For some, the smell of cookies baking or the whiff of a familiar perfume can bring back a rush of memories. Walking into Bintana cafe in a quiet neighborhood of central Cebu City in the Philippines, one immediately feels at home. The scent of coffee brewing, the sound of home-cooking sizzling in the kitchen, the wall of books, the clean, warm architecture with natural light pouring in from the patio—all give the space a homey feeling.
This coffee gem is the brainchild of Sarah Javier, a savvy young entrepreneur. After a friend sparked her interest in coffee, she began reading as much as possible from online sources. Pouring over Youtube videos, Sweet Maria's articles, and forums, Sarah educated herself on everything coffee. Although she grew up in Manila, she knew she wanted to get out of the city as soon as possible after graduation, and with the help of her family, she finally had the opportunity to open her own cafe in 2013.
Javier says it wasn’t easy to create a specialty cafe in a city known locally for its commercial coffee chains. The city has a distinct local coffee culture, with Korean cafes popping up around every corner, and the familiar chains at all the most frequented locations. Bintana is purposefully out of the way, in its own calm corner of the city, called Elizabeth Pond.
Bintana serves a seasonal selection of homemade dishes, primarily Filipino cuisine with some familiar favorites like rice meals, pan-fried chicken, and a simple burger. The dishes are deliciously executed, perfect to pair with a fresh watermelon shake.
While the food is not to be missed, manual V60-style coffee brewing has been Javier's focus from the start. Local roasters Craft Coffee and Boots Coffee keep her supplied with coffees from Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and a seasonal selection of Philippine arabica (including civet cat coffee) from Sagada, Mt. Province. On the weekends, she offers home brewing and coffee appreciation lessons, as well as opening up the space for community meetings and art openings.
Ambitious in scope, the cafe is meant to be a platform for community gatherings—bintana in Filipino means window. When asked to elaborate on the name, she noted that from her experience, coffee has the power to bring people together and to open up new opportunities. She wanted to create a space for that to happen in Cebu City.
A pleasant aroma of coffee hangs heavy in the air, but somehow it is not the coffee that has attracted the crowds to this local hangout. Humble and soft-spoken, Javier acts as a sort of bartender, inviting customers to off-load their woes over a pour over. Almost like television series Cheers—“You want to be where you can see, our troubles are all the same; you want to be where everyone knows your name.”