Poblacion Coffee Crawl Series: From red light to red-eye, specialty coffee finds its niche in the nightlife district
Coffee in Poblacion Makati? That’s unheard of. Or is it? The Poblacion Coffee Crawl Series discovers what’s brewing in the Makati’s infamous red light district.
by Rocelle Aragon
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The Poblacion crawl started at 10 am — very early for this side of town. Its name is Spanish for “town”, but you could also call it Publacion for its main industry. At the time of our crawl (October 2017), it was an area in flux. Its old borders and persona — Burgos, known for girlie bars, midget-wrestling and other dubious trade — was mutating into its present form: a wider, daylight-friendly ecosystem of stylish restaurants, bars, wellness studios and hostels. Specialty coffee has been a big part of that, marking safer territory and helping the nightlife district “wake up” to its round-the-clock potential. (These Poblacion shops opened after our crawl: ABKD…)
Fittingly, our first stop was a bar. OTO translates to “sound” in Japanese and “ear” in English, and is known for its vinyl collection and high-end cocktails. But it also boasts an excellent specialty coffee program, courtesy of EDSA Beverage Design Group’s David Ong, that serves guests of the adjoining serviced apartments. Head barista Erik introduced the bar’s all-day concept and set up a cupping. We learned to slurp loudly (especially the first-time crawlers) while trying coffee from Kenya (roasted by Intelligentsia). It was a happy struggle for us to differentiate the fruity, flowery, acid or bitter flavors, and in between to hear about Erik’s visits to Yemeni coffee farms, and his views on the growing barista competition scene.
Our second stop was a bar, too. This one is a performance space and gallery (“Dulo” is Tagalog for “end”, referring both to its edgy events and its address at what was then Poblacion’s dark frontier). Dulo’s coffee and food were run by Bean & Barley, a roaster and coffee business consultancy. From our cupping at OTO, we zeroed in on grind size: comparing the same beans ground coarse and fine for different brewing methods. As the baristas began at the same time and finished separately, we tasted the difference.
Also memorable at Dulo: a small, perfect cortado and a three-glass cocktail called the Battery (espresso to power up, whiskey to wind down, soda water to even it all out).
Bean & Yolk
Stop three was this pocket café, serving specialty coffee and a range of hefty, upscale egg sandwiches. We were welcomed by the owner and barista, who both suggested we try beans from Davao’s Mt. Apo. This stop was about coffee and food pairing, as the Mt. Apo’s bold flavor was the perfect pushback to the sandwiches’ golden-yolked, buttery richness. Bean & Yolk reminded us why specialty coffee and breakfast (whatever time of day) go together forever.
(In 2018, Bean & Yolk left Poblacion for a full-size restaurant space in the suburb of Alabang. The egg sandwiches have been joined by a wider, healthy menu that reflects the breezes and green spaces of its new location.)
From Bean & Yolk, it was less than a block to our final stop: Commune, run by local coffee industry figure Ros Juan. Already established in its original location in Salcedo, Commune pioneered Poblacion’s coffee scene when it relocated in 2017. Again, the name says it all: Commune serves not only as a spot to study or work, but also as a “clubhouse” for meetings, workshops and performances by various community groups, who meet over bowls of Filipino comfort food. Here, we compared the Commune Blend brewed as an espresso and via Chemex, and watched the staff demonstrate the intricate, 3-D latte art that first made Commune a byword among local Instagrammers. It was here too that we ended the crawl, stimulated not just by the caffeine but by new friends, new ways to appreciate coffee, and fresh insight into a neighborhood still defining itself.
So, should you join a coffee crawl?
If you like coffee and you like meeting new people, it’s a resounding yes. This is the perfect opportunity for you to explore the local coffee scene. You also get to sample different coffees for a fraction of the cost and in a very friendly atmosphere. Now, what if you like coffee but hate people? Well, I say, you should still give it a shot because this crowd might change your mind like they have changed mine.