I’m always on the lookout for a good coffee shop, and even if it’s far from me, I’ll make the effort to go; all in the name of coffee naturally, and breakfast, my favorite meal of the day.
Caffé Bene has been on my radar for some time now, having opened last November. A Korean import, it’s considered the Starbucks of that country with over 800 stores to its name since its inception in 2008, not counting those in China and the US. It’s blindingly popular for its coffee, signature toasts and waffles (more on this later), and it’s emblazoned in the minds of Koreanovela fans everywhere for being the café where the show, the Secret Garden, and its famous “crème kiss” scene was filmed. But that’s all I can tell you since I’m no K-pop fan unless it’s about the food.
Caffé Bene’s Eastwood Walk location is somewhat “frumpy,” like a woman who’s let herself go to seed. And today at 9 am, the harsh morning light does nothing to glam up her surroundings. But Caffé Bene is its own beacon, comestibles and caffeine for the hungry and the place itself is gorgeous. Expansive and accented in wood, it’s a space to savor and to savor in. The lighting makes everyone look lovely whether they’re supping or slurping or staring at the vintage clock, a focal point that seems to be its own force field (everyone seems to want to sit near it).
I have a consuming fascination with coffee house merchandise and it’s there where I gravitate to even before the counter. With the exception of a rare few, most cafés will neglect this aspect of their marketing but not Caffé Bene. Their selection is well-curated: it’s not many places that will offer a gooseneck kettle, slick and in stainless steel (top shelf). This particular item is quite rare and is usually only seen in third wave coffee shops.
Speaking of coffee, Caffé Bene reputedly uses only the top 2% of the world’s best coffee beans. They’re roasted in the company’s own roasting plant and meticulously tested. Whether it be a fault of transport or handling, I can’t say much for the coffee here. I’m a black coffee drinker because I like to taste the purity of the coffee. Milk clouds coffee’s intrinsic flavors but I’ll concede that there are times when a latte (P130 / P145) is in order. This is one of those times especially since the motherly, super friendly barista can’t recommend it enough. It tastes more like hot milk with a whisper of coffee somewhere. My Bin, who doesn’t drink coffee, has the green tea latte (P135 / P145), and it’s alright, a mere shadow of the more strongly flavored ones offered elsewhere.
Relentlessly searching for more coffee within each sip, I abandon the latte and order an Americano (P105 / P120). Sans milk, I revel in the familiar coffee smell I love but when it comes to taste, this coffee is watery and under-extracted. Caffé Bene takes pride in its medium roast coffee as opposed to the more commonplace dark roast. A good cup of coffee – whatever roast it may be – highlights the beans’ nuances — a cup is a serving of vitality, but today the espresso shots are off.
I will say this, however. The cups themselves at Caffé Bene are a masterpiece. Appropriately dubbed the kiss mug, each one is crafted so that the cup’s rim resembles a (lower) lip. It’s bizarre to say that taking a sip from this cup reminds me of having someone else’s lips on my own, but yeah, that’s about right. A lip to lust for.
Every Korean coffeehouse delights in their thick toast offerings, an almost-pastry to partake of with one’s posse. They are stunning and righteously so. While one is workable and a pair is daunting, my Bin and I take two for the team. The savory brick toast, as I call these super slices, is the Garlic & Cheese (Php165). Smells swell on waves of cheese punctuated with bursts of garlic enveloped in a colossal crumb.
The sweeter toast comes in either Choco Banana or Caramel Cinnamon (P145), and I have the latter. A beehive of cream ponders its fate, perched as it is on an expanse of buttered bread licked with caramel. The amber streaks catch the morning light, glistening as they glide down the toast. The bread is thoughtfully sliced into squares for easy eating, and is a shade shy of being over toasted. It’s crackle-crunchy at first and then dense and soft as it soaks up the cream lovingly. For those as macho as my Bin and I are, I do recommend getting a savory and sweet toast as the pair play off one another very nicely. We enjoy the toasts so much that we’re genuinely surprised when we suddenly see two empty plates staring back up at us.
The Liège waffle is another Caffé Bene specialty. Named for the Belgian city from where it originates, its caramelized exterior offers audible crispness with every bite, a contrast to its compact chewiness. There’s a trove of toppings but I like the Red Bean & Green Tea Gelato topper. As the gelato sits, it melts into the waffle and softens it, a perfect base on which to smear the red bean. It’s an inspired and inspired combination. The cream cheese gelato (I never heard of such a thing!) is quite good here too.
When you come here, you might want to try the Bingsu, a Korean halo-halo of sorts . It sounds like just the ticket with its fruit and cereal flakes lavished with milk and shaved ice, but maybe not this early in the morning.
Eastwood City Walk
Eastwood, Libis, E. Rodriguez Road, Quezon City
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