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.
Gooood morning! Despite sleeping late after Day 1, I got up the next day at 6 AM ahead of my friend who was still sleeping soundly. I fought my grogginess, washed my face and grabbed my jacket.
I walked out to a quiet, dusky street, a speck of moon above me. The sun hadn’t taken over the morning sky.
I walked the empty streets until I found Kwun Tong Promenade not far from our hotel. I hung around and took in the freshness of the morning, with only a few joggers that went by. This is what I like about waking up and going out early – it feels like I have the world to myself.
A piece of gem on the corner of the street
Near Newton Place Hotel, I discovered a little gem called 41 Cafe. It was small and not especially striking, but this was exactly what I was looking for. A modest place that offers a genuine experience that represents Hong Kong living.
The menu was in Chinese, but after realizing I was a foreigner, the kind waitress offered to translate them. I ordered spicy meat noodle with toast, ham and egg, and of course a hot cup of coffee (36 HKD for the set). The coffee was smooth, not sweet, with enough milkiness. Having a sweet tooth, I added a packet of sugar, then it was perfect! I ate up my meal as I watched the waitress casually attend to local customers who came after me.
I enjoyed walking around for a few more minutes until I came back to my still sleeping friend.
Breaking: Babyccinos are cream-based! (at Cafeholic, at least)
We checked out of the hotel around lunchtime and stopped over for lunch at a cafe beside Newton Place Hotel before setting off for Hong Kong Disneyland. Cafeholic apparently had a lot of patrons, even if the headwaiter seemed a bit grumpy. I, being a coffeeholic, ordered a caramel babyccino (38 HKD), and immediately after it was served, I regretted it. Most of the menu was in Chinese and I could only read “babyccino,” not knowing it was actually cream-based instead of coffee-based. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of cream-based drinks. I enjoyed Cafeholic’s prawns and scallops spaghetti with porcini sauce (92 HKD), though. Looking around, it seemed that their pasta dishes are the best sellers.
Googling and mingling the way
Getting around Hong Kong is not so hard after all, as long as your mobile is connected to the Internet, that is. We used Google Maps to find our way and get directions here and there, although of course mingling with locals is a whole different human experience. Asking for directions was sometimes even more efficient.
Going to Hong Kong Disneyland, we opted to take a bus first (Kwun Tong to Mong Kok) instead of the MTR. While the trains are faster, a bus ride lets us enjoy sightseeing while getting to our destination.
Although it was already afternoon, we were not in a rush to go to Disneyland. We even stopped over in Mong Kok to do a bit of shopping; there are lots of fashion stores on every street! Even if it was against my will, I bought a cute dress (50 HKD) and a coat (80 HKD, too cute, couldn’t help it!). It was my friend who did most of the shopping while I was also eyeing some street food. We found a snack store along the way and again bought my favorite egg puff (11 HKD), plus iced milk tea (11 HKD). We stopped by our second hotel in Mong Kok to drop off the stuff we bought before finally heading to Disneyland.
Fantasy in real life: Hong Kong Disneyland
We reached Disneyland at around 5 PM. We spent 20 minutes taking photos at the entrance and the park promenade before we actually entered the theme park. The park was pretty, giving off a vibe that’s just like in most Disney movies – dreamy and fantastical, perfect for kids and kids at heart. We only got to try two attractions – Iron Man Experience and Toy Story Land. Iron Man was great. It reminded me of Universal Studios’ (Singapore) Transformers 4D ride, although personally I was more thrilled with Transformers. Toy Story was enjoyable for kids, letting them shoot enemies with light guns.
For me, the three highlights of our visit in Hong Kong Disneyland were the shopping, the parade and the fireworks. I enjoyed looking around the Center Street Boutique on Main Street USA. There were a lot of cute Mickey Mouse items from key chains to watches to apparel and kitchenware. Of course, there were other Disney character items, such as Monsters Inc., Lilo & Stitch and Disney princesses. There were also Avengers merchandise.
We took a break from shopping when the parade started. Everyone else went out of the gift shop to watch. Different Disney character mascots, floats and performers took over Main Street USA. I especially cheered for Slinky Dog (Toy Story) and Lightning McQueen (Cars). Mickey Mouse and his gang were the finale of the parade.
The pyromusical show was perhaps the best part. I enjoy fireworks in general. Fireworks bursted and flickered in the sky in tune with famous Disney theme songs. Although I was recording the show with an iPhone, I made sure I was holding it aside so that I could watch the show instead of staring at the recording. Because what’s the point of being there if I was just watching through the screen?
Local eats, old streets and kung fu hustlers
We left Hong Kong Disneyland at 9 PM. Our flight was in the morning the next day, so we wanted to make the most out of our final night. We stopped by a local restaurant near Mong Kok MTR Station, the name I couldn’t read. Again, I was impressed by how quick a local restaurant’s service was. A few minutes, maybe less than five, after we gave our orders, I got my “special sauce handmade noodle” (34 HKD) and iced milk tea. The noodle was like a Chinese version of spaghetti, with a taste of peanut butter or something. And then, just as how I loved the local coffee, I enjoyed my milk tea! It was milky and not too sweet. I was heartily satisfied.
We left the restaurant at half past 10 but we refused to go back to our hotel. We walked around aimlessly while hoping to find a late night cafe to pass time and chill. Walking around Hong Kong’s older streets at night, in Mong Kok at least, greatly reminded me of Jackie Chan movies. The kind of neighborhood in most of his films. Looking at the residential buildings with laundry hanging outside the windows, I imagined kung fu hustlers would burst out of the windows in combat. I was really amused by my surroundings. This was exactly the experience I wanted. I didn’t want to just go to theme parks or casinos or museums; I wanted to experience the streets, talk to locals, and get lost.
The hotel we transferred to in Mong Kok was not as classy as Newton Place Hotel in Kowloon, but it was also a good experience. Geo-Home Holiday Hotel is one among many other hotels that share Kingland Apartment Building. This was another interesting discovery for me as I would expect a hotel to have its own building. Our “hotel” was on the 9th floor, and there were at least two other “hotels” that occupied the floor. Our room was small, with only one bed for us to share. At least, it had a shower and a heater, although the heater only worked for a few minutes after turning it on. But the temperature was tolerable. The man at the front desk, who looked like the owner, was hospitable.
We concluded the night with coffee at Mcdonald’s at 1 AM. Even Mcdonald’s coffee amazed me as it was slightly different than what we have back in Manila. The roast was different and coffee came with milk instead of powdered creamer.
A strange thing we noticed at that particular Mcdonald’s branch was that a couple of people were sleeping on some tables. One was even wrapped in a blanket, and we found a pair of shoes under our table. We’re not sure if they’re homeless or just burned-out overtime workers. They didn’t seem to be part of the crew nor students (there were older men). Anyway, it didn’t bother me that much, just got me curious if this was a common thing? Edit: Apparently, this has been an ongoing issue in the recent years and a side of Hong Kong that is not so pleasant but is all too real. These people have been dubbed McRefugees – homeless people who seek shelter at 24-hour McDonald’s, who can sometimes only afford to ask for a cup of water. More recently, Hong Kong also hit the headlines for the growing trend of so-called coffin homes, where people squeeze in because they can’t afford the increasing cost of housing. I hope for the best for these people and that someday Hong Kong will just be full of awesome discoveries.
I think we went back to our hotel at 2 or 3 AM. Once again, we lay on the bed with some Chinese TV show on, fiddling with our phones until we finally dozed off.
The next morning was going to be full of sepanx. ✈️
Finally. After 5 years, I finally obtained a second stamp on my Philippine passport.
Last February 16, I boarded a plane bound to the original and a big contender of Singapore in being the Asia’s World City. Incidentally, the first country I ever went to was Singapore. But I won’t be going on comparing SG and HK, as both are, although similar in a lot of ways, boasting specially unique experiences.
The eager tourists that we are, I and my friend excitedly hopped on the A22 bus going to our destination, Kwun Tong, and went straight for the front seat on the upper deck. It was a smooth and chill ride. The bus wasn’t going too fast.
The first thing that I noticed and that filled me with awe is the realization that Hong Kong is actually surrounded by mountains. Honestly, I didn’t know that! Did you? So, you can imagine how excited I was turning my head left and right, up and down, mouth agape the whole time, admiring the scenery unfolding before me. To add more to this childish newcomer excitement, we passed over at least three bridges that offered a wonderful view of the city, the water, and the mountains.
Avenue of Stars (almost)
We got off at Kwun Tong Town Centre. We got a business meeting over and done with before we dove for our hotel beds at Newton Place Hotel. We didn’t waste much time relaxing. After a few hours of refreshing, we set off for Tsim Sha Tsui to find the iconic Avenue of Stars and some good food. From Kwun Tong, we took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui.
We reached an esplanade and excitedly assumed it was the Avenue of Stars – hurray! Only later to find out that we were taking photos and selfies at Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. It wasn’t bad. The view of the cityline was great, especially as the sun set and city lights gleamed.
Discoveries on foot: shopping and good food
We walked to find Ashley Road and had a filling dinner at Delicious Kitchen. I was impressed with the crew’s quick and helpful service. Only a few minutes after we gave our orders, a big serving of sliced pork with garlic pepper cabbage (72 HKD) was served for me and a big plate of yang chow (45 HKD) for sharing. Ah, I got my stomach so full!
Still, I had space for a post-dinner snack of yummy egg puffs. We stopped at a snack shop on the side of the street, and there I found my favorite HK street snack. Egg puffs are like empty round cookies with a creamy surprise inside.
We rode the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui Station to Mong Kok, and after that we were full force on foot! To burn some of the calories we consumed, we walked the long stretch of Ladies Market, filled with bargain items from clothing to accessories and lots of HK souvenirs! I thought “I ❤️ HK” shirts were cliche so I got “I ❤️ HK” bags (55 HKD for 2) instead!
An interesting thing I learned about Ladies Market is that the sellers are very! persistent. They drive a really hard bargain! At the first stall I stopped to look at chopsticks, the lady offered me a set of ten for 120 HKD and I thought, nah, it’s over my budget. As I began to walk away, the lady held on to me and offered it for 110 HKD, 100 HKD, until I finally gave in to 80 HKD thinking, wow, that’s a great deal from the original price! Only later for me to find out that there was another stall that offered the same set of chopsticks on sale for 20 HKD. Ugh! I’m not mad, though. The lady was good, and it was a funny learning experience. As you go farther, you’ll definitely meet a lot of the persistent lady. If you’re weak-hearted and poor at saying no, then you’re gonna have a hard a time. I knew I’m a bit softhearted, so it was really a struggle to look around. I just looked at items from a distance instead of entering the stalls just so I could avoid the sellers’ arm-twisting.
Late night coffee and sleepy kitties
After we got out of Ladies Market, we just walked around and along the streets of Mong Kok until we found a building that had a tiny poster that said “Cafe de Kitten ➡️” The building looked more like an old residential building than a commercial center. But the words kitten and cats rang in my ears, which compelled me to check it out. I and my friend took the elevator to the 7th floor where the cafe is located. What we found was a tiny piece of heaven for me and a loving little haven for cats.
Cafe de Kitten is a small hole-in-the-wall that can accommodate no more than 20 people at once. When you enter the cafe, you will be greeted by sleepy and indifferent Garfields that will only stand up and approach you if you have cat food to offer. Their cuteness offsets their indifference. There were many cats in the cafe that I couldn’t count. All of them are healthy and well taken care of. The two owners are undeniably cat lovers and are also hospitable to their visitors. They even offered us a free taste of some of their cakes!
Cafe de Kitten lets coffee and cat lovers enjoy the place for a minimum order of 78 HKD per person. We came in at around 10 PM, and we were worried that it was closing, but thank feline gods they’re open late – until 1 AM. I sipped on my minty iced coffee while trying to lure the cats to walk to me.
At 11 PM, we bid goodbye to the cute kitties and the sweet owners of Cafe de Kitten and went out to the street with no idea how to return to our hotel. We walked around checking information at bus stops because we assumed MTR would be closed at that time. After asking a few helpful locals, we headed to Yau Ma Tei MTR station after being told that we can still catch the train.
We got back at Newton Place Hotel around midnight. We slept with an old Chinese series on the TV, which we enjoyed watching despite not understanding a word they said.
2016 passed without an entry, huh? The past year seems to have passed by quickly. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.
Certainly, there will always be shoulda’s, coulda’s and woulda’s, but I’d say 2016 had been generally great for me.
I refuse to settle in something that doesn’t give me a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Still in the quest for the best career path, I was in a roller coaster of employment from the BPO industry to advertising to business development with a pinch of marketing and events. This year, I am continuing my quest. Although it doesn’t look good that at this age I haven’t established a stable career for myself, I refuse to settle in something that doesn’t give me a sense of fulfillment and purpose. And I guess that’s really what I’m looking for–purpose.
I don’t really like to deprive myself of love and happiness.
Last year, I definitely ate a lot. Drank less alcohol and consumed coffee way too much. I used to limit my consumption of coffee due to health and financial concerns, but I just love coffee! And I don’t really like to deprive myself of love and happiness. So, I went out, traveled, deviated from the big mainstream coffee shops and started to appreciate local cafés more. Thankfully, I haven’t exploded with all the caffeine and sugar in my system.
Boracay: parasailing ❤
Samal, Davao: giant clams ❤
On top of all, 2016 had been the most travel-filled year for me. Looking back, I’m not sure how I got the money I spent for all these trips, but I did it! I outlasted Baguio climate, camped at the unpretentious Nagsasa Cove, survived the restless waters in Cebu, defied the stormy August weather in Boracay, and wandered through Davao. Should I also count my trips in my own proud hometown Tagaytay?
I spent time with, drank coffee and went to places with friends. I also spent more time with myself. Continued to enjoy my self-indulgent pleasure-seeking independent middle-class working life. Got to know myself at least a little bit more.
I may have missed writing on my blog but I definitely widened my horizons by writing for online websites and writing speech projects. For this year, I have resolved to write again and write more. I will bring back life to my blog and explore more avenues of writing.
I will write about coffee, about travels, about solitude. All the things that matter to me. And all the things that don’t. Writing about things I care about will keep me satisfied; writing about other things will help me stretch my capabilities.
2017 will be a great year to write and drink more coffee.