Women's Month Double Feature: Camille Pilar and Jaycee Galera, Clean Beach
Two women live out their very different coffee dreams at Clean Beach.
by Coffee Crawl Series Team
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One is an ardent surfer, the other barely swims.
One funded barista school by baking, the other doesn’t cook.
One came to coffee by accident, the other has dreamed of her own shop since high school.
On the first weekend of Manila’s water crisis, Coffee Crawl Series travelled eight hours to a town where water is not just life but livelihood: the surfing boomtown of San Juan, La Union.
This is the scene that El Union built; indeed, Clean Beach co-founder Camille Pilar first came here in 2014 as a novice barista for the pioneering shop. But in the years since, both Camille and Clean Beach have found their own place in the San Juan sun.
A writer, teacher and ardent surfer, Camille was already looking to leave Manila when she saw a surf buddy’s help wanted ad. While she loved coffee, she’d never given a thought to making it, much less making it a career. But the timing was too perfect. Soon Camille and her partner Harold were training at El Union’s partner roaster Edsa BDG and packing up their apartment.
It took time for the thoughtful, self-professed introvert Camille has to master the “onstage” aspect of being a barista. But the skills of teaching — multitasking, subtly managing a crowd and reading people — proved great preparation for life behind the bar.
On her writing tool of choice:
“[A typewriter] is designed for you to focus, to be in that moment. The tactile feeling makes you more intentional about your thoughts…. Wala kang ilalagay na hindi mo pinag-isipan (Nothing goes in thoughtlessly, or without purpose)… Like with specialty coffee.”
After two years and three locations, each higher profile than the last, the couple was ready to downshift into something of their own. What that would be was unclear, until their old friends at Edsa came calling. Soon Clean Beach was born, its chill but clever advocacy — pick up beach litter for free iced tea — providing the perfect draw for curious customers.
Now, the beachside shop serves local and international beans, coffee cocktails, a rotation of flavored sodas, and seasonal shakes from fruit grown just hours away in Baguio. Soon there will be a bigger bar and kitchen, in which to produce Clean Beach’s dishes that each have their own cult followings.
Best of all, in the middle of a career path as random and exhilarating as a big wave, Camille still has time to write, be an active citizen of her adapted hometown, and yes, surf a couple of times a day.
One other thing Camille does is oversee a succession of baristas in their twenties. Like many of us, they’re still figuring out their lives.
But not Jaycee Galera, who visited Clean Beach for a guest shift and left with a job offer. Raised outside Manila by parents who owned a grocery store, she grew up drinking instant and dreaming of her own shop. After finishing her management degree, Jaycee funded her barista training by selling pastries she baked herself.
She still recalls her first sip of hand-brewed specialty in another pioneering shop, Quezon City’s Coffee Empire. “I was weirded out — how can coffee taste like blueberries? But when I tasted it…” Eventually she started her career with them. It was also through Empire that Jaycee met the partners at Edsa BDG, who in turn mentioned her to Camille as a potential guest barista.
“From her first day, she impressed us with her energy and commitment,” says Camille. “She picked up things quickly, and thought on her feet. When we first met her, her resume listed her goal: to win a national competition and represent the country. And within a year, she did.”
In 2016, Jaycee entered her first competition, a local Aeropress championship, to keep her skills sharp between jobs, and was eliminated. In 2017, she win third place. In 2018, her third year in competition, she became the Philippines’ first Brewers Cup National Champion, representing the country as one of the youngest competitors in the world championships in Brazil.
Coming so early in her career, the competition taught Jaycee mental toughness and brought her instant industry attention. She recently attended the Champion’s Cup in Indonesia, and was impressed by their pride in celebrating their own country’s beans.
But of course there’s still a part of her that is in her twenties. For now, the non-swimmer lives happily by the beach, proving that there’s plenty to La Union besides surf: “Sunset! Beer! Flotsam!” She is learning to roast her own beans (also with Edsa BDG), toward competing in this category as well, and looking forward to creating new drinks with the changes at Clean Beach.
As the interview ended, Camille picked up her bright blue-green surfboard. For her and for Jaycee, two transplants brewing lives and careers on their own terms, being a woman in coffee is good indeed.
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