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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Esteban Abada, Loyola Heights, Katipunan, Quezon City