Name: Alvin Cheung
Occupation: Creator, coffee nerd, founder of Alpha Beta Coffee Club and Tokyo Keyboard
Likes: B-kyu gourmet, William Gibson, Sundays
Dislikes: Bad taste, big egos, steak well-done
1. How would your best friend describe you? Creative, but generally a klutz.
2. What is your vocational/education background? I went to international school in Hong Kong then went on to study film in college in the U.S. Along the way I earned an MBA at an art school in San Francisco. Long story.
3. Why base yourself in Japan? To create things from a different point of view. Sixty percent of the world’s youth now live in Asia — what happens next will happen here.
4. You’re the Alpha Beta Coffee (ABC) Club’s chief coffee officer — is that as fun as it sounds? It is fun! It’s a blend of product and operations, making sure we’re showcasing the right kinds of coffee, working with the right roasters and keeping things running smoothly. Not a lot of people know this, but we work with special-needs groups to help with packing and logistics for the online subscriptions. The most important part of the role for me is making sure we make good choices that can help benefit our community and society while still being a sustainable business.
5. How does one become an entrepreneur like you? By taking a big leap of faith. Have something big that you believe and make sure you have a good support network. Also it generally helps to have a good business plan in place.
6. What’s the best and worst thing about being an entrepreneur? Best? Leading the how and why of your company. Worst is being responsible for the outcomes of all the decisions.
7. You describe ABC Club as a “tech-powered subscription cafe.” Where’s the tech? We custom built an NFC smart card based membership system to run the cafe subscriptions, both the hardware and the software.
8. Do you rely on the powers of caffeine? Yes. Very much yes.
9. Dark or light roast? Light roasts for me. I feel they showcase the character of each coffee better. When you’re working with single-origin coffee that you can trace down to which plot on which farm, you really want to taste every little bit of what makes that coffee special.
10. ABC Club serves coffee and craft beer. Do those things actually go together? The goal is to have an all-day bar. Coffee during the day, seamlessly transitioning to beer at night. We like craft beer because it shows the same independent character as the coffee we source. We started the ABC Coffee Club to showcase the best of Japan’s independent roasting scene, and we found a lot in common with the craft beer. Let’s have more diversity, not monopolies!
11. What do you think will be the fourth wave of coffee? Hopefully the elevation of coffee to something similar to wine or good whiskey. Farms are putting more work into growing unique coffee with distinct terroir. I’d love to see more people not just have favorite roasters or regions but also have favorite farms.
12. You’re designing keyboards now, why? It’s something we use everyday that people rarely think about. It’s also one of the few pieces of technology that isn’t about being faster, lighter or cheaper. It’s all about your experience with it and emotion, meaning we can innovate through art, design and culture. We have Montblanc for pens, so why not for keyboards?
13. What’s so great about mechanical keyboards? For a lot of people it’s about the tactile experience and unique designs. For me, the community has been the greatest thing, meeting mechanical keyboard fans from around the world.
14 What did you have to learn to create the Tokyo60 keyboard? Everything from the electronics design to 3-D modeling and manufacture. It started with a trip to Shenzhen to understand how hardware is made and ended with a full production run.
15. Why is called Tokyo60? It was designed in Tokyo and has exactly 60 keys. The Tokyo60 is my interpretation of a famous Japanese keyboard. I loved the silhouette and wanted to have my take on an iconic design.
16. You describe it as a “hacker-style” keyboard — are you a hacker? We all are in our own way.
17. Qwerty or Dvorak? Or any other? Colemak. The third most popular layout behind Dvorak. It’s better for the hands. Also no one else can use my keyboard.
18. Are you into using keycaps (keyswitch covers)? Right now I’m using a set called GMK Jamon designed by a friend. They’re manufactured in Germany and the design was inspired by ham. The keyboard world is a funny place.
19. Who is your design hero? Virgil Abloh — founder of Off-White and a former architect — has been a recent inspiration. He’s got a good philosophy on design and its relevance in our current context.
20. What are you making right now? I’m working on a brand new keyboard design that can be fully manufactured in Tokyo. There’s still a great but small manufacturing hub here. Similar to ABC Coffee, I’m looking to find more ways to support local businesses.