In which Coffee Isn’t Just Coffee

It’s worth the search for a perfect cupIt’s worth the search for a perfect cup

Face it—most people do not go to a coffee shop or even to a canteen “simply” to get a dose of caffeine. Going for coffee usually entails some form of social interaction, or for some, a quick breather from the pace of everyday life.  For yours truly, coffee is a bit of a necessity—especially during extended multi-tasking involving textbooks and case discussions. However coffee is also a social experience, when taken in the company of hassled classmates or long-missed friends. It is also a sort of literary companion—there is a reason that coffee shops are the haunts of writers.

All of this has led to my embarking on a quest to find good, affordable coffee, that is, apart from the sort sold in the more well-known coffee places. Not that I’d completely eschew Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf—it is just that these places  are often too crowded, and not always conducive for long chats or afternoons with a pen and a notebook.

Another thing I’m shying away from nowadays is blended iced coffee or fraps. That fact is pretty odd, considering that once upon a time, I could consume a venti frap in the same amount of time (or less) than it would take for my friends to consume a grande. My first reason is economical: for the price of a tall frap, I could get a larger order of plain brewed coffee or mocha in the same establishment. The second is health: apparently a frap can contain as much fat and sugar in one’s total dietary intake for a day. On the odd days when I feel like getting one of those iced blended concoctions, I tend to leave off the whipped cream. Somehow the flavor comes out better that way, in my opinion.

So with these things in mind, I began my on and off quest. So far I haven’t been as lucky in finding good coffeehouses (apart from Starbucks) near where I study. However I’ve been more fortunate with finding coffee places in my other favorite haunts or former ‘gimmick places.’. Sometimes I’d end up wondering “where have these been all my life?!” while sipping a cup of exceptionally good brew. Now I’m nowhere near finished with my quest, but here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Kape barako is a good close to home companion: Supposedly, the experience of drinking kape barako is more associated with flavor than the actual potency of the caffeine. Whatever the reason, I’m of the opinion that as far as local coffee is concerned, one cannot go wrong with kape barako. Its aroma is strong enough to keep one awake during long nights of transcribing interviews (an enterprise which necessitated the consumption of an entire small sack of ground barako), but it is also friendly enough to blend with milk and sugar. If one is particularly daring, it can be drunk black. Which at least is more than I can say for some espressos in my experience.  I really prefer brewing my own kape barako at home, but I also enjoy the brew at Tsokonut,  a place that also serves this coffee as well as  extraordinarily good ensaymadas.

2. Do not skimp with the chocolate in mocha: Syrup just doesn’t do the job, apparently. Yours truly discovered this once while trying out a mocha drink in Holly’s,  a small coffee shop on Taft. I could have sworn there were bits of chocolate in the coffee…which probably explained its potent flavor. My father has tried this same principle at home, this time with Goya dark chocolate and instant coffee. The effect is somewhat the same—strong coffee with a more than detectable chocolate edge that does not overpower the brew. The downside is having to clean out the chocolate bits later. Ti Amo offers a smoother but also flavorful mocha for those who may prefer a less ‘chunky’ drink.

3. Cappuccino needs to be drunk a little more quickly than the other coffee recipes:  What really makes cappuccino apparently is the hot milk froth on the top. It’s what gives it a delicate milky flavor without diluting the coffee too much. Leave it too long, the milk froth will deflate and one will be left with something that tastes like badly blended latte.

4. Coffee refills aren’t always a good idea: Yours truly tried holing up in a certain diner to write a part of a novel. The attraction of the place was its unlimited coffee offer (at that time for just around sixty pesos). The first cup was pretty decent–strong enough but not acrid. The second cup tasted a lot more bland and a little burnt–a sign that the coffee maker hadn’t been cleaned out and that the grounds were simply being reused. Unless one can be absolutely sure that the coffee maker is being constantly cleaned out, don’t bother with the coffee refills.

More to come someday, once budget and proximity permit!


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