People from all over the world usually think aloha is an expression of greetings. To the ones who are lucky enough to live in Hawai’i, aloha has a deeper meaning than just hello and goodbye. In Hawaiian language, aloha literally means “the presence of breath,” which is understood as a way of living and treating people with love and respect. To live in Hawai’i, is to live with a lot of aloha.
Just like the word aloha, when visitors think of Hawai’i, the first thing that comes to mind are the beaches and sun tanned Hawaiian girls dancing to Hula. However, living in Hawai’i is so much more than just that. The island of O’ahu, which means “the gathering place” in Hawaiian language, is a modern oasis where bustling urbanity meets artistic innovation. Moving to Hawai’i from Philadelphia (on a whim) five months ago, I didn’t know what to expect of the urban culture here. I was pleasantly surprised with creative projects that reshape the future of Hawai’i, especially in O’ahu. There’s a lot of happenings. There’s plenty of technological and cultural transformation. SALT at Kakaa’ko is one of them. Named after pa’akai – the salt ponds once dotted in the low-lying wetlands of Kakaa’ko, SALT is a hipster retail hub that is builted upon a young generation of entrepreneurs who cultivate the island’s modern day culture.
Having previously run a coffee wholesale business, entrepreneurs Tracey and Stephen Seta opened 9Bar HNL at SALT with the aspiration to cultivate the Specialty Coffee culture in Hawaii. While Hawaii is the largest producers of commercial coffee in the United States, its Specialty Coffee industry is still only in the beginning stages. Specialty Coffee is considere to be the Third Wave of Coffee. First Wave is people making coffee at home; Second Wave is the industrialization period where Starbucks come along; Third Wave is leveraging coffee as an artisanal foodstuff and refining it.
As the only state that can grow coffee plants commercially in the United States, Hawaii should have a cutting edge café scene to represent the quality that exists on the islands. According to Tracey and Stephen, their biggest inspiration was started from creating a “gathering place” for locals who enjoy coffee. At 9BarHNL, customers are to enjoy the most intriguing coffees that are locally roasted by Kona Coffee Purveyors in Honolulu and Big Island Coffee Roasters on the Big Island.
Well, since yours truly (read: myself) works at 9Bar HNL, this might sound like a shameless PR article. But dear my lovely readers, trust me: as a contributor at hungrychopsticks, my mission here is to share my most honest opinions about matters.
The café is equipped with state-of-the-art machinery, and the most expert team to craft the ideal flavors out of every coffee. I still remember the first day that I came to 9BarHNL, Stephen asked me how did I like usually like my coffee. To my answer of “very bitter,” he told me that “here we don’t do bitter, we do the perfect cup of coffee.” That inspires me to take pride in what 9BarHNL does on a mission to foster a new culture of coffee of Hawaii.
At 9BarHNL, making espresso is not just “pushing a button” on the espresso machine. Our main barista Ryan measures (or in barista’s term – ‘dose’) and brews every single cup of coffee to order. The whole coffeemaking process can be observed as coffee is being made, and Ryan is more than happy to walk you through it with thorough explaination. Ryan is the guy!
One of my favorite drinks is the Latte. As I took the first sip, a mouthful sensation of complexity hit me. Since I was born a Vietnamese coffee drinker, I’m always skeptical towards any coffee-and-milk combination. However, 9BarHNL succeeds in creating a bold yet pleasing sharpness of the espresso, blending in with the natural sweetness of steamed milk. The latte is as amazing as one doesn’t need to put extra flavor or sugar just to have it tastes good.
If espresso drink is not your cup of tea, then a cup of green tea / matcha latte might be one. Made from high quality matcha sourced from Japan, 9BarHNL’s matcha latte leaves a leafy and earthy aftertaste while maintaining the full-bodied satisfying feeling of a latte. I recommend adding white chocolate syrups, as its buttery flavor complements the slightly bitterness of matcha just perfectly.
You can have more of matcha-and-white choc in the pastry department as well. 9BarHNL’s signature pastry item is scuffin, which is part muffin and part scone. The Matcha White Chocolate scuffin is one of the more popular flavors, with a rich taste of green tea accompanying with tidbits of white chocolate. The scuffin is not overly sweet and crumbly, yet is moist almost like a muffin. For someone who don’t like the dryness of scone and the overly sweetness of muffin, this scuffin is the best of both worlds for me. At $4 per pops, this is the perfect pastry that I would like to give my family, friends, and co-workers as gifts.
Another seasonal offering is the Cranberry MacNut White Chocolate scuffin. The tartness of cranberry goes well with white chocolate and crunchy pieces of macadamic nuts, which are a Hawaii local delicacy.
The vegan Banana Mochi is a weekend special created by our staff Cherese. Using sweet rice flour, the mochi is baked with coconut oil to perfection. Crunchy on the outside, slightly chewy and moist on the inside, this mochi would for sure please your tastebuds whether you’re a vegan or not!
For a quick and healthy breakfast, the Granola Bowl is the perfect choice featuring layers of non-fat yoghurt, fresh seasonal fruits, and homemade granolas that we bake in house, topped with local organic honey.
Here comes the Aloha Bowl, my all-time favorite food item at the café. The Aloha Bowl is a hipster twist on the local favorite Loco Moco. Instead of having burger patty with gravy on rice, the Aloha Bowl is consisted of high-quality medium grained Japanese rice sprinkled with furikake; homemade Portuguese sausage marinated with five types of spices and seasonings; two eggs poached to perfection; two types of kim chee; and a spoonful of queso freso on top. Some argue that the Portuguese sausage is the star of the dish since it is spicy yet flavorful and moist. I think that the winner of this bowl is the poached eggs, as each eggs is firm on the outside and creamy on the inside yolk. The mild tanginess of queso compliment well with every flavors represented in this bowl of goodness. The portion might look deceivingly small, but it is pretty fulfilling and rich of proteins. Quite a good deal for just $9.50 of high quality and carefully crafted dish.
All in all, I think what makes 9BarHNL different from any other places is that we care a lot about what we do, and we are always striving to be better. From every single cup of coffee to the design of our dining space, all is made with care and thoughts. 9BarHNL is indeed created with the hope to cultivate a community of coffee lovers who reshape the future of Hawaii.
Check out 9BarHNL for a cup of coffee, or scuffin, or breakfast all-day – don’t forget to find them on social media: