Before Craft Coffee Workshop opened in Manila in 2012, it was all but impossible to find a slow brew or an espresso that could highlight the character of different coffee origins in the city. The founders, Sly Samonte, Raymond So, and Peter Ong had a vision of a place that could educate Manila consumers, helping them to appreciate the versatility and wonder of quality coffee.
Craft Coffee Workshop was the first independent, quality-focused coffee shop in Manila, and a first step toward a specialty coffee industry in the Philippines. It can be found in New Manila, a quirky neighborhood full of grungy music venues, back alley bookstores, and undiscovered restaurants. Tucked under a spiral staircase, this hole in the wall espresso bar forces consumers to get cozy with their neighbors. The low ceilings and exposed beams, along with furniture fashioned out of crates and old shipping pallets, create a warm atmosphere. The second floor, although currently under renovation, is dedicated to coffee workshops and public cuppings.
Craft roasts their coffee on a 4 kilo Yang Chia roaster in the front of the shop for themselves and a few wholesale clients. The sweet smell of a Brazil Yellow Bourbon lingers down the street, inviting passersby to taste their espresso. The baristas pull their shots tight, on a VBM with a Mazzer Major, allowing the thick syrupy body of a Colombia Supremo to balance the acidity of this Yellow Bourbon blend. Clients can order their coffee to be brewed on a variety of different pour-over methods, including AeroPress, Chemex, and Kalita Wave drippers. Their filter coffees change seasonally, but current offerings include beans from a 2010 Nicaragua Cup of Excellence winner and an Ethiopian Konga. The corner near the bar is occupied by a double-filtration water system, and stocks of roasted and green coffee.
Jonathan Cho, recent winner of the Philippines Grand Barista Cup of 2014, says that when Craft first opened, he would drive there from across the city at least twice a week to have a slow-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. He reminisces that the space brought together a diverse community of coffee lovers who’d bring in pastries to complement the coffee—and eventually someone donated an oven for them to offer customers baked goods. According to Jonathan, the owners were always challenging assumptions about making coffee and inspiring others to make the jump into opening their own shop. Craft proved that specialty coffee could do well in Manila, and the founders provided the support that Cho needed to follow his passion, inspiring him to open his own shop, Magnum Opus Fine Coffees, in December 2012.
The road to a lively specialty coffee scene is not always a smooth and direct path, and Craft Coffee has seen its share of changes–after some disagreements in vision, in 2013 Peter Ong became Operations Manager and renamed it Craft Coffee Revolution. He has expanded Craft, adding a second location in Katipunan catering to Ateneo University students, as well as a full service kiosk in Podium Mall. Peter says that he looks forward to new opportunities in other neighborhoods, but he is happy focusing on the three locations they have. Recently, their head barista Aldrin won the Philippines’ first AeroPress Competition in early 2014 and made it to semi-finals when he competed in Rimini in June.
Craft has played an undeniable role in bringing specialty coffee to Manila: regular customers, as well as the two other founders of Craft, have gone on to open their own cafes and coffee ventures, and the original Broadway shop, as well as the new outlets, continue to be beacons for customers thirsty for quality coffee.
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article originally identified one of the coffees as a “Columbia Supremo.” We regret the error. There are two o’s in Colombia.