Flavors can be symbols of individual cities. Mixologist Kit Cheung experimented for more than a year and finally came up with Perfume Trees, a gin with a local Hong Kong flavor, after numerous failures. Market response for this gin variety is overwhelming and it has won 12 major international awards.
Born and bred in Hong Kong, Cheung studied in Britain during his teens. Having developed interest in bartending while working as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant, he traveled widely to acquire professional skills. He found that many drinkers have no channel to learn more about wines and spirits or the different types of alcoholic beverages. In 2012, he returned to Hong Kong and founded a bartending school, which has proved to be his life turning point.
An idea that presented itself at spirit tasting house parties
Cheung rented a small village house in Pat Heung. It was a place to have a drink and chat with friends and students. There, he befriended Joseph Cheung, a like-minded student who later co-founded Perfume Trees with him. “We talked about making a gin with a flavor that represented Hong Kong many times. The concept had been cooking for a long while and eventually we decided to take it forward.”
The Japanese make wines and spirits with cherry blossoms. Initially, Cheung used frangipani blossoms, a plant commonly found in urban Hong Kong, but they did not get the Hong Kong taste they wanted. “In the old days, people wore white jade orchid blossoms behind their ears, on the chest or on garments. The streets were filled with that delicate fragrance.”
White jade orchid tells the Hong Kong story
Work started at the green-brick village house. They created a recipe that complemented white jade orchid with Indian sandalwood, vintage tangerine peel, Longjing tea and angelica. A long process of experiments and failures followed. In 2018, they successfully created a brand of gin with a Hong Kong flavor — Perfume Trees. According to Cheung, the name echoes white jade orchid which is the key ingredient of the gin and the fact that the recipe was put together under a century-old tree.
They now source their white jade orchid blossoms mainly from Taiwan and get only about 10% of supply from local flower farms. Given a limited flowering period and unstable supply, mass production is not yet possible. In addition, they have to send the raw materials to a distiller in Holland to make the spirit and that entails high transportation and procurement costs. Cheung hopes to tap the huge Greater Bay Area market and increase output in the future as the Greater Bay Area develops and supporting facilities mature.
Making friends without geographical barriers through wines and spirits
Cheung says frankly he is not a good businessman, but rather a good teller of little-known stories about wines and spirits. “People in Hong Kong were quite negative about drinking in the past and the drinking culture never got off the ground. Fortunately, things have changed in recent years.”
Perfume Trees Gin has done very well in the Greater China market since its launch. It has also won several international competitions. Cheung believes it is a brand that can break geographical barriers.