January 5, 2016

How Specialty Coffee is Invading Other Businesses in the Philippines


The specialty coffee scene in the Philippines is branching out. Forget coffee and muffins; instead, think coffee and vinyl records, skateboards, craft cookies, and even barber shops. Yes, you read that right. In this Southeast Asian country, new kinds of businesses are brewing specialty coffee inside their stores.

SEE ALSO: Is The Philippine Coffee Industry ‘Third Wave’? Insider Observations On Both Production And Consumption

The question is, why? What does coffee add to these stores? AAnd is it a symptom of Third Wave coffee or is it just a quirky fad?

Mixing Coffee & Indie Stores

We interviewed local Filipino stores – and their customers! – to find out the real benefits of serving coffee. It turns out there are two reasons for this growing trend.

1.   Provide a Spectrum of Sensory Experiences

For an apparel and sporting goods store like EASY Skate Surf, coffee complements the customer’s experience inside their store. According to co-founder and barista Gerard Cancio, it’s a full-on sensory experience.

A standard retail store will appeal to your senses of sight, touch, and hearing. Products and the interior design is what customers see and feel. The music sets the mood and perceived culture of the store. And for most stores, that’s about it. But with coffee, you also appeal to people’s sense of taste and smell.

Bingo, you’ve hit all five senses.

specialty coffee in a skate shop

A heady blend of different senses.

In EASY, the sight of colorful wheels, the texture of smooth surfboards, and the sound of catchy skate music is completed by the sweet aroma and strong flavor of a latte. It’s a memorable experience for shoppers.

This holistic sensory experience is also true for vinyl records store, Satchmi. “The cafe was an idea we put together to complete the entire Satchmi experience for our customers,” says Miles Malferrari, Marketing Officer. “When people enter the store, they feel like they’re in a whole other world.”

specialty coffee and vinyls

Funk and flat: shoppers can listen to Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind album while enjoying a flat white.

The store builds on this with their listening rooms: tiny areas with a seat, a table, and a record-player. It makes for an immersive experience: the music is undiluted while the aroma of the coffee, which would normally scatter in an open area, is caught.

For music and coffee-lover Mei O., one of Satchmi’s customers, it’s the “perfect combination”. Mei told us that a good cup of coffee will really add to the mood ambiance of a good piece of music.

2.   Match Quality Products with Quality Coffee

For other stores, consistently serving the highest quality of products and services is their key to success.

Craft cookie maker Scout’s Honor pairs their luscious cookies with specialty coffee. It’s a duo of excellence taste and thoughtfulness since the sweetness of the cookies goes well with coffee.

smores and a latte

Matcha Miso Smores paired with a latte. No sugar needed in your coffee. Credit: Scout’s Honor.

I asked why they didn’t settle for regular-grade coffee. “We want to make sure that we are able to provide the best for our customers,” Chefs Kristine Lotilla and Miko Aspiras answered.

Traditional barbershop, The Village Barber and Supply Shop, follows a similar approach with their #BetterDude mindset: striving to be better is more important than being the best.

This is reflected not only in the kind of haircut that they give you, but also in the coffee that they serve inside the shop. They source beans from local specialty coffee roasters Yardstick and YKW Roasters, as well as occasionally importing Blue Bottle (USA) and Nylon Coffee (SG).

The Spread of Specialty

So are these cafés specialty or are they just gimmicks?

It’s worth mentioning that these hybrid cafés wouldn’t even exist today without the appearance of third wave in select coffee shops a few years ago. While it’s far from being a norm, more affluent shoppers now have some idea of specialty coffee. Okay, many people still might not be able to tell apart Kongas from Geishas – but they are aware that excellent coffee is out there.

I did a quick tally of places where you can get specialty coffee and when they opened. In 2012 and 2013, around 12 coffee places opened and established the third wave scene in Metro Manila, the capital metropolis of the Philippines.

In 2014, a staggering 20 new establishments opened. This was also the year the green mermaid launched Starbucks Reserve and Australian chain Toby’s Estate entered the Philippines.

And now, it’s not yet the end of 2015 but there’s already 17 new shops that have opened. A few more will be opening in the last few weeks of the year.

Included in these numbers are hybrid shops and restaurants serving the same quality coffee. These shops source equipment, training, and beans from bigger coffee shops and roasters like Yardstick and EDSA Beverage Design Group’s YKW Roasters.

Filipino third wave coffee lovers are very familiar with YKW and Yardstick. Seeing the names of these roasters in a store is synonymous to telling customers that they can get excellent coffee there.

But what kind of coffee is being served?

The majority of the coffee these hybrid shops use are blends made from foreign beans. In my opinion, good blends should be more forgiving than brewing a single origin. Often, baristas in hybrid stores are not full-time baristas; they do approx 50% retail work and 50% barista work. The good news about blends is that they’re able to compensate for this, giving customers the consistency and quality that they expect.

What’s the Future of Filipino Coffee Shops?

The Filipino third wave might be getting stronger and stronger, but it can’t rest on its laurels just yet. There’s still a lot more work that needs to be done in order to revive the old glory days of the local coffee industry – and even more to steer it to the forefront of the third wave.

I consider the existence of hybrid coffee shops as an indicator that the industry is on the right path. If the local industry was failing to educate people about specialty coffee, there wouldn’t be any opportunities for these hybrid specialty cafes to exist.

People will show their loyalty to places with good coffee. As one customer I interviewed, Alay M., said, “[We] are remembering why we love coffee in the first place. Coffee accompanies us [in the things that we do].”

Perfect Daily Grind