Hong Kong Wild Coffee: Easily Found, But Can You Drink It?

Discovering Wild Coffee in Hong Kong

It was while hiking through Eagle's Nest a couple of months ago (2023), that I found out that wild coffee (Psychotria asiatica) actually grows in Hong Kong. I had seen colorful 'berries' regularly throughout my hikes in various parts of the city, but never realized that they were actually coffee!

The wild coffee in Hong Kong is scientifically known as Psychotria asiatica, a species of flowering plant belonging to the Rubiaceae family. It is an evergreen shrub that grows up to five meters in height and is endemic to Hong Kong. The plant boasts glossy, dark green leaves and petite, delicate white flowers, which eventually transform into vibrant red berries.

Naturally, I began to wonder whether wild coffee was actually consumable and if Hong Kong roasteries used these wild-growing beans in their brews.

After a deep dive, the answers I came across were rather surprising.

Is Wild Coffee Actually Coffee?

Despite its name, wild coffee is not directly related to the coffee we commonly consume - Arabica. While both plants belong to the Rubiaceae family, they differ in their genus and species. The seeds of wild coffee, though visually similar to Arabica coffee beans, do not contain caffeine. However, they hold their own unique properties and characteristics.

Where Can You Find Wild Coffee In Hong Kong?

Wild coffee can be found in just about any district in Hong Kong. It thrives in the shade of forests, such as those in Tai Mo Shan, Lantau Island and Sai Kung. These habitats provide the necessary conditions, including a humid subtropical climate and well-drained soil, for wild coffee to thrive.

So far, I've seen wild coffee in the mountains between Kowloon and the New Territories, in Lantau and also on Hong Kong Island - specifically while hiking to Ap Lei Pai.

Can You Brew Wild Coffee and Drink It?

While wild coffee, shares its common name with everyone's favorite beverage, it's important to note that the two are not the same. Wild coffee is not traditionally used as a direct substitute for traditional Arabica or Robusta coffee since those contain caffeine and are commonly brewed for consumption.

Wild coffee ( Psychotria asiatica) does not naturally contain caffeine, and its flavor profile and taste differ significantly from that of traditional coffee.

While it is possible to process and brew wild coffee seeds into an infusion that resembles tea, it does not provide the same flavor and stimulating effects as coffee.hile it is possible to process and brew wild coffee seeds into an infusion that resembles tea, it does not provide the same flavor and stimulating effects as coffee.

Some types of wild coffee even cause headaches and hallucinations, so you probably won't find any wild coffee being offered at your local Hong Kong coffee shop.

What Does Wild Coffee Taste Like?

After discovering that wild coffee grows on almost every hiking trail, I began to wonder what it tasted like. I initially tried finding information online, but could find no concrete accounts about the raw fruit's flavor profile.

So, as most sane people do, I decided to eat one myself during a hike...for science! I can report that they taste earthy and raw with no sweetness. There is a seed/bean within that's hard and bitter.

Basically, they look pretty when ripe, but taste very mediocre. I'm writing this several hours after eating wild coffee and haven't died yet. So, I think they're non-toxic.

Would I recommend that you eat wild coffee? Nope. Absolutely not.

Wild Coffee is Consumed as Chinese Medicine

Despite not being used for a typical cup of Joe, Hong Kong wild coffee is utilized in traditional Chinese medicinal brews.

Various parts of the wild coffee plant are used to solve the following issues:

  1. Sore Throat and Cough Relief: In traditional Chinese medicine, wild coffee has been traditionally used as an herbal remedy for alleviating sore throat and cough symptoms. The plant's leaves and stems are often prepared as a decoction or infusion and consumed to help soothe throat irritation and reduce coughing.
  2. Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Wild coffee is believed to possess anti-inflammatory properties. It is thought to help reduce inflammation and relieve associated discomfort in conditions such as respiratory ailments, joint pain, and skin conditions, although scientific research on these specific claims is limited.
  3. Antipyretic Effects: Wild coffee has been used as a natural antipyretic, or fever-reducing agent by Chinese traditional medicine practitioners. It is believed to help lower body temperature and relieve fever symptoms. However, it's important to note that medical advice should be sought for proper diagnosis and treatment of fevers.
  4. Digestive Aid: Some traditional herbal preparations include wild coffee as an ingredient to support digestion. It is believed to have properties that can help alleviate gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, indigestion, and mild stomach discomfort. However, scientific research on its specific effects on digestion is limited.

While wild coffee has a history of traditional use in Chinese medicine, scientific studies confirming its medicinal properties and safety are scarce.

How to Identify Wild Coffee On Your Next Hike

Not only is wild coffee endemic to Hong Kong, it's also extremely common because of how suitable the climate here is for this plant to thrive.

If you do come across wild coffee on your next hike, here's how to identify it:

  1. Berries: Following successful pollination, wild coffee plants produce small, fleshy berries. The berries change color as they mature, starting from green and gradually turning orange and red when ripening.
  2. Leaves: The leaves of wild coffee are glossy and dark green in color. They are typically elliptical or lanceolate in shape with prominent veins running through them. The leaves grow opposite each other along the branches.
  3. Flowers: Wild coffee produces clusters of small, white flowers. These flowers are generally tubular with five petals and have a fragrant aroma. They appear in abundance during the blooming season, attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Now that you're an expert on Hong Kong's wild coffee, you can impress your friends while hiking as you identify and share cool facts about Hong Kong's secret coffee species hiding in plain sight.