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BlogMay 29, 2024

Kafei: Infusing Coffee Culture with Asian Inspirations

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Our next encounter brought us to Kafei (pronounced Kah-Fey), an innovative coffee shop nestled in the heart of Brussels.

This coffee place was initiated by 3 siblings, on a mission to blend the rich coffee traditions of Europe with the vibrant, diverse flavors of Asia through expertly crafted coffee, tea beverages and pastries. From the moment you step inside this bright place, Kafei promises an immersive experience where East meets West in a harmonious celebration of flavors and traditions.

Could you introduce yourself and the project Kafei?

“I'm Ping, and together with my two brothers, Stephen and Mickael, we opened this family business about five years ago. The idea behind Kafei (which literally means coffee in Mandarin) is to highlight our origins around a catering project. Our parents were restaurateurs, so we wanted to continue in that sector, but in a different way—something more modern and more like us.”

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How did it all start? Could you share the inspiration behind starting Kafei?

“The beginning of the story of Kafei comes from my interest in baking. I always had in mind to someday open ‘something small’, such as a bakery or a coffee shop. After graduation, I was doing a part-time job on the weekend with Mickael at a sushi restaurant in the center of Brussels. Meanwhile, Mickael had also developed his interest in coffee. So one day I asked him : “do you want to run a business together?”

This was seven and a half years ago and we opened Cup28, our first restaurant, which focused on American brunch. At the same time, Stephen came back to Belgium from a one-year travel and study experience in China. Because he was majored in catering/hospitality, we persuaded him to join and be the head of the kitchen.

At the time, we didn't dare to fully embrace our origins for fear of how it would be perceived. Our parents had told us that since we were Chinese, we should open a Chinese restaurant. So we were afraid to take the plunge. But in the end, Cup28 was a big big success, and this gave us the impulse to launch a new place, Kafei, which resembles us more closely. Today, we are the proud owners of 4 coffee shops and one atelier.”

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How does your Chinese/Asian heritage manifest itself in Kafei?

“We put a lot of emphasis on tea, which is an emblematic drink in China. We also try to highlight other Asian specialties and touches. For example, matcha, which is one of our best-sellers, and fluffy pancakes, which are two Japanese specialties. In the food, we have Asian touches throughout. For instance, in the hollandaise sauce, we add miso, and instead of bacon, we use Chinese slow cooked pork belly. We mix things we know and want people to discover.”

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How is it to run a family business? Did it make you stronger than ever?

“Let's just say that this adventure united us more. When we were younger, we were close, but not always as a three-person team. This project really united us as a family, as siblings, and also with our parents. Initially, we were a bit afraid of working as a family because, from what we'd seen with our parents, we knew it was hard. But in the end, our differences and complementary skills make it work well. Our father always told us : “don’t let business ruin your relationship with your families”. Therefore, we each have our own part to play, and nobody steps on each other's toes. We try not to quarrel and leave room for each other because we want things to go well. Of course, things aren't always rosy, and sometimes we do argue. But in the eight years we've been working together, things have gone pretty well I think.“

Can you tell me more about who does what between you three? What are the strengths of each one of you?

“Stephen is in charge of the kitchen and menu development. Mickael handles the bar, coffee, tea, and the contact with new suppliers and roasters. I'm in charge of general management, administration, marketing, and the administrative side of our shops. My two brothers are more in the operational side while I'm more involved in the management side. We also try to delegate as much as possible, to be able to focus on other things. For example, we have someone is in charge of marketing, and someone else who is the operational manager and students helping us every day. As we aim to grow the brand, we also focus on sustainability and local aspects. For example, we've been working with a local roaster, Wide Awake, here in Brussels for over five years and we do it with other part of the business.”

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What do you love the most about running/managing a coffee place?

“For me, it's the entrepreneurial side. You have to wear many different hats and adapt to various situations; no two days are the same. I can be in the kitchen, behind the bar, at a computer, meeting new people, attending events, and planning collaborations. There are so many things to do, and that's what makes us appreciate the job. Another thing for what we do it is the team. It’s so fulfilling to see the brand and the team we created grow and evolve with us. We see Kafei as a big family, and we try to encourage a team spirit through team-building activities so that this family spirit extends beyond just us.”

Do you have a personal favorite coffee & pastry, or is there a house special? What would you recommend someone try when visiting Kafei?

“I would recommend the matcha and fluffy pancakes. Matcha (specifically the latte) is one of our top five sellers, even though we're primarily a coffee shop. Fluffy pancakes are really the house special. It's a very technical recipe because it needs to be very airy and takes a long time to perfect. So we’re really proud to be able to propose this speciality. On the menu, we have 3-4 staples that we hardly ever change, plus variations according to seasonal fruits. Sometimes, we test more daring combinations like the one with ube, a potato from the Philippines often used in pastries, or hojicha, matcha's little sister, a roasted green tea powder with a slightly burnt taste that goes well with pastries. We try to introduce these specialties with chocolate or other familiar flavors, although it's not always easy and appreciated with Belgian tastes.”

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We've loved discovering Kafei and listening to Ping, Stephen, and Mickael share their passion and proudly embracing their Asian culture through this place.

If you're in Brussels, drop by Kafei to enjoy their amazing matcha lattes and fluffy pancakes. Don't forget to check out their engraved mugs, perfect for taking your favorite drink with you. It's a must-visit spot for a unique coffee experience.

Check it out here: www.kafei.be

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