With coffee coursing through his veins, it’s no surprise that Sanjay Ponnapa is the founder of Fuel Espresso, a pioneer that revolutionised Asia’s premium coffee scene.
Hailing from a multi-generational family of coffee-growers, Ponnapa was born in Coorg, India, an area known for its rich coffee-growing heritage. Civil disruption meant his father lost his plantation at a young age. He grew up in New Zealand, the home of Fuel Espresso.
After a lengthy, fun filled period at university, studying law, psychology and consumer behaviour he worked in the fashion industry, then headed to New York, attending the New York Restaurant School and working in top bars and jazz clubs until his thirties. Dreaming of starting a jazz label, he returned to New Zealand and attended the Auckland School of Audio Engineering. But this would all change when a 60kg bag of green coffee-beans from an uncle in Coorg unexpectedly arrived in Wellington; Ponnapa’s coffee-heritage had caught up with him.
He quickly located a roaster, packaged the beans into sacks, had logos printed onto calico and started selling his product from door to door. Having developed a strong interest for espresso, Ponnapa called upon friends to help him build a state-of-the-art espresso cart, the likes of which had never been seen before — it boasted an aeronautical aluminium exterior, rich wood interior, and an impressive sound system to reflect Ponnapa’s passion for jazz music. He decided on the name Fuel Espresso. Within six months of launching his cart on the streets of Wellington, Fuel was serving 600 espresso based coffees a day.
He continued to develop his brand through the intensive study of Italian espresso culture. A big thinker, Ponnapa, wanted to take his love and knowledge of espresso to a larger stage and so Hong Kong became his next home. Fuel Espresso opened its flagship bar in IFC Mall in 2008, an event which changed the city’s relationship with coffee forever. Through its relentless pursuit of perfection and handsomely appointed stores, Fuel Espresso has established a new standard of coffee and a collection of iconic gathering grounds for executive meetings and beyond.
Today Fuel operates five locations in Hong Kong, one in Shanghai, and a scattering of espresso bars in Wellington, as well as the brand’s beloved coffee cart where their dedicated coffee roastery also sits. In the future, as well as expanding Fuel’s offering across Asia and beyond, Ponnapa plans to reacquire his family’s lost Coorg coffee fields, an act he sees as the ultimate tribute to his cherished parents.
Outside of running the Fuel empire, Sanjay enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, learning the cello and listening to music. He’s a fan of the app Calm, and of course, a good cup of coffee.View more
All volunteer hours must be completed during 25 May 2018 to 25 October 2018.
Dinner will be held at WeWork Tower 535 at 6:45pm-9pm on 6 November 2018.
Cost per person is HK$150 (Full-time students aged 25 or below)/ HK$250 (General Participants) to support the running costs of our charity and our mission to make volunteerism mainstream.