Jay Khan is very much a sneakers and baseball cap – as opposed to tie and tailoring – kind of guy. But his laid-back demeanour belies a double dose of passion: for Mexican drinks and for the art of bartending as a whole.
As co-founder and director, Khan is the driving force behind the rise of Coa, which has seen this intimate, specialist basement bar become one of the most talked-about destinations in Asia, and even globally. Having opened in 2017, tucked away in Hong Kong’s Soho district, Coa landed on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list last year at No.12, bagging the Highest New Entry Award in the process. Later in the year it debuted in The World’s 50 Best Bars 2019; and its star continues to rise.
Khan – an established industry figure having helmed top bars in Australia and Macau, as well as in HK itself – has almost single-handedly raised the profile of Mexican spirits in his home city.
A coa is the machete-like tool that is used to harvest the agave plant from which both tequila and mescal are made. Returning from one of his frequent research and tasting trips to Mexico, Khan carried a coa by hand back home to hang on the wall of the bar which shares its name.
The candle-lit Coa provides a relaxed and super-friendly environment for all comers, feeding off the hospitable spirit of its founder. But anyone who wants to dive deeper into the intricacies of mescal (aficionados will sip straight from a shallow clay cup rather than mix), experience a range of simply served but beautifully crafted agave-based cocktails, or venture into the specialist fermented drinks of Mexico, will find Khan and his team only too willing to assist.
The menu is short but impactful: for the full effect, try the Pepper Smash 2.0, featuring jalapeno-infused tequila, yellow bell pepper, pineapple juice, orange liqueur and agave spirit.
“From the very beginning I was interested in ingredients – and I’ve had this passion for mixing drinks,” says Khan in his understated way. “Inspiration comes from everywhere, but these last couple of years I’ve been spending a lot of time in Mexico to explore more about agave spirit.”
This spirit – both literal and intangible – is recognised in the peer-voted award, which sees Jay Khan take the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender title as part of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
Header photos: Courtesy Time Out Hong Kong/Calvin Sit