The stories we tell have become ingrained in who we are. It defines how we perceive the world and conveys the different parts we play: as either the observer of stories or the envoy; ever-changing in our exchanges.
This was instilled in me very early when I would see my mother reminisce and laugh with her kumares over her pot-boiled barako coffee. I never knew or even liked coffee then but understand now the role it plays in conversations. Unpacking our luggage upon newly migrating to Sydney, I was glad to know that carefully wrapped in newspaper was her coffee pot, extended well over its use with its familiar dents and a broken handle. It may be a case of sentimentality for my mother but I dare say that maybe we don’t get addicted to coffee afterall, but get accustomed in the parts we play within a story or miss the people we’ve told our stories to.
Each cup, bearing a story I have attached to them over the years.
I can’t imagine my life now without coffee. Ask anyone about it and they will tell you what an avid fan I am of it. I would have atleast one good cup of it a day and that’s all you need if you have the right coffee. At home, I brew my own or concoct a killer blend for my friends and at work, I have a percolator under my desk. My sister Karen and I used to collect the receipt coupons from our groceries and bond over buy-1-get-1’s. I even started the Barako Club at the office and I would come in an hour before my shift to brew coffee for our morning meetings. Once, we raised funds for a friend who was sick at the time and honored to have been a part of her story that has since reached its end. When I travel, coffee becomes my markers throughout my itinerary: In Cambodia, my suki tuktuk driver even brings me my favorite coffee when picking me up at the airport; I can bet my life on the best coffee in Kalinga; I’ve done most of Melbourne’s top ten. Each cup, bearing a story I have attached to them over the years. And over the years, I’ve become a storyteller.
I guess the appeal of a story is in the discovery.
Pick up any book to enjoy a revelation, a triumph or an end. A good book is exhilirating and immersive, leaving you wanting more. So it isn’t a surprise that today, I fell in love with a new discovery: a cup of coffee and its humble beginnings.
I woke up abuzz with excitement to get my caffeine fix today and by 9 am, I was already making my way to the The Coffee Library located at Rex Hall, a short stroll from the Baguio Cathedral, on Upper Bonifacio Street. I had been in contact with Stephen Zarate who manages the daily operations, and had gladly accomodated my team. Upon arriving, I was greeted by their very friendly staff (more on their staff later), and seated. Just an hour into the day and people had already started to fill, assuming the space as their third place. It is popular amongst the students residing above the cafe and all over, as #puyatfeels call for a good brew. There’s a yuppie or two applying finishing touches to their decks. As for me, I took in the olfactory cues simmering in the morning air and ordered a latte, the first coffee of many. I wanted to take things easy so I ordered their Crispy Suman Ala Mode with it. Because, dessert is life. It was different without the usual latik sauce that I’m used to, but the chocolate drizzle and surprising texture made for a modern take on the quintessential Filipino dessert.
The cafe is easily a new favorite with its relaxed setting, accentuated by dark wood and rustic pieces. There are bookshelves lined with encyclopedias on the far left corner of the room and across to the other side, a selection of books for your reading pleasure. The space is well though out, providing long tables for study groups and smaller tables for that one person you didn’t like in your study group. A few tables were repurposed sewing tables which was a nice touch. In fact, the beauty is in the details: a cookie jar filled with coffee beans, masks from worldly travels, brick wall finishes, chalkboard signages, the capiz window pane – things you suddenly notice as you take in the subtleties. These low-key details are a running theme all throughout their menu, as well. Charming.
This is a library afterall, if we were to take it literally. However, the cafe anchors itself on the operative, providing a catalogue of coffee from all over the world to be thoroughly enjoyed. For starters, the aesthetically pleasing Turkish Coffee is not to be missed if you want bold, strong, black coffee on the sweet side. It makes for a great flat lay shot for Instagram too!
My favourite though is the Caphe Sua: a hot, dark roast filtered through a traditional Phin filter, and sweetened with condensed milk; a serving method extracted from the very streets of Vietnam. As summer approaches though, you may instead want to enjoy the Caphe Sua Da, the iced version.
As we were well into the afternoon, we tried the Japanese staple (may connection yan); the Matcha Latte is tart with a hint of bittersweetness. Go overboard by pairing it with a Matchamisu or Matcha Cookie (so they can..err..match..a).
Notably, The Coffee Library also highlights the Kapangan Coffee, a special local blend from the highlands of Benguet and the Mountain Province, served in a French press which I unfortunately did not get to try (as I was already overcoffied). I have vowed to be back though so I’ll keep you posted.
Edit: Tried it! It was good!
For low key purists, you will never go wrong with their Italian espresso-based staples including their Chocolate Affogato (vanilla ice-cream topped with a shot of espresso and chocolate) which does not disappoint. It was so creamy! As a bonus, the baristas are trained very well, all the way from their coffee knowledge down to the pour. Their latte art speaks for the love and detail that is part of the overall coffee experience. Kudos!
Their pineapple-based juices are refreshing and perfect for the incoming heat, likened to the island mocktails you’ve downed in the past but never got drunk on. It comes in three varieties: Cotton Candy, Chery Apple and Mallows! Now how do you cure a hangunder?
But I must say that the fairest of them all is the Ruby Red Smoothie which is a combination of fresh strawberries, watermelon, apple/dragonfruit and yoghurt. I had mine with the Coffee Library Cheeseburger: one of the best burgers you will ever get to taste in this part of the world. The beef patty is grilled to perfection and topped with cheddar cheese and caramelized onions with a serving of crispy fries. We couldn’t get enough of it so the team had to take a few of them home. Yolo.
They have an extensive Vietnamese menu as well, adapting and perfecting their offerings following Chef Ken’s training abroad to fit the local tastebuds but still giving it authenticity. I absolutely loved the Pho Bo, their Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup, half of which I requested to be put into a take-away container so I can get my mum to taste. A date is in the works. Another stunner literally made me forget my Nem (C’mon guys, of course i’ll add a pun): their spring rolls fried to perfection, stacked and can be dunked into a chilli-filled dipping sauce. It is literally a roll’in the dip. Adele was eating one of these when she wrote her hit, I bet (I remember you said. Stahp!).
Just like a classic novel, The Coffee Library is definitely one I will keep coming back to. I peeled through each layer and treated each menu item like chapters in a book. I understood its subtle effort to surprise in every turn, until I arrived at the happy end (busog!). There is more to come as they stay true to their identity to bring the world to Baguio, adding more options for coffee-lovers such as myself. It will be a sequel I am excited to see and experience in the near future. For now, make The Coffee Library your third place and you’ll be coming back for seconds!