At the center of the business district of the buzzing, 25.5 million-large metropolis of Manila lies Yardstick Coffee. This cafe, roastery and training space adjoining a restaurant is a breath of fresh air amongst the corporate chain cafes that line the neighboring malls.
As you walk into the space, the simplicity and stark design is illuminated by the flood of natural light from the surrounding windows. The brightly colored signs tout black or white coffee, hand-brew, and their current single origin offerings. From Yardstick's take on the widely popular (and adventurously profiled) Ethiopia Suke Quto, layered in floral sweetness, to the shop's Legazpi Blend, a balanced stand-by espresso, this cafe always offers three espresso options, with rotating single origins on Aeropress. It's a cafe willing to meet consumers where they are, while simultaneously well-positioned to help advance the Manila specialty coffee boom.
Yardstick's open layout is a little quirky: customers can actually walk around the baristas and sit behind the bar, while interacting with the baristas as they work. The cafe floor is stocked with moveable furniture, allowing for floor plan modifications on the fly for events, or simply a change of scenery. The cafe was designed by studio Acre, a Singaporean design firm, who imbued every corner of Yardstick with upbeat hand-painted splashes of color.
The owners are often in the shop, usually helping out behind bar. The adjoining training space and roasting facility are both sectioned off in glass, but visible to the public. Andre Chanco is Yardstick's head roaster and co-owner, and he spoke with me quite excitedly while showing their brand-new fire engine red 5 kilo Giesen coffee roaster. The cafe is also the official distributor for La Marzocco espresso machine products in the Philippines, with espresso service anchored by a Strada MP.
The cafe is also part restaurant. Hidden on the other side of a steel dividing wall resides Your Local, a restaurant focusing on Western dishes with an Asian twist. Over a lunch of pomelo salad drizzled in mascarpone and shredded coconut alongside the ratatouille pasta with fresh parmesan (a rarity in Manila), Mr. Chanco talked to me more about the wider goals of Yardstick, still a relatively new and growing business.
“Coffee has reached a culinary status,” he told me as we ate. “Consumers ought to know what they are drinking. We plan to do just that, one cup at a time, one student at a time.” To that end, Yardstick has developed a series of workshops and training programs on how to taste specialty coffee, home-brewing methods, and espresso fundamentals. They've recently completed the certification necessary to become authorized SCAE trainers, and are now offering a full schedule of trainings and events under the sub-band Y.A.R.D., or Yardstick Academy of Resource & Development. For a budding specialty scene like the one in Manila, access to information and training is precious, and the educational events at Yardstick so far have been impressively well-attended.
That's the Yardstick dream: a contemporary specialty coffee bar with an emphasis on education, sharing a wall with one of Manila's new generation of progressive restaurants. On repeat visits the café is always bustling, and their once-looming stack of Rocket home espresso machines (Yardstick is an official Rocket distributor as well) now seems to be dwindling, as more and more of the cafe's regulars make the jump to specialty-level espresso in the morning. For Andre Chanco, the next step is upping Yardstick's focus on competing–and winning–in the wildly competitive Philippines coffee competition scene. In April of 2014, Yardstick hosted the first-ever Philippine AeroPress Championships, and Mr. Chacon is now preparing for the National Barista Championships this October.
The winner of that event will have the honor of representing the Philippines at the 2015 World Barista Championship in Seattle, Washington. It's an honor that Mr. Chacon badly wants, but when visiting Yardstick, observing the packed house and bustling lines and impressive training program, you can't help but think he's already winning in a far greater competition.
Lacy Woods is the roaster at Kalsada Coffee based in Manila. This is her first feature for Sprudge.com