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Coffee for the curious: Manila’s Third Wave Coffee beginnings

By: Zee Zamora

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Leaning forward to push his upper body weight onto his right arm bent over a small manual coffee brewer, 2012 Philippine National Barista Champion, Kevin Israel, slowly pushes coffee that had been brewing in hot water into a ceramic mug. The diminutive brewing ceremony flourishes with a soft but audible pop as Kevin completely flushes out all the coffee and air out of the Aeropress – his brewing method of choice today. As Kevin hands me the cup of coffee, he tells me to anticipate pronounced floral notes in the brew I’m about to try, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. He’s having me try three coffees on my visit that day to the Curator, a pop-up coffee cart at a menswear boutique on Gamboa Street in Makati overlooking the Washington SyCip Park.

No sugar please!
Coffees prepared at the Curator by baristas like Kevin are all taken black. Characteristically roasted to a slight bark color to bring out otherwise aromatic and flavor traits, the coffees they curate are appreciated for their complexity. Their flavor is discernible only if the liquor is not tainted by adding sugar or creamer.

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Baristas here are chatty and the coffees they serve come with an often a laid back conversation about your beverage. They will walk you through their brewing method choices; engage you in a playful debate over why one coffee is better brewed over a French press than in a pourover; something to do with flavor extraction of course. They’ll coax you into illustrating the elusive traits of the coffee they’ve prepared for you. Do you recognize a berry note? Are the Colombian coffees slightly nutty? Did you recognize that buttery taste? They’ll tell you the coffee was processed after harvest through a washed method, what is the traditional post harvest process in Latin Americans. Your conversation with them will possibly end on a discussion about why coffees processed this way have a more brilliant acidity.
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People like Kevin and his boss, Sly Samonte, the brain and muscle behind the Curator, are pioneers of the Third Wave Coffee movement in the country. A movement that fellow pioneer in the space, Yardstick Coffee founder, Andre Chanco describes as “a coffee movement that focuses deeply on quality and flavor and sharing that experience with customers.” A movement that  has brought to Manila a new culture to enjoying the coffee ritual.

Third Wave coffee finds its roots in North America’s  specialty coffee industry. Roasters and retailers in the Third Wave coffee movement are fastidious about quality and are attentive to the harvest and post harvest practices as each step in the process influences what makes each coffee extraordinary. As a roaster, Andre continues, “Third Wave is about transparency and traceability; it’s knowing more about what happens at origin and translating that into a product that highlights the origin nuances rather than roast character.”

In contrast to the first wave of coffee that is characterized by the proliferation of instant coffees and the massive multinational growth of cafes like Starbucks identified as the second wave, the Third Wave of coffee history endears coffee as artisanal food experiences like wine. Andre continues, “the Third Wave movement exposes everyone to coffee as a culinary product rather than a utility beverage.”

As a barista in this movement, Kevin believes he does not offer a transactional experience. He believes it’s his responsibility to take the time to represent the story behind the coffees to his drinkers. “The challenge for the barista is not just to serve brewed cups of coffee or just understand the roasted ground powder but he has to talk about the raw material and the entire process behind it.” Kevin carries on to say that by communicating the details throughout the chain that developed the coffee he offers, he believes he also “helps the coffee farmer” who is responsible for growing his coffee.

Curiouser and curiouser

Miko Simangan, 2013 Philippine National Barista Champion, is also a curator barista. Along with Kevin, he is also co-founder of the social media advocacy Stop Bad Coffee. Miko predicts that the Third Wave coffee movement in the Philippines will expand in 2014.

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Although he recognizes that the Third Wave movement in the Philippines is still at its infancy, Andre sees promise and is excited about the future of the Third Wave; for both the small community that is leading it and coffee drinkers in the country.

Coffee drinking Pinoys, Andre thinks “will slowly be exposed to coffees, brew methods and equipment from different parts of the world. [Filipinos] will start to taste coffees which will either excite or confuse their palate.” He expects that once coffee drinkers in the country experience better coffees from around the world, it will develop a culture that is coffee “curious”.  He continues to forecast that this will encourage opportunities for roasters, baristas and consumers to have more discussions about the coffees themselves and explore the reasons behind what makes each coffee drinking experience special.

Andre adds that as more Filipinos travel abroad and experiencing new culinary delights, “with anything food or beverage related, as long as we taste something of higher quality, it will be a lot more difficult to settle for less.”

More importantly, Andre hopes as does Kevin, that the Third Wave movement will help Philippine farmers. By bringing coffees of top quality from all over the world and promoting a coffee drinking culture that prizes quality, they anticipate this will drive innovation in local farming practices; encouraging Filipino farmers to be competitive in the international high end coffee market by focusing on quality.

Drink more coffee.
Speaking at a mixer celebrating International Specialty Coffee Month, Andre encourages a small audience to “drink more coffee.”  Third Wave coffee pioneers like Andre, Sly and even Kevin carving out a space for this movement in a country with pockets of its own coffee growing and drinking culture that ranges from Nescafe 3 in 1 to Starbucks Venti beverages.

As I slowly sip my Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, I look out the Curator’s glass floor to ceiling window and see another Curator regular walking through the park come towards us. He is not going to order a cup of coffee and rush out the door. I know that he is looking forward to a leisure hour or two enjoying coffee Kevin’s prepared over pour over from a small coffee growing hill tribe in Thailand roasted by an artisanal coffee company based in San Francisco.  The Third Wave Movement of coffee has begun.

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Author: Illustrado

From the Middle East to the rest of the world, IllustradoLife shares the stories of Filipinos expats from around the world, providing a global venue championing the world class Filipino. IllustradoLife features articles on fashion and beauty, travel, lifestyle, business, events and other topics of interest to the international Filipino community from its mother publication, Illustrado Magazine.

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