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A short while ago, I was interviewed by a reporter about Water for Free and environmental protection in general.  She suggested we meet at Interval Coffee Bar on Wellington Street. Upon arrival, I noticed that all the sit-in patrons were drinking coffee from paper cups. I then turned my attention to the counter and realised there weren’t any ceramic cup there. When the reporter showed up, I requested we change the venue.  Of course she understood my reasoning – an interview about environmentalism cannot take place at a coffee shop which only serves drinks in disposable cups. In order to let the shop owner know the reason for our departure, I specifically asked the barista if he could serve coffee in ceramic cups, to which he apologetically replied no. We walked out of Interval Coffee, walked down a flight of stairs and arrived at Holly Brown Coffee, where they serve coffee in ceramic cups.

I refuse to drink coffee served in disposable cups for a couple of reasons.  In addition to the obvious environmental reason that disposable paper cups cannot be recycled here in Hong Kong, there is a less obvious reason – paper cups have a distinct smell that affects the enjoyment of it. It might even be marginally acceptable to serve instant coffee in paper cups because no one cares about the taste and smell of it – it is just a form of caffeine. But when we are talking about gourmet coffee which emphasises the origin of the beans, how they are roasted, the skill of the barista and even the quality of the water, how can we justify serving it in paper cups, especially after all the fuss about aroma, flavor and taste? Imagine if wine were served in paper cups.

On another occasion I went to a coffee shop in Quarry Bay for a quick meal and a coffee. Since I saw the Go Cup (a campaign which encourages people to bring their own reusable cups for coffee/drinks)  sticker, I asked the barista about its popularity. He thought carefully for a while and then said: “some days there are 8-10 customers who BYOB, some days there are none. On average there are several customers who BYOB everyday.” I then asked “what is the percentage of people who BYOB versus those who don’t?”  He worked out the math and told me it was around 2%.

It’s of no use talking about environmental concerns with those who care primarily about convenience, and the status and importance that proudly carrying a Starbucks coffee conveys while walking around Central. For example, when I used to work there, a lawyer in an adjacent office whom I would occasionally bump into would always answer “busy! I’m going to get my third cup of coffee for the day” whenever he was asked “how are you doing?”

At the world barista championships, the coffee is served in ceramic cups or glasses for tasting. The paper cups are used for the judges to spit into after tasting. It seems those that really appreciate coffee will use ceramic cups. Only when drinking coffee from disposable cups is universally recognised as a sign of poor taste, like drinking wine from disposable cups, will we be able to curb the blight of these disposable cups.