Pushing the Envelope – Jay Khan

Asia’s 50 Best Bars recently conferred the Altos Bartender’s Bartender title to Jay Khan of COA Hong Kong. I caught up with Jay over a quick chat so we can all get to know him and COA better.

Building a bar is no easy feat and nobody knows this better than the ones who have led from the front and been fearless. In a world where people take comfort in familiarity, it takes courage to break the mould and venture into unexplored territories. Jay Khan did just that when he launched COA in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong as we all know, is a hotbed for all things culinary and craft. With an uber cosmopolitan demographic and a large expat population, the city is the perfect canvas for boundary-defying pursuits in food and beverage.

A simple google search will throw up several results that trace Jay Khan’s tryst with agave. What I was most keen to understand however, was his experience bringing that culture into the heart of Asia, a region then underexposed to agave but with a voracious appetite for rich explorations in food and beverage. The brave move to open COA, a bar that only serves agave spirits and cocktails sounds almost too valiant, but not impossible.

The COA above the bar at COA, Hong Kong

Contrary to what one might expect to hear, Jay’s 100% agave menu concept was received with a great response, with most guests not flinching at the idea of not having any other spirits on offer. This open mindedness of the guests is what encouraged Jay and the team to keep going and delivering the love of agave in the heart of Hong Kong. According to Jay, one of the little misconceptions that lurked though, was that of Tequila not being a “serious drink”. This doesn’t come as a complete surprise, seeing how Tequila went through a phase when it was relegated to the ranks of only being good enough for shots at the end of a long (sometimes wild) night, only to be considered a regrettable choice the next morning. The association was hard to get rid of but years of re-education and efforts to debunk that myth have come a long way in helping Tequila reclaim its rightful place at the bar.

The back bar at COA, Hong Kong

COA has been instrumental in this myth-busting process through their diligent efforts in introducing agave through their menu.

The drinks menu at COA changes every week and is carefully designed to bring out the uniqueness of these spirits in a non-intrusive way, allowing guests to embrace the newness of it all with a lingering sense of familiar curiosity, all tied together with carefully chosen ingredients.

Speaking of ingredients, Jay and team take utmost care to reduce waste at COA. The drinks do not warrant the use of straws, which is a massive step in the right direction for any bar with sustainability goals. The bar also collaborates with the well known coffee shop Double Shot on what I like to call a “grapefruit exchange”- both establishments use large quantities of grapefruit and share the seeds and peels between them so neither is wasted.

Caffeinated Negroni at COA

COA is also involved in a project with Max Traverse of Honi Honi selling calendars, proceeds of which go towards saving the oceans. Did we mention the calendars feature naked bartenders? Two birds, one stone.

When it comes to nurturing a bar and its team, it takes a village. The best bars in the world work overtime to build the spaces and experiences we love. Bar teams never stop training, and there is no end to learning. The team at COA is testimony to this. Trainings at COA happen every week, and span the length and breadth of product knowledge and service training. Jay insists that his team invest their time in learning and exploring the world outside the bar and encourages them to read books and listen to industry podcasts as a way to broaden their view of the world and stay constantly inspired. There is no short-cut or end to learning and the world’s best bars and most inspiring bartenders have stressed on this time and time again.

Team COA

In Jay’s world, to earn the love and support of your peers and patrons, you must strive to be an embodiment of the kindness and hospitality you seek to represent through your work. That’s what it means to be a bartender’s bartender.©

Show the COA team some love here

Follow Jay’s journey on Instagram

Have something to say? Write in to editor@thedramattic.com

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