Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 Bartender’s Bartender: Jay Khan of COA Hong Kong

Jay Khan | Altos Bartenders' Bartender | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

Altos’ Bartender’s Bartender 2020: Jay Khan of COA Hong Kong

Jay Khan is one of Asia’s best known bartenders, not only because he makes excellent cocktails, but has helped further educate the public about agave. The Hong Kong born native was recently crowned the Altos’ Bartender’s Bartender at the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 and in addition to that, his bar COA has also placed number 3 at the Asia’s 50 Best Bars this year. We speak to Jay to pick the his brains on his thoughts about bartending and bartenders.

Congratulations on winning the Altos Bartender’s Bartender Award. Can you tell us firstly what you’d like to convey to your industry peers?

I want to express my gratitude for winning this year’s Altos Bartenders Bartender. Special thanks to my industry peers who have voted for me. I am truly honoured to receive it. Without them this wouldn’t have been possible.

COA Interior | Jay Khan | Altos Bartenders' Bartender | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

What do you think contributed to you winning this award?

Believing in yourself and being persistent in achieving it. Not persistent in winning awards of course. Award is a by-product of your hard work. If you truly believe what you are working hard for it will be acknowledged. Enjoy the process.

Can you tell us something about COA that not many people know?

COA is not the first agave bar in HK, but definitely the first in the approach of educating our guest about this misunderstood spirit. Our goal is to convert as many non-agave drinkers to drink agave spirit. Many of our guest doesn’t know COA is named after an iconic tool in the tequila industry for harvesting agave plants. And all agaves are harvested by hand using this tool. There is no machine developed to this job. Hence it is a very labour-intensive product. The tool symbolises craftsmanship.

No. 3 Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Jay Khan | Altos Bartenders' Bartender | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

We know there may be many, but can you name us three of your favourite bartenders and tell us why you chose them?

Yes, there are many great bartenders to choose from. I’ll choose 3 who had the most influence in my career. 1. Alex Day (one of the first bartenders who taught me the basics of bartending), 2. Angus Winchester (there is so much more to bartending than just mixing drinks. His philosophy and teaching inspired me to be a better bartender) 3. Dave Arnold (who I haven’t met officially but his book Liquid Intelligence influenced the way I mix drink so much, and I have probably read it like 10 times).

If there was one specific shot that should replace the fernet branca as the international bartender’s handshake, what spirit should that be and from what brand?

Let’s stick to Fernet branca 🙂

La Paloma de Oaxaca | Jay Khan | Altos Bartenders' Bartender | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

Can you share a cocktail recipe that you would consider a bartender’s drink?

Hmmm… there are too many. How about a riff on a Paloma? Our La Paloma de Oaxaca is a best seller among our industry peers at Coa. A small twist on the classic.

La Paloma de Oaxaca

  • 15ml 100% agave tequila
  • 15ml Mezcal joven
  • 7.5ml lime juice
  • 90ml Good quality grapefruit soda
  • sal de gusano (worm salt)

Sal de gusano for rimming the glass and a grapefruit peel for garnish.

Which bar would you visit on your day off and why?

The bartender is more important than the bar. So I’ll go to any bar with the bartender I trust.

Tamarind Milk Punch | Jay Khan | Altos Bartenders' Bartender | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

Favourite bar in Asia that isn’t your own…

Wow there are too many good bars and I like too many of them.

What advice do you have for young bartenders entering the industry?

It is much easier to become a bartender today than compared to maybe 10-15 years ago. It is also much easier to work in a bar that may not believe in the same approach as you do. Do your research well before you join any bar. Maybe frequent that bar as a guest and watch how the bartender works. Bar is a tough job. You have to work 10-12 hours a day standing. It is very easy to give up especially when you are new.

COA, Wise Kings, Tell Camelia Bottled Cocktails | Jay Khan | Altos Bartenders' Bartender | Asia's 50 Best Bars 2020 | Food For Thought

Any advice for the drink industry during the covid-19 with coping and sustaining bar business?

A lot of things are not in our control. But look at the bright side. Spend more time with you family, take more rest and read while you’re not in action. Improve yourself mentally if you can’t physically.

COA Hong Kong is No. 3 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
For our thoughts on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020, see Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020.
For all 50 Best related content, see 50 Best.


Nicholas Ng

Nicholas Ng is a restaurant critic and drinks writer and is the editor of independent publication Food For Thought. He has been a freelance journalist for the 15 years and has previously worked as a lawyer and in digital marketing. He currently is the Principal Consultant of A Thought Full Consultancy, a food and beverage marketing consultancy.

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