouths water. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.
On the brisk night of December 10, more than a dozen young customers hang out inside and outside of a coffee shop on Rua do Tarrafeiro in Macau. People come and go, but some hang around until 2 AM.
A group of regulars gather in the back corner of the shop, talking and laughing, eating cakes, playing mobile games, and even mixing their own caffeinated drinks. A few stay quiet and enjoy their beverages alone on stools, while others sit with friends on the bench outside.
All night, the two owners stand behind the bar, greeting and chatting with newcomers. Our conversation with the proprietors is interrupted almost every 10 minutes as more customers drop by.
Though the shop is on a quiet road with a lowkey sign, you can’t miss it at night thanks to the lively young crowd.
This is Oyasumi Coffee, the first coffee shop in Macau that only operates at night. Since opening its doors in June 2020, the place has become incredibly popular. At least two other new cafes in the city have since adopted the business model, and many others have extended their shop hours.
These shops represent a new trend in Macau called yefe (夜啡), where young people opt for a casual social chat after work with a cup of coffee instead of a boozy night out.
When Oyasumi Coffee first opened, the two owners, Cheang Hoi Pan and Kuok Ka Hei, still had daytime jobs as hip hop dance teachers. The pair only expected the shop to meet its own ends.
They wanted to create a space where visitors could relax after work and have a good chat, unlike the typical morning coffee rush when people commute to their jobs.
“We really appreciate communication with others, and we don’t want to do a bar and have people get wasted here,” Cheang explains.
He adds that many people drive in the city and are thus deterred from drinking alcohol. Therefore, a coffee shop is a good substitute for gathering and chilling out after a long day.
The store is full of Japanese cultural influences, as Cheang is a big fan of the aesthetic. J-pop music plays in the shop, anime toys are displayed on the counter, and even Cheang’s outfit has a Japanese touch.
The shop’s name, Oyasumi, is Japanese too, meaning goodnight. It also implies that visitors are welcome to share their stories, relax, and wind down here in the evening.
The couple has since quit their full-time jobs and primarily focuses on the shop. Cheang is the barista, and Kuok makes dessert. While the shop only opens at night, the pair spend most of the day preparing and experimenting with different recipes.
The shop officially operates from 7:30 PM to 2 AM every day, but precise hours really depend on the two owners, who run it casually and personally.
Visitors are strongly encouraged to check the shop’s Instagram stories beforehand to know precisely when business begins and whether dessert is still available.
Cheang often writes at length in the shop’s Instagram posts, but rarely to promote new products, instead writing to share intimate thoughts with customers.
“We prefer to be free and want to do something that’s got personality,” Cheang says.
That same message is also shared by other nighttime coffee shop proprietors and patrons.
More than just a business, coffee lovers start shops as a passion project, eager to practice their skills and connect with others in the community.
Strangers eventually become friends and form new friend groups in the shops. Instead of going straight home, some head to coffee shops specifically to meet up with other regulars or play mahjong with one another on their phones.
“I like to relax and get comfortable here after a tiring day of work,” says Terry, who refuses to give out his last name because “People come here just to relax, and we all stay anonymous.”
Even though he has to drive for 10 minutes from his workplace, Terry has been a regular ever since he passed by a year ago. Now, he comes at least three times a week.
Kam Lap Un, who launched Meta Coffee in August 2021 with his partner Eddie Tam, says they are not “selling coffee, but a human touch.”
Un and Tam work as shopping agents during the day and hope to serve as an intermediary point that brings strangers together.
“We hope to see regular people at a fixed spot and share with each other our recent lives. Because we really need a space to let out the pressure of living in a metropolitan city,” Un says.
He adds that “you can imagine here as a studio or a private recreation [space] for us, but it’s partially open to the public. You can talk to us through the window, or we may walk out and get to know you.”
Un doesn’t see this as a business or put much pressure on him and his partner. They have very few Instagram posts and seldom promote their shop online. In fact, they almost appear to be indifferent about the establishment.
But if you catch them in the shop at night, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy a pleasant conversation, especially around coffee. This is where the passion lies.
Meta also has a flexible schedule and sometimes extends its hours if a conversation goes well. Also, it’s “semi-open” on Mondays, Un explains, as they may or may not open simply depending on their mood.
Speaking of the shop name, he emphasizes that it has nothing to do with Facebook. Rather, it has multiple layers of poetic meaning.
“Meta is mysterious, just like we think coffee can change and have infinite possibilities. The word pronounces the same as ‘round’ or ‘perfect’ in Canto, as we hope the shop will have a fruitful future and we can make coffee in a perfect way,” says Un.
“It also means hanging, because we hope we can enlighten or guide people who want to know more about coffee. Last but not least, if you separate the two words, it actually means you ‘met a coffee’ here.”
In the beginning, Cheang says coffee was only a tool to relieve his migraine. Later, he started to take coffee-making seriously as a craft. Now, in the stimulating brown beverage, he sees “an endless universe.”
“It’s something that I can study for a lifetime,” Cheang says. “It should be like cocktails that you’re drinking not just for the alcohol, but for the taste. You should really taste and enjoy coffee, especially specialty coffee with lower caffeine.”
Cheang creates new recipes every two or three months and offers different types of gourmet coffee every night. He even bought a coffee bean roaster last year to better control the taste.
As a first-time visitor and experimental drinker, I order a “boss’s decision” from the menu. The price is randomly decided by a draw on the tablet, ranging from 20 to 88 MOP (about 2 to 11 USD). Full disclosure, I pay more than 80, but I’m satisfied with my choice.
Cheang makes me a cup based entirely on his judgment. He adds melon syrup and makes it look like caramel at the bottom of the cup. The resulting coffee has an uplifting and refreshing taste.
Un is also a fan of specialty coffee, which is farmed and brewed to exceptional quality. He suggests, counterintuitively, that drinking gourmet coffee at night actually helps you relax and sleep well as long as you are not caffeine sensitive.
He is passionate about the diversity of coffee, too, saying, “it always gives you a sense of freshness.” Un purchases about 10 different coffee beans each time he orders to try different flavors and practice brewing methods by trial and error.
“There are many variables in the whole process. It’s like you get a new toy when you play with a new type of coffee bean. There are so many possibilities,” he says.
About 1,000 meters away, another nighttime coffee shop, Coffee Cave, pays particular attention to the presentation of their coffee.
“The way the shop looks is because we want to build a nest to have friends over and chat,” says Hamling Kam, a part-time barista in the shop and a full-time insurance broker, referring to the store’s cave-like appearance.
The shop opened around Christmas in 2020 and now has two baristas helping out, in addition to the two owners.
Dirty coffee is the bestseller at Cave, Kam tells us. It’s a beverage that pours hot espresso over cold milk. But they insist on serving it in glasses that are frozen in advance to better capture the taste.
Even their paper cups are specially designed. Watch the short video above to learn more about their design ideas, presented by Kam.
Next time you visit a coffee shop, take it slow and spend some time chatting with the barista. Better yet, if you happen to be in Macau, drop by at night when you have more downtime — you might discover another world just like we did.
Cover photo designed by Sabina Islas
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