Raising the bar

Alvin Ching
Alvin Ching's career in food and beverages began at EAST Hong Kong's rooftop bar and lounge, Sugar, where he developed a passion for mixology. Since then, he has won several competitions, with the most recent being Gin Mare's Mediterranean Inspirations in 2019, when he was crowned Hong Kong Champion and International Second Runner Up. We hear about his journey and dedication to the art of creating cocktails.

How did you get involved in the hospitality industry, and what led to you working at Sugar?

My journey began while I was studying Hotel Management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. While there, I got the chance to learn about wines, spirits and other beverages. When I reached the age of 22 or 23, a time when young people in Hong Kong start to explore alcohol, bartending seemed like a cool thing to take up. My first bartending role was at Sugar. This allowed me to learn about the trade, which put me on the path to becoming a mixologist. I also gained valuable experience from attending competitions, which trained me to mix with accuracy, precision and confidence in front of a panel of judges and an international audience. These are lessons that I have brought into my day-today work as a mixologist. Luckily, Sugar is a really busy bar, so I had a lot of opportunities to practise my moves.
When making drinks, I always look for perfection.
Under the Sea is one of Alvin’s favourite cocktail creations.
Under the Sea is one of Alvin’s favourite cocktail creations.

What do you enjoy most about being a mixologist?

For me, it's the freedom to create drinks. As well as tending bar and mixing drinks, I can draw on my creativity to design new drinks and perfect their presentation. Ever since I was young, I have had a keen interest in painting, drawing and ceramics. I feel there's a natural alignment between the freedom to draw or paint, and inventing drinks as a mixologist. I pay close attention to the colours, the presentation and the flavours. There's also an element of performance, which is something that can make you stand out during competitions.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

When making drinks, I always look for perfection. If there's a set recipe, I need to work out how to replicate the exact same taste time after time. Also, when working with the rest of the team , I aim to ensure they can create the same drinks for customers no matter who is working that shift. We have a good team dynamic with the main bartender mixing the drinks while his teammate assists by collecting glasses. It's a tricky operation to get right, but it's always fun, because we create strong connections with one another. Sometimes we don't even need to speak, as we instinctively know what to do. We all pull together in the same direction.
Alvin Ching, mixologist at Sugar at EAST Hong Kong.
Alvin Ching, mixologist at Sugar at EAST Hong Kong.

Tell us about some of your signature cocktails: which ones do guests prefer, and which is your favourite to make?

One of my most popular signatures is the Garden of Eden, made from quince, green apple cider and gin, and it's also one of the cocktails that won me a competition. However, my favourite to make is Under the Sea, comprising grape juice, grape soda and gin. It's the kind of drink that always creates the "wow factor" for customers, because the colours form layers and it is a real visual treat for them. But when it comes to personal drinking preference, I usually opt for a gin and tonic. Customers are keen to try new cocktails, but they also enjoy classic combinations.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Inspiration for a new cocktail can come from many different sources. For example, if there's a sad memory, then we can use lemon or salt to represent tears that impart bitterness. Another route is to take a classic cocktail like a margarita or daiquiri and give it a twist. Recently, we had a Hong Kong-inspired menu, which featured flavours like egg tart, ice cream, coffee, milk tea and even herbal tea, to represent yin and yang.

Tell us about your plans for the future.

As a mixologist, I'm currently leading the bar team, so in addition to improving myself, I also help my colleagues develop by giving them opportunities and responsibilities. There are different personalities behind the bar; some like to create cocktails and others like to organise operations, so I try to play to their strengths.

In the future, I want to develop my knowledge of wines and spirits, explore more management opportunities and, eventually, manage a venue of my own.
On Sugar’s creative bar menu is ‘Flavours of Hong Kong’ – an extensive selection of locally inspired cocktails complemented with a taste of nostalgia.
On Sugar's creative bar menu is 'Flavours of Hong Kong' – an extensive selection of locally inspired cocktails complemented with a taste of nostalgia.
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