Dessert Comes First

An obsession with dessert and other unabashed opinions of a food writer

Magnum White King

Third Wave Coffee Shop … Not.

posted by in Cafés

Untruth in advertising.

Manila is riding the wave of Third Wave Coffee. For those who care about what goes into their cup, the vagaries of this so-called movement are unavoidable: should the café be keeping an eagle eye on the process from bean to cup? should ambiguous but on-trend terms like shade-grown, single origin, and free trade be mantras? should baristas be adapting a grungy-chic aesthete while brewing what may be the best cup of one’s life?

While the answers are blurry, what’s clear is that the emergence of third wave coffee shops in Manila is a boon for coffee enthusiasts. I can finally have a decent Cortado or an Espresso+Perrier or an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe brewed in a Hario v60, etc.

What’s difficult to stand for however, is when a café bills itself as Third Wave when it so obviously isn’t.

Third District (2)

Third District is a café that opened mid-March – “A neighborhood joint,” it proclaims on a wall. This is a place that could work but have a seat and already there’s a problem. The tables are much, much too wide, sitting across from my Bin and conversing requires yelling. So I join him on the banquette instead but we’ll still have to shout, the music (2000’s alternative) is way too loud. Opposite us, a gaggle of kids have taken up residence on the couch, sprawled over and displaying their bare feet to everyone in the café.

Third District (4)

A wall opposite displays the tools of the Third Wave trade: pour over brewers, siphons, and loads of beans from 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters. In fact, Third District seems like a paean to the Vancouver-based Third Wave coffee shop – the beans used here are from there, and so are the drinkware, unique vessels in a beautiful light teal.

Third District (6)

Third District (5)

I won’t call the two women attending to the bar, baristas. One seems too harried, rushing from kitchen to bar and back, while the other brews coffee much too slowly and without the confidence expected in a barista. She’s nice enough but kindness doesn’t cut it with the caffeine-deprived.

Third District (8)

Third District (9)

I suppose the coffee that we’re served 15 minutes after ordering could be called sufficient, but they’re lukewarm and arrive long minutes after one another. I’m about halfway done with my flat white when my Bin’s latte arrives.

I go up front to watch how the coffee is made and am flabbergasted when I spy the roast date on one of the bags of beans: December 2013! I won’t geek out on you and explain why this is outrageous. Let’s just say that if you know your coffee, then you know why this date is upsetting.

Third District (10)

So far, it’s been a dismal experience, certainly not worth the drive. A view of bare, dirty feet, an inappropriate music selection, old beans that should’ve never been used, an unconfident barista. Suddenly, a back door opens, I presume it leads to the kitchen where one of the two baristas has disappeared off to. A plate of waffles floats out, held by a supremely bewildered man. “Doon! Doon! Table 7!” Barista #2 wildly gesticulates to us, her body half in and half out of the door. The server is so apparently confused that I feel like jumping up and helping him out. Seems like they could use the help too; the waffles are so gummy they bounce off the walls, and someone forgot to season the roast potatoes.

Third District’s selling points are that they use beans from 49th Parallel, and that one of the owners is an actor from local showbiz. Yawn. Good looks does not a Third Wave café make. In addition, I’m unsure just why the store proudly peddles OMG’s, a (yet another) Canadian brand and gelato from Afters when their gelato freezer up front is bare as day. As far as I’m concerned, if you call yourself a Third Wave coffee shop, walk the talk. Get your baristas in line, improve your coffee, and don’t forget that thing called “passion,” because it’s obviously missing here.


Third District
Esteban Abada, Loyola Heights, Katipunan, Quezon City
Open daily.

Related posts:
Magnum Opus

23 Responses to “Third Wave Coffee Shop … Not.”

  • Hi Lori, I’m not a coffee junkie nor a drinker, but just seeing the picture of bacon and egg on waffles looks bad to eat. I hope someone who knows them read this blog so they’ll know that they need to improve A.S.A.P. :)


    Lori Reply:

    Hi Em,
    I hope so too. Thanks for reading.


  • Well, I would still go to this coffee shop perchance to see that “actor from local showbiz” hehehe! Kidding! Love the honesty you put here, Lori. Hope Third District’s owners were able to read this to keep them on toes of things. :)


    Lori Reply:

    Thanks for commenting, Gobbledygook!


  • “coffee served lukewarm” – Coffee isn’t really served scorching hot. there’s a temperature to follow.

    What is your definition of a third wave coffee shop, then?


    Noel Reply:

    Naku, Ms. Lori, huwag niyo nang sagutin itong si candid cuisine… madalas kong makitang mag-comment ito ng pa-kontrobersiyal sa iba’t-ibang sikat na blog para siguro mapansin at magpunta ang mga tao sa blog niya.


    Lori Reply:

    Hi Noel,
    I’m touched by and I appreciate your concern. Her comments are valid regardless, and I’ve replied accordingly.


    Candid Cuisine Reply:

    @Noel, Just listen to yourself. the tone of your comment is the one that sounds controversial.


    Noel Reply:

    mga readers na bahalang manghusga kung sino sa atin ang nagsasabi ng totoo.

    Lori Reply:

    Candid Cuisine-
    Of course coffee shouldn’t be served or drank “scorching hot” as you say — that would burn off the beans’ essential oils where all the flavor resides. From what I’ve been taught, coffee tastes best when it’s brewed with water that’s between 190 F-205 F. Experimenting is part of the fun too, of course. As for the definition of a third wave coffee shop, you can read about that here.

    I’m aware that you were one of the first – if not the first – blogger to break the news about Third District. It’s too bad that our experiences were so disparate.


  • Hi Lori! I’ve never been to Third District, nor do I know its operators. I do, however, know that they are brand new, and are working with some of the finest coffee people in the coffee industry. Thus, I’m confident they will get up to par.

    As the owner of a young coffee shop far, far away, I am aware of the challenges of presenting a better alternative than, say, chain coffee, which still dominates the cafe scene, despite its lower standard of quality and yet hefty price tag. There’s no excuse for poor quality, true. But I think it’s forgivable when a new shop is at least trying to do things better, even though they screw up along the way–as long as they are honest and progress from criticism. Third Wave, from what I understand, is a movement towards better coffee, a departure from the mechanical nature of the previous ‘wave’.


    Lori Reply:

    Hi Kiddo,
    I understand where you’re coming from. Third Wave coffee shops are the best thing to have happened to Manila’s coffee enthusiasts and I want them all to succeed. It’s a small industry so I’m aware of the people that Third District (TD) is working/consulting with. TD is a new place but having been to all the other Third Wave places, I was struck by the stark disparity of coffee/skill level/service, etc. displayed here. I too hope that TD will find its footing.


    Kiddo Reply:

    Well cheers to you, for not pulling any punches, Lori! That’s why we love your blog; positive criticism keeps the scene honest, and propels businesses with potential upward. On another note, let’s grab coffee sometime. I would love to pull a coffee for you, and get your feedback on it!


  • wow. talk about major fail in food, beverage, service, ambiance, etc.


  • Hi Ms. Lori, I’m also and/or again ‘flabbergasted’ by your blog(s). Really transparent! I’m always looking forward to your next dessert adventures here (twiiter, instagram). Hope you can find the time visit our Province, Pampanga! (Though I wish I could be the one showing you all the places to be!) I’m very sure that you will enjoy, and might as well meticulously share your experiences there! :) Cheers!


  • thanks for telling it like it is Lori.


  • By coincidence I was at 3rd district same morning you were. You were on your way out and I recognized you from a vid you made of Magnum Opus. I mentioned that I had doubts about the coffee having seen what I presumed was the roast date on the bottom of the coffee bags (12.23.13), but that I had not yet tasted the coffee.

    I’ve been home roasting for a long time, on a coffee time frame post Vivace but pre Intelligentsia/Stumptown. It’s only been the past 2 years that cafés which serve specialty coffee properly have surfaced. I’ve been out of Manila the whole time and was amped to do a coffee crawl when I finally had time.

    I braced myself to taste 3 month old coffee and in fact told my companion to hold off ordering till I tasted mine. Coffee is at its best 2-5 days after roasting and should be consumed within 2-3 weeks. Deep freezing immediately or within a few days after roasting can preserve varietal notes for a few months. I asked and the barista said they don’t freeze their beans. 

    I’m so into coffee that I actually ask to stand a few feet from baristas to watch them work. I chose a cappuccino but asked that I have a sip of the espresso before they poured the milk. It was 49th parallel’s old school blend. The pull was a very tight ristretto, I thought it was bit too restricted, maybe a half oz.  Crema expectedly on the thin side. Caramel, bit too acidic to discern cocoa, still it was quite good. The barista decided to pull again, tamping lighter to coax more liquid. Same volume, muted sweetness and some dark choc. I preferred the prior pull. Instead of dumping the 2nd pull I suggest she combine the 2. She poured and still managed the de riguer latte art. I had a quad ristretto cappa and it was sweet, fruity, milk chocolatey and up there with some of the best cappas I’ve had. 

    Next up was a Honduras Maravilla pourover. The cafe has a hot water dispenser wherein 
    the exact temp can be dialed in and maintained. Except it was too hot and the barista had to let the water cool off in a pitcher, checking the temp with a digital thermo. Pourover takes long enough so cooling off should not be part to the workflow. But wow, very clean cup, sweet, delightful apple notes. 

    I have to disagree with lack of passion, at least with the barista. On a pourover before mine I saw her take a sip from the coffee (poured separately onto a demitasse) to see how it tasted. 

    So as a roaster my beliefs have been upended. Coffee was still very good. Imagine a fresh batch from Vancouver? Please ramp up the air deliveries, 3rd district. 

    A day before I was at one of the more established “3rd wave” cafés. I had a Yirgacheffe which was very good but still a bit disappointing. The bright/citrus/tart notes were not ringing out. This was from a cafe that roasts it’s own, with a top notch competitive barista, Mirage (or Spirit?) 3 group machine and titan class grinder.  Maybe the Yirg was roasted a bit too long, or simply a less than perfect pull. 

    I don’t personally know the movers of the specialty coffee industry here but I do know that it’s quite a small group and they even collaborate with each other.  But it’s a godsend for coffee drinkers. They also stick to their guns and don’t try to go for what the Pinoy drinker might transition easier to, say a Yemen or Brazil with dark cocoa flavors. Instead we are offered central americans or bright Africans. 

    My first time at a 3rd wave cafe here was actually in that far, far place (El Union in the surf spot San Juan, La Union). A Rwanda/Yirg (maybe also a Brazil) blend that was a fruit/citrus explosion. Green apple, calamansi, tart and sweet. 

    Good times for coffee drinkers.

    Now that we have cafés that can deliver, there’s also better incentive to source and grow local arabica that can stand up to the world’s best.


    Lori Reply:

    Hi Roel,
    It was good to meet you at the café. Thanks for commenting.


  • Thank you so much for your honesty! That’s why I still like reading your blog and value your reviews more than other food bloggers who only write about the good stuff (ones that give him freebies?) and erase negative comments on his site.
    Kudos! Looking forward to continue reading your real and honest food reviews.


  • Wow, this may be the most negative review you’ve posted to date. You pulled no punches, and I like it. I know you’re policy usually is “If you don’t like it, you don’t write about it”, and I agree that a blog that celebrates negativity would be tiresome and no fun to read, but quite frankly there aren’t enough writers calling establishments on it when they stumble, and that’s probably one of the reasons the base level of excellence in this country isn’t as high as it could be: we allow mediocrity and substandard service to get away unscathed.

    If this is a new direction for DCF, I approve.


    Lori Reply:

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for your comment. I’ve come to see that criticism, well-intentioned and correctly put, has a purpose. And yes, this is one of the new directions for DCF.


  • Thanks for a very frank and honest review Lori. I have recently visited Third District as well. Similar to your experience, the coffee shop, even if amazingly decorated, fell short of giving me the Third wave experience I was expecting. Also I immediately raised an eyebrow when I first read that the beans are roasted and imported from Canada. Ofcourse this is not a problem if the lead time for transporting the beans is less than a week. But my suspicions were verified when you said they were roasted December last year! Since they are fairly new (and maybe still on soft opening?), I hope they do make the adjustments asap.


    Lori Reply:

    Thanks for commenting, Mara. Here’s to hoping for a better coffee experience.


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