Thereâ€™s a tsokolate â€“ as opposed to â€œchocolateâ€ â€“ cafÃ© in Baguio thatâ€™s been around since 2000, and I canâ€™t believe that I didnâ€™t know about it â€˜til this year.
So on a recent trip up north, I pass by Choco-late de Batirol, a little cafÃ© ensconced in a little corner on Scout Hill in Camp John Hay. Situated across from where the Lone Star Steak House used to be, itâ€™s a makeshift place constructed of bamboo and wood with lots of quaint, mismatched furniture. Studiously Filipino, its counters display â€“ curiously enough â€“ a mishmash of Thai delicacies (squid rings, sampaloc, etc), native cookies and packets of dried fish, as well as the purportedly miraculous Goji juice.
Despite all the distractions, itâ€™s very clear what the house specialty is: native tsokolate whipped with an old-style batidor and served in ceramic cups. Cooked in a large metal pot until wisps of steam escape under the cover, a server ladles the liquid into the tsokolatera (see cover photo). With demonstrable fluency and several brisk whisks of the batidor, he conjures a delightful froth that I envy. I couldnâ€™t do the same with my batidor even if I whisked all day.
The tsokolate comes to table an earthy brew redolent of soil and chocolate; I can almost hear the newly churned bubbles popping. Iâ€™ve always regarded cups as comforting vessels, the heat of this one warming my hands, the liquid it contains sustenance for the soul. Tsokolate is an alliance of imperfect proportions: chocolate paste made from freshly roasted cacao beans, water, milk — perhaps evap (evaporated milk) and sugar. Every person has his/her own recipe for it.
Choco-late de Batirolâ€™s tsokolate is somewhere between a tsokolate eh (thick) and a tsokolate ah (thin) in consistency, the light brown liquid tastes deeply of chocolate with grits of cacao that settle at the bottom of the cup. Its minimum sweetness is remedied with a teaspoon of light brown sugar: ah, perfect! The taste and consistency are very similar to the one at Tsoko.Nut.
Aside from the traditional tsokolate (P80), there are other flavored versions as well – Cointreau, Kahlua, and the Baguio Blend which hints of strawberry. Colder versions (P105-P115) include cinnamon swirl, choco-banana, etc. Iâ€™m told that Chocolate de Batirolâ€™s owner Jojo Castro, roasts the cacao beans himself, after which he grinds them into a paste for the tsokolate. Hot chocolate is good on its own but it ascends to glory when paired with the cafÃ©â€™s suman sa lihia (P50), the turon (P20) which is almost always freshly cooked since itâ€™s so popular, or the house bibingka (P95) which is sweet and fluffy with fresh lashes of coconut.
The cafÃ© is also known for its food, particularly the talangka with rice — I know, it sounds weird to have talangka as your main course, but eat it with the side salad of green mangoes, tomatoes, and red eggs. Or have the pork barbeque, beef kare-kare, pork binagoongan, or lechon paksiw (P220-P280). Portions are moderate but the food is affordable enough to order one more serving or come with a group and taste lots of other dishes.
Naturally, I nab a bottle of their tsokolate paste (P370) which I bring home with me so that I can recreate my own Chocolate de Batirol experience in Manila.
Choco-late de Batirol
Scout Hill, Camp John Hay
Open from 9am-9pm