When it comes to cafes these days, the interior design is almost as important as the quality of the coffee or tea. From Baby Boomers to Gen Z, the modern-day cafe goer is constantly seeking a new experience as the next caffeine kick. That’s prompting cafe owners – from major multinational chains to neighbourhood start-ups – to embrace edgy design, often commissioning architects to come up with what Starbucks loves to refer to as the third place – a home away from home or office to
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to catch up with friends, network or chill. Every member of the Inside Retail team is passionate about coffee – or tea – and we’ve assembled a long list of impressive cafes from around Asia that stand out, choosing seven to highlight here… Early BKK Bangkok, Thailand Early BKK was established by sustainability enthusiast Kaytita Chaisuksiri last year, to create a neighbourhood cafe with a green and sustainable approach that is accessible to all residents. The store design, as imagined by creative studio Spacecraft, has been optimised to recycle waste and upcycle materials. Early BKK occupies a 120sqm space spanning two levels on the Eastern outskirts of Bangkok. Local design studio Spacecraft joined hands with a factory to create a ‘re-board’ made from small cut pieces of used milk cartons. Re-board was featured throughout the interior space, including in doors, the ceiling, chairs and tables. “To control the colour scheme, we carefully selected the colour of used milk cartons only in orange and warm tones to match with the handmade brick tile floor,” the studio explained. Spacecraft also recycled about 600 used beer bottles and fixed them in a metal ring structure of the building, to reimage the store’s facade. Used beer bottles were also broken into pieces to create a terrazzo working counter top, toilet floor and wall patterns and texture. “We called this ‘Bottles fossil’, since the production and final look are similar to the fossils that leave traces on the wall. Moreover, we added some small details by using trash such as a used galvanised-iron oil tank as a basin counter, and glass bottles as a doorknob.” The effects of lights and shadow in an interior space during the day are stunning, while the exterior appearance tellsthea good story of Early BKK’s objective, Spacecraft added. Solar panels were installed on the roof as the main energy source. The store also runs sustainable initiatives, including not using straws and plastic cups and offering discounts to customers using their own cups. “Early BKK aimed to create less waste and be responsible for whatever carbon footprint we created, and encouraged everyone to join this effort.” Upon entering the store, customers will walk through a small double-space courtyard with a tree and pet area. While the first floor features a main coffee bar with a small seating area, the second floor is flooded with light due to large windows. This floor is also designed for multipurpose use, such as workshops. “People might come here for a coffee, but will go back with some changes in their mindset about waste and recycling. Believing that small intentions can make the world a better place, Early BKK prospected to be a small part of creating some changes in society.” Architect: Spacecraft Photographer: Thanapol Jongsiripipat NOC Coffee Yoho Mall, Hong Kong Hong Kong coffee chain NOC Coffee opened a Japanese-style Zen garden concept space that focuses on purification, calm and tranquillity at Yoho Mall in Yuen Long. While the streamlined ceiling design mimics the ebbing and flowing of waves, the indoor decor and walls showcase the simple yet geometric lines inspired by the Karesansui landscape. Large glass windows allow sunlight to brighten up the interior and blend harmoniously with the Zen-inspired soft internal lighting. “The design of the space can be envisioned as a coffee filter, which allows customers to pause from the hustle and bustle,” the brand states. Natural elements like sand, plants, stones and moss are featured throughout the store’s miniature landscape, illustrating the garden scenery. Meanwhile, to commit to its sustainability approach, NOC Yoho Mall used eco-friendly Moso bamboo, which is rapidly renewable and known for its ability to rapidly absorb CO2, for all wall furnishings. The recycled terrazzo is made of concrete waste, non-degradable ceramic tableware and disposed coffee cups and plates. NOC also replaced single-use plastic with Forest Stewardship Council-certified bamboo paper cups with water-resistant bio-coating for iced beverages. The cafe also has a dedicated space for coffee workshops to enhance the in-depth coffee experience. Since its launch, NOC Coffee has opened 10 stores in Hong Kong and one in Thailand. Okkio Duy Tan Vietnam Nestled in a small alley on Ho Chi Minh City’s Duy Tan street, Okkio took over an old French colonial villa, one of the few still-standing, semi-detached villas in the area. Okkio means ‘eye’ in Italian. “Duy Tan fondly recalls the memory of our beloved Saigon,” stated the creative studio sgnhA, which oversaw the design of the cafe. “Fortunately, the villa’s condition exceeded our expectations, despite being quite aged.” The coffee space consists of the front villa, a new two-storey block behind, and a small garden, all of which are connected by an enclosed walkway. “The space is a continuing dialogue between the old and the new. It contrasts by defining clear borders, or homogenises by blurring joints,” explained architecture that designed the cafe. “There is a conversion at every junction.” While the first floor of the old villa area is occupied mainly by the stainless-steel and copper brew bar, the second floor highlights the natural states of materials, with concrete flooring, off-white sand texture painted and exposed old, grey solid brick walls, raw galvanised steel, polished stainless steel, black leather and monochrome-finish wood. “Okkio reminds itself of its own history by highlighting the precious existing wooden roof structure with a giant mirror.” The walkway connects the old villa and the new block, featuring glass louvres and a red epoxy floor. The steel staircase leads customers to the upper floor of the new block, where they have a full view of the entire garden through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Founded in 2018 by Dat Phan who is also the CEO of the chain, Okkio has opened four locations in Vietnam, each with a different, distinctive design and a story behind it. Architect: SGNHA Photographs: Hoang Le Nudake South Korea Since its launch in 2021, Nudake has gained popularity as a destination for exquisite desserts in South Korea. Owned and operated by South Korean luxury eyewear label Gentle Monster, Nudake made its debut inside the Haus Dosan complex, along with the fragrance brand Tamburins. Nudake’s first flagship store presents the ‘Taste of Meditation’ theme, with the overall moderated mood and spaciousness. Visitors are greeted by a long table that runs through the middle of the space, topped with a variety of treats that redefine pastry and engage all five senses in the centre. A media piece in the middle was made in collaboration with Italian visual artist Andrea Artemisio; it humorously depicts the repetitive motion of eating food and the feelings that go along with it. Curista Coffee Taipei, Taiwan Specialty coffee brand Curista Coffee was launched to disrupt the Taiwanese high-end coffee market. The store occupies a 330sqm space on Xinyi District’s Zhongxiao East Road and is dominated by pure white minimalist and industrial design. Customers are greeted by a 360-degree marble bar counter, where they can watch the whole coffee-making process. “The white tones are our main idea, combined with marble and metal elements to express a pure elegance, creating a charming atmosphere,” the brand explained. The store’s ceiling features an art installation mimicking the coffee fragrance floating in the air. The company’s signature hourglass logo represents time and the concept that it is worthwhile to wait for a cup of coffee that tastes good. A coffee tree made from recycled glass and steel is installed inside the store to suggest a carefully selected coffee bean. “The inspiration for the decor comes from the coffee tree, which created more artistic atmospheres in-store. It’s standing in the corner quietly…waiting for you to come and taste a cup of your own special coffee.” Images: Curista Coffee. Sik Mul Sung South Korea Agri-tech start-up N.Thing, which specialises in smart farms, opened a cafe in downtown Seoul dubbed Sik Mul Sung to bring processes such as growing, harvesting, cooking and eating to one place. Designed by South Korean studio Unseenbird, the store’s interior features a cultivation room that grows vegetables in rows, illustrating N.Thing’s vertical farming system, which can function without sunlight or soil. The vegetables will be used as ingredients for salads and ice cream at the store. “You can see the plants growing in the waterway under artificial light and the person taking care of them,” the design studio states. Sik Mul Sung’s design follows a futuristic theme, with stainless steel counters and seating contrasting with red pebble flooring. Red rocks create a space-like ambience. “The meaning of Sik Mul Sung is plant + planet, a virtual star between Earth and Mars. The name reflects a system that can be cultivated in space.” Food is served on circular plates and delivered via a conveyor belt, so it resembles a planet in orbit. Architects: Unseenbird Photographs: Yongjoon Choi % Arabica Chengdu, China Situated in the historical Kuanzhai Alley area, which dates back to the Qing Dynasty’s Kangxi period, % Arabica Jing Alley introduces the traditional Western Sichuan residential architecture designed by Blue Architecture Studio. In the heart of the project, a large courtyard is surrounded by seating rooms on both sides. Traditional wooden storefronts can be seen on the south and west sides of the building. The store’s facade features black roof tiles and grey bricks, reflecting memories of Chengdu. “With a city full of historical and cultural heritage, we tried to integrate and extend the city’s unique characteristics into the space from a perspective of respecting the spirit of the site,” the creative studio explained. Customers are greeted with a simple and modern white pool surrounded by an enclosure of floor-to-ceiling glass, allowing natural light to flood the interior. “Although removing the existing glass roof has sacrificed a part of the retail space, we believe the integration between the interior and the exterior, and the natural and flexible atmosphere of the architecture, [create] more precious spatial characteristics.” To mimic the characteristics of Kuanzhai Alley, the studio created a looping indoor street around the pool. The old grey-brick flooring and seating blend into this context. “While showing the original structure and traditional elements of the architecture, we tried to integrate the essence of modern urban life and the minimalist aesthetics of the brand,” Blue Architecture Studio explained. “The core concept of our work is to deal with the relationship between humans and nature, culture and daily life. The interior space of % Arabica Kuanzhai Alley represents a leisurely and comfortable living atmosphere in the streets and neighbourhoods of Chengdu, while reflecting respect for the native culture.” Architects: Blue Architecture Studio Photographs: Zhi Xia This story first appeared in the February 2023 issue of Inside Retail Asia Magazine.