Bar veteran Jay Khan’s latest opening is a cosy watering hole housing an impressive library of agave-based spirits where one can enjoy an inventive cocktail (or three).
Words Iris Wong
It’s hard to miss COA, despite being tucked away on quiet Shin Hing Street, thanks to its hand-drawn wall mural of Mayahuel, the Aztec goddess of fertility and also the goddess of agave. Named after the machete-like tool for harvesting agave, COA is a subterranean, Oaxaca-inspired cocktail bar in the cosy space formerly occupied by NEO Cocktail Club. In place of NEO’s pinball machines and colourful furniture, expect industrial-chic raw concrete walls, Edison light bulbs, dark wooden tables and, behind the bar, an imposing display of agave-based spirits stacked in the formation of an Aztec pyramid.
Like many people, we once appreciated tequila as a party fuel, and one we’ve avoided since we started going home early muttering, “Sorry, I’m working tomorrow”. But COA helmsman and bar veteran Jay Khan is here to educate us. Flip open the bar’s menu – aka the Agave Bible – to find a dizzying list of tequila, raicilla, sotol and mezcal made from different agave varieties, including some that have been redistilled with turkey or chicken breast. Ask for the bartender’s recommendations if you want to try the spirits straight, or opt for the cocktails. Up first, and our favourite of the night, is tepache ($80), naturally fermented with pineapple and wild yeast, with a touch of cinnamon. Fresh, fruity, slightly fizzy and lightly alcoholic, the tepache slips down easily. Next up is horchata de pistacho ($90), a concoction of Ocho Blanco, house-made pistachio orgeat, lemon, egg white and sweet potato dust. It’s creamy and nutty, like a liquid dessert. We couldn’t leave without a sip of the Del Maguey Pechuga ($298/glass), made by suspending a whole chicken breast (pechuga) in the still for 24 hours in a third distillation of the mezcal. Served in a little gourd cup, it has a savoury, fruity nose, and is smooth and smoky on the palate with a subtle chicken flavour. Or perhaps that was just our imagination. We finish with Mezcal Paloma ($100), a citrusy and smoky libation of Montelobos mezcal, Tequila Cabeza, grapefruit soda, lime and salt.
Crave’s Pick: Tepache – Pineapple & Cinnamon
“There are many variations of tepache but the most common ones are made with pineapple, often with skin included to aid fermentation. At COA we go a step further and ferment it twice: once in a large glass container for four to five days and then again in the serving bottle to trap all the natural carbonation, just like champagne.” – Jay Khan, co-founder
A sure-fire favourite for soda lovers, the tepache has just the right amount of sweetness, balanced by the tartness of pineapple and spiciness of cinnamon. The light fizz makes for a refreshing weeknight drink.
COA gets a pat on the back for its dedication and honest approach to agave spirits. The cocktails are a delight, and navigating the menu and sampling hard-to-find spirits gave us some insight into a new world. Hong Kong may not be embracing mezcal and tequila just yet, but if they do become the city’s next gin, COA may very well be responsible.
6-10 Shin Hing Street, Central
Tel: 2813 5787