Here’s a silly story. I guess I could say my coffee addiction started when I was in my teens. I was spending a hot summer vacation at my aunt’s, and I was so roasted that I needed something to cool me down. All that was there on the kitchen table was a jar of ground coffee and another of sugar. I was never a fan of plain water, so I took the coffee and sugar and mixed it with ice cold water and—voila!—the best discovery I ever made! Ice-cold coffee. I probably drank at least three glasses more that day.
Up to this day, I can still drink three or more in a day.
Coffee is more than just a dose of awakening caffeine. Coffee itself is divine. Good coffee is my go-to drink when I feel happy and want to celebrate, when I feel depressed and need to feel better, when I feel cold and need warmth, when I feel hot and need a refreshment, when I feel down and need inspiration, when I feel brokenhearted and desperate for a remedy, when I feel scared and need a pacifier, when I feel accomplished and deserve a reward. It’s the real star for all reasons.
Coffee has gloriously evolved from a commodity to a culture. And coffee shops are the best place to experience this.
Another great thing I love about coffee is the places it is served. Coffee has gloriously evolved from a commodity to a culture. And coffee shops are the best place to experience this extraordinary culture. People gather around a cup of coffee to foster friendships, rekindle romance, or seal business deals. Meanwhile, individuals like me who often go alone find some company in a cup of coffee. We are drawn not only to the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans but also to the unique atmosphere of coffee shops. The mellow sound of pop and R&B on the background music, hushed friendly chatters from the neighboring tables, coffee tables that can serve as a work desk, the couches. For someone who’s away from home and trapped in a concrete jungle, coffee shops are my oasis, a heavenly refuge.
I started with Starbucks. I thank Starbucks for introducing me to the extraordinary culture of coffee, but for years now, I have been trying to veer away from commercial and seek more of what the smaller, independent cafes have to offer—and it’s endless. Every coffee shop is unique.
In Metro Manila 🇵🇭 alone, there are countless of coffee shops waiting to be discovered. And when I go out of town or out of the country, the most indispensable part of my personal itinerary is a visit to some local coffee shops. In fact, a big part of the reason I travel is to see every town’s coffee culture, to see what kind of cafes these places harbor. Coffee is a culture in itself, but coffee shops also reflect the culture of the community they belong to. And this is what I want to write about, what I want to share, what I want to remember and keep looking back to.
This is just a start. I want to celebrate coffee more through a series of coffee-loving posts and photos. I want to record and share with the world my experiences with coffee so that maybe someone somewhere may better appreciate the existence of coffee in this world.
Coffee makes me happy. Maybe more people will be, too.
Seeing men swinging small boards that said “Private Pool” on the side of the road made me feel restless because I knew we were close. A couple more minutes and we would arrive at the place I had been yearning for. The place that served as a true home during the days I was struggling with college and independence.
We arrived in IRRI at 10 AM and grabbed breakfast at the cafeteria – a place I often came to as a student for cheap good food, with a view of the rice fields and the mountainous horizon. I ate a big serving of saucy roast chicken with rice, plus brewed coffee and a slice of cassava cake for dessert for only Php105.
The weather was a bit gloomy at noon and it rained a little, but it didn’t stop me from touring my friends and us from taking crazy photos. Actually, the bit of rain helped refresh the surroundings from the summer heat and the air became a bit cooler for a while.
I visited the pond at the back of the IRRI’s coffee shop, Bean Hub, which was closed at the time, and searched for the lone resident turtle to say hi. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. Prolly it was sleeping in a corner covered by plants. I hope so.
We left IRRI a little after lunchtime and drove to Animal Science, UPLB (University of the Philippines, Los Baños). We went to PCC’s (Philippine Carabao Center) Dairy Corner, where I used to buy fresh dairy products for a sweet treat after my PE or An Sci classes. My favorite has always been Milk-O-Jel (Php15, then and now❤️) – a small cup of soft carabao milk pudding with sweet syrup on top, sort of like leche flan. At this time, I also got Carakafe – coffee❤️ with carabao milk for only Php35. My other favorite items from Dairy Corner are their yogurts of different flavors and chocomilk. Obviously, all of their dairy products are made from carabao’s milk. They also have meat products. All so natural, so fresh, so delish.
After IRRI, we drove around the campus before heading out. I got off the car and bid goodbye to my friends who were returning to Manila. I, on the other hand, was staying for the rest of the day.
I checked in at One Providence, a dormitory near the campus that also rents out transient rooms. I walked along F.O. Santos street going to One Providence and discovered a few changes. Some old establishments I used to go to have been replaced by new ones. Most notably, Sizzlers, a restaurant located on the third floor/rooftop of a building, has been replaced by “Siblings.” I used to love going to Sizzlers for dinner because of the view from the balcony dining setup. It was quite a romantic setting. I bet Siblings retained that setup, although I’m not sure yet if they measure up to Sizzlers’ sizzling dishes (my personal favorite was sisig with egg).
Old street snacks
After resting for a bit in my dormitory room, I went out again for a walk, carrying my backpack with my notebook, pens and laptop. At 4 PM, my first stop was the small kwek-kwek (fried orange quail eggs) cart in front of Vega Arcade, right outside the UPLB gate. I bought a stick of four pieces (Php15) and resumed walking while dipping my kwek-kwek in my cup o’ spicy vinegar.
Along the way, I also stopped by Micha’s, a pastry and cake shop near Demarses Subdivision where I used to live. Whenever I was stressed out with acads (academic stuff), I would stop by and take out either blueberry cheesecake (I remember it’s less than Php100), cream puffs (Php12 for caramel-glazed, Php15 for vanilla-glazed) or chocolate chip cookies. Cream puffs were my favorite, so I decided to buy them this time. Prices didn’t change! I ate my caramel and vanilla cream puffs as I wandered on.
New food places
After a couple of minutes of walking along Lopez Avenue (Grove), I was kicking around whether I was going to eat at an old favorite or try a new restaurant. I decided to do…both! At 5 PM, I went to Bibap Korean Restaurant, which was a new find for me. I gave my order at the counter and went up to the second floor to find a low dining table setup. I sat on my floor cushion as I ate my jajangmyeon with delicious side dishes (Php135), while watching some Korean music videos on their TV. At this time on a Saturday, there are not many people at Bibap—in fact, I was the only one enjoying the solitude of the restaurant. On the other hand, perhaps it was too early for a heavy meal…
Meanwhile, Productivity Cafe just on the other side of the street had a lot of occupied tables. Since my old favorite, Coffee Blends, was for some reason closed on that day, I decided to try a new coffee shop. Productivity Cafe was a small coffee place on the second floor of a new commercial building along Lopez Ave. that offered a special space for students to concentrate on their acads and for alumni like me to just blend in. When I entered the cafe, I almost thought I walked into a class. On one side, there were four long tables occupied by two young people each, who were perfectly lined up with their laptops set on the table. I occupied a small square table in another corner overlooking the road and set my laptop, notebook and pens on the little surface, with a smaller space for my vanilla ice cream coffee (Php99). Productivity Cafe encourages silence as respect for students who’re trying to work and plays soothing music that makes you feel more like you’re in a spa. It’s a good thing they had bright lighting, else I would have dozed off on my table.❤️
I stayed at Productivity Café until around 8:30 PM. I crossed the street again to transfer to Eatsumo, an old favorite Japanese restaurant, for a second fill. I admit it’s not authentic Japanese, but I still love their donburi and california maki. Their meals were tasty and cheap—served justice to my scanty college budget. Whenever I craved for some Japanese meals, this was where I ran to. This time, I ordered the usual—”toridon,” chicken and egg donburi (Php70), which I found weird at first because I knew it was “oyakodon.” Anyway, tori meant bird or chicken in Japanese, so technically it’s not wrong to call it toridon!
I sat alone on a table while watching other students enjoying their meals and chatting with each other. I used to be like them—dining with a friend and ranting lightheartedly on after a stressful day of boring classes and demanding professors. Although, sometimes, I would just enjoy a meal alone and just be thankful for having the time to run away from papers, go out and chill.
Old nightly habits, nostalgia
After my dinner, at around 9:30, I walked around a little more. I passed by CDC (College of Development Communication) and remembered the nights I used to walk by this place filled with students chattering among themselves or practicing a class presentation or just waiting for friends they were meeting up with. I remembered the nights I used to walk by this place to meet my Dev Com friends. Strangely, as a Com Arts student, I used to have more close friends from CDC and other colleges. If I could be honest, I’d say I didn’t really match the wavelengths of my Com Arts batchmates. I saw them as loud, dynamic and high-maintenance. Their sassiness was a bit intimidating for me. I found it easier to get along with peeps from CDC and Engineering, who were more easygoing and scruffy (in a cute way!). But later on, I also got to meet good friends in my own college who made me comfortable and happy.
Past CDC, I walked by the old CAS (College of Arts and Sciences) building with so much nostalgia. At the start of every semester, this was where I fell in line for several minutes to claim the most coveted Form 5 (Certificate if Registration). (And then, I would fall in line again for hours at the Admin office for payment of matriculation and at the University Registrar for stamping of Form 5 and class cards.) This was also where I endured classes with wall fans blowing warm air on our faces in summertime.
It was certainly not easy in college, but it will always be something I’d be willing to relive over and over because every end of the day was rewarding after you finished all of the day’s tasks. At the end of the day, there would always be friends, good food and fine coffee that would ease all the stress. I love you, UPLB.
In the morning, before heading back to Manila, I decided to grab breakfast and coffee and chill a little more at Cafe Ella, probably the only cafe in Elbi that’s open at 8 AM on Sunday. Cafe Ella is also a nice place to hang around, with its cozy interior and free Wi-Fi. I tried for the first time their classic meaty red sauced pasta (Php175) and brewed coffee (Php65). When I was in college, I usually ordered fish and chips and caramel macchiato. I only went here when I was feeling lavish (when I had extra after paying rent!) because Cafe Ella was a little too expensive for me.
Sundays and holidays will make you realize that the students are the life of Elbi. When there are no classes, there are not many establishments to go to. Most restaurants and cafes are either closed or open late, and it’s hard to find a nice place to hang out especially in the morning. Without the young people, Elbi is like a ghost town.
I like my coffee iced. I like to see the hazy layers of milk, espresso and caramel before I pour in some sugar and mix it. I prefer brown sugar–four to five sachets because I like it really sweet. I don’t thoroughly mix the sugar because I like to chew on the granules when I sip the coffee from the bottom.
I usually like my coffee in Starbucks. Caramel Macchiato is my favorite. I like it here because of the ambiance except during peak hours. So, I go when it’s early in the morning or a work day. If not, then I find a less popular cafe. I like my coffee with cake–I love cheesecakes–or a doughnut unless I am really hungry. Any kind of cheesecake will hearten me.
When I am alone, I take a table and form a personal bubble, lay my notebook and pens and ignore the rest of the world. But I also like my coffee with a companion–a sweet one. Sugar is unnecessary to a companion who shares coffee and conversations with you. I like to see the hazy layers of the horizon during sunset while sipping coffee, and chatting and talking mushy things. No rush on finishing the coffee. It doesn’t matter if my iced coffee becomes watery or his hot drink becomes cold.
This is what I like most about having coffee. Besides the enjoyable taste, it also makes time spent simply meaningful with someone special. Asking a person to grab a coffee with you is one of the easiest and simplest things to get to spend time together. Having two of the best things in life–coffee and him–at the same time is how I like it best.
Recently, I had to cut down on my coffee intake for health reasons. But I don’t cease coming to coffee shops.
Coffee shops are not limited to coffee. When I’ve had enough coffee for the week, I get a hot cup of marshmallow-chocolate or a glass of iced tea or fruit juice. It doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that I get a space to myself amid occupied tables of coffee drinkers and chit-chatters. There forms invisible force field around me and my table which no one can enter or disturb–whoever dares gets the pout and the killer eyes. I scatter my notebooks and pens on the table, leaving a small space for my cake and drink.
Why I love coffee shops:
It is the best place on Earth. I love it even more than my own house. Of course, my home is the best place for me to lie around and do nothing or watch TV. But coffee shop–it lets me slouch and think nice thoughts and write. It lets me watch the world go by outside the window–the people, the cars, the clouds that fade into a night sky.
It’s my comfort zone. When I need a sweet piece of cake or a nice music to lighten my mood, it’s all here. I don’t need to skip a song like I do on my mp3 because here every song is a good song, unfamiliar yet soothing. At the right day of the week or time of the day, I can enjoy the calmness of the place, with very few people and their inaudible murmurs.
It’s a great place to be alone. Unlike in a crowded restaurant or at a concert where it’s fun to have companions, it’s not awkward to be alone in a coffee shop. I can have the perfect me-time and don’t care about people. And here, I always seem to get a convenient flow of thoughts. Thoughts that I can write. Thoughts that I share.
Sure, there are not so good and no-good-at-all coffee shops. Perhaps, just a few. And it’s not difficult to find the good ones. And when I find a good one, I leave a piece of me, a trace, a mark that says–swears–I will be back. Because it’s always worth coming back to a familiar, homey place.