Hongkonger Brings Cat Art Into New Neighbourhood Cafe, Merging Coffee and Hong Kong Flavours in UK
For a few years, artisan coffee was a trend in Hong Kong. You would see new cafes popping up all over the city.
But that changed when the anti-extradition bill hit. The city was never the same again—people started leaving Hong Kong, their once-family home, seeking safety and freedom in other countries.
Eddie Chan was one of them.
Chan is a former journalist who ran coffee shops in Hong Kong until he moved to the United Kingdom.
Chan is reigniting his dream as a cafe owner in his new home in Nottingham, United Kingdom.
In 2023, Chan’s Hong Kong-style cafe in Nottingham allowes Hongkongers to gather and meet their neighbours over a coffee. His cafe is also a place for the curious to learn more about Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong coffee shop will continue in Nottingham, allowing Hong Kong immigrants and local residents to experience greetings from Hong Kong.
Chan, who loves photography and art, has invited his old friend, Mango Naoko, a Japanese illustrator, to send some paintings of her choice as the first art exhibition of Eddie’s new shop.
The friendship between Naoko and Chan began in Chan’s cafe in Hong Kong, where Naoko was a regular customer.
Soft, relaxed pastel strokes guided Naoko to document roadmaps of Hong Kong districts using watercolor. The Japanese artist illustrated Hong Kong as a city full of cats.
Her paintings take UK residents on a journey of the beauty of Hong Kong.
But the journey of Chan, Naoko, and the cafe is also a promise kept with two million Democratic people.
Friendship Rooted in Coffee Beans
Chan used to have a coffee shop and a photo studio in Hong Kong. It was a place for busy people to slow down and catch their breath. At the same time, they were exchanging their passion for photography over a cup of coffee.
He became a business owner for the first time with three other photographers in 2003. The quadruple opened their photos-themed cafe in a walk-up building next to Times Square, Causeway Bay.
From 2003 onward, Chan’s love for photography only grew stronger.
His open-to-share personality has gained him lots of friends. Along the way, he also learned a lot of creative skills.
Chan’s creation, “Develop Film with Coffee,” was Hong Kong’s first-ever photography workshop using coffee to develop photos. That was also one of Chan’s professional highlights in his business journey.
In the corner of Latent Image, Chan noticed Naoko, who was painting. The aroma of dark roasted coffee beans accompanied her delicate brush strokes.
Her paintbrushes slowly outlined every corner of Latent Image: a bench sitting in the studio, bookshelves, and toys.
Naoko’s added cat characters brought the quiet coffee shop to life on paper.
During their chat, Chan got to know that Naoko was from Japan. After she got married, she relocated to Hong Kong and began drawing the local scenery.
Her paintbrushes became her closest tools for getting to know the new city. The more she drew, the more she became fascinated by the Hong Kong views.
She started imagining cats living as everyday people in the neighborhood she would visit, and the characters blended into the Hong Kong neighborhood she painted.
Of all the places in Hong Kong, cafes have become her favorite place to stop.
Naoko’s first-ever art exhibition was in a coffee shop, where the path between Chan and Naoko crossed.
When Naoko gifted Chan her painted postcard of Latent Image, it took him by surprise. The postcard also became precious evidence of their memory of the cafe as it was closed four years later.
Naoko suddenly found herself very busy after her cat characters became popular and in demand. Later, many brands would want to collaborate with Naoko and invite her to their events.
Chan’s old cafes, One Little Room Cafe and Master Room, also started selling Naoko’s hand-painted postcards and calendars. The two have been working closely, supporting each other.
Good times came to an abrupt end, as the political and economic situation in Hong Kong had been deteriorating. Chan moved away from Hong Kong and migrated to the United Kingdom with his family.
He could still remember when he told Naoko the news of his departure. Naoko broke down and cried. A friend she has come to know well is suddenly leaving.
“Truth be told, I was overwhelmed but moved simultaneously,” Chan recalled.
An Old Community Greets New Hongkongers
After settling in his new home in Nottingham, Chan still dreamt of opening a coffee shop in the United Kingdom. But being an immigrant, the business license application is complicated, and there is no definite timeline for approval.
The lengthy application is why One Little Room did not open until early 2023.
Chan decided to keep the original cafe’s signage: Espresso Gallery.
Espresso Gallery was the name of the cafe before Chan took over. Chan thought the signage was part of the neighborhood that he should not take away.
“This place originally was already a community coffee shop, very popular with the neighbours, and often hosted community activities. So I decided to keep the signage of Espresso Gallery. I also keep the previous staff on a roster for the neighborhood to welcome the change.”
For Chan, keeping the signage and keeping those familiar faces was also a great way to blend in with his new neighbourhood.
When preparing for the cafe opening, Chan planned to hold the first art exhibition in the new cafe to showcase Naoko’s nostalgic work depicting scenes in Hong Kong.
When Naoko received Chan’s invitation, she immediately agreed, selected 11 watercolor paintings, and sent them to Chan, “Eddie is a long-time friend. We have always supported each other.”
Naoko has always enjoyed showcasing her paintings in cafes. The ambiance is casual and relaxed. People get to enjoy her cat paintings while sipping coffee.
She always believes people cross paths for a reason: the universe has a plan. So the location does not matter to Naoko.
Cats in Hong Kong
An exhibition where Naoko uses cute-looking felines as tour guides to show people the hidden gems of Hong Kong, unique places that only the locals know.
Naoko’s art is captivating because she integrates city life into her sketches. She knows the zig-zag shuttling between markets, tea restaurants, industrial buildings, and old houses, with her signature Japanese painting style.
Naoko hopes the UK locals can better understand Hong Kong other than its usual tourist attractions and the everyday people.
“I love all the 11 paintings I brought over she said. But if I must choose one as my all-time favorite, it must be the teahouse in Fuk Loi Estate, Tsuen Wan.”
Dim Sum With Cats
The painting shows the restaurant’s panorama from a bird’s eye view.
Naoko imagines the cats as customers and tea drinkers while a service cat sells dim sum delicacies from a dim sum trolley.
Shrimp dumplings, shumai (finger dumplings with various fillings), steaming rice rolls, and cha siu buns (BBQ pork buns), Naoko believes Cantonese dim sum is a cultural introduction for foreigners.
Exhibiting her paintings has been a surreal experience at Espresso Gallery for Naoko. Chan and Naoko have known each other for almost a decade, but this is their first full exhibition collaboration. Even more surprising is that it is in the UK.
The experience has been magical for Naoko.
For Chan, Espresso Gallery by One Little Room is not just a neighborhood cafe but also a promise kept for Hongkongers: until we meet again.
Chan wants his cafe to become a place where Hongkongers can gather and bring Hong kong flavours to the people in the neighborhood.