When Starbucks came into the country some 15 years back it was to be an ultimate success, as it had proven internationally. Then soon after other café brands came in, like CBTL, UCC, Seattle’s Best, and even McCafe. Equally competitive were our own local brands namely, Figaro, Bo’s Coffee and Kuppa. But more than the business side of the coffee shop phenomenon, however, lies a fascinating coffee shop culture that is perhaps unique to the Filipino coffee enthusiast: One patron who spends more than an hour at the table with one cup in hand.
For starters, it’s amazing how so many coffee places have become libraries where med school and law school students burrow into books until the wee hours of the morning for bar and board reviews. In so many coffee places, you begin to think you’re in a college library, with books strewn across coffee tables, laptops perched open, and even desk lamps atop table counters. Honestly, I’m curious at how these students can block off music and chatter to concentrate on reading such academic material. Intriguingly though, our universities have in fact turned libraries into a semblance of cafes as well. These days, the library is far from the utilitarian, glum and noiseless environment I grew up with. University libraries nowadays mimic the nearest coffee shop outside and seemingly are more welcoming, busier, albeit a bit noisier for some. And even more, you can actually order from a coffee bar put right up the library’s lobby.
The other curious thing I notice in coffee shops is that half of their customers don’t even order coffee. I’d probably make a guess that the orders for non-coffee drinks do outnumber actual coffee orders, particularly of the brewed, old-fashioned kind. With brightly colored, frothy tea drinks and all other coffee alternatives, the choices are just tremendous and equally tempting. Thanks to the revolution of cafes worldwide, ordering coffee these days includes figuring out permutations and combinations on a menu board. In the ‘80s, ordering a cappuccino was as sophisticated as you could get. But now, you can order your coffee, hot or iced; decaf or not; with low-fat, full cream or soya milk; frothy or not; less sweet or regular; with whipped cream or without; and maybe, short, tall or grande. Whew!
The other recent craze around town with coffee aficionados has been getting hold of as many coffee mugs or tumblers from as many places around the world as you’ve been to, or if you’re lucky enough, where your friends get you one from. Hence, it isn’t surprising that some avid coffee tumbler or mug collectors get pieces from far and away continents. I wouldn’t be surprised if coffee chains held a contest today to see who has the most extensive collection that Filipinos would be on top of the heap.
Then, there’s the Filipino coffee fanatic who simply has to get a branded diary or planner at Christmas! Is it just here? But there’s a crazy frenzy among yuppies mostly to get as many diaries as they can at Christmas, even ordering peppermint-y drinks and eggnog-like coffees just so they can get stamps for redeeming the sought-after diaries. If there ever was a marketing award for this promo, it sure deserves one.
It may be the convenience of coffee places that so many of us think of these as our alternate kitchen or study, or the perfect place to hang out and chitchat after dinner, or maybe the quick stop before work or for taking a break from it. Whatever our reasons, we all share a bit of these uncharacteristic fondness for coffee places. And to no surprise, we probably will have many more caffeine-induced sleepless nights ahead for all our coffee fanatics.