THE local coffee industry of Davao is filled with talented women who work hard to brew you a good cup of coffee from bean to cup.
To name a few, you have Joji Pantoja, the CEO and Co-Founder of Coffee for Peace. Joji has been at the forefront of not only promoting quality coffee but also a tool to promote peace in local communities. Another name is coffee farmer Marivic Dubria, whose Mt. Apo coffee beans earned first place in the Arabica category in the 2019 Philippine Coffee Quality Competition (PCQC). Her coffee beans continue to be regarded as among the best in Davao and has become one of the most sought-after coffee farmers here. You also have Gina Ellorango-Ableitinger, the founder of Frog Kaffee & Roastery and Kaffee Arena. Gina has been known to be passionate about sharing her knowledge of coffee and brewing it.
These women have inspired other women in the industry — coffee entrepreneurs and baristas alike. Bea Lim, Kim Fabular, Rovie Jabines, Girlie Mae Junsay-Malalis, and Socyn Alinea are currently some of the emerging names who are making waves in the local coffee industry.
Bea Lim, Owner of Espresso Lab and Baristro
Bea was unsure about the path she would take right after graduating college. But it was the passion of a barista in China that sparked something in her to get into the coffee industry.
“While reviewing for the exams in a coffee shop [in China], the barista on duty taught me not how to simply drink coffee, but to appreciate it in all its complexities, to really drink coffee,” she said. Bea studied in China for a time.
The barista shared with her the journey of coffee from bean to cup while he prepared her order.
“It was an eye-opening experience. It was like reading about music, and then hearing it for the first time. It was astonishing, really,” Bea said.
The moment she took a sip of the coffee, she described it as nothing like “coffee” as it was fruity and floral.
“I decided to start doing part-time jobs as a barista, and realized there was more to coffee than it just being a beverage,” Bea said.
While to some a coffee is simply a beverage, to the young entrepreneur, coffee was a teacher.
“Coffee taught me a lot of things. Setting aside its taste, what I love most about coffee, is its ‘life.’ I love how everything I know about coffee can simply change over one small variable that I change in brewing. I love how nothing is permanent with coffee,” Bea said.
After completing her studies in China, she traveled around the country to study more about coffee. Along the way, she earned her Specialty Coffee Association Coffee Skills Diploma and training under Sun Lei, winner of the 2019 China Barista Championship.
“As much as I wanted to stay in China, home was calling. So then I decided to do it,” Bea said.
Bea was one brave person when she opened Espresso Lab in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in July 2020. It took guts and grit to open a business during uncertain times.
Running a business can be stressful on some days but Bea said being a coffee entrepreneur allows her to share her passion with others and allow them to discover coffee.
“When it comes to coffee, I can talk for hours and geek out about it with random people and feel alive throughout the day. Yes, my business may be stressful on some days, but luckily, my business is my passion and my passion is my business. I enjoy how my business allows me to meet people who have a different story about coffee,” Bea said.
Meanwhile, should you find yourself in any of the coffee shops in Davao City, Bea suggests that you try their signature drinks.
“For starters, I would always recommend trying out coffee shop’s signature beverages since they know most what drink they can serve best that’s most loved by the majority,” she said.
But if you are a coffee geek like he, she would recommend ordering a shot of espresso or filter coffee.
Kim Fabular, Owner of Glasshouse Coffee
Kim was looking for a place where she can be herself — a place where she can enjoy books, music, and art with a good cup of flat white.
“I thought it’d be exciting to live a life of unbridled creativity. I wanted this kind of meaningful, creative life and I have learned that the first step that I made following the path of coffee was a fateful step headed in the right direction,” Kim said.
In 2017, she enrolled in a coffee school. Around a year later, she opened the four-table Glasshouse. The coffee shop is known for not only serving a good cup of coffee but also for its unique vibe and atmosphere.
“I entered the coffee industry with my heart leading the way. I approached it because I dreamt of a kind of life that turned out to be one that does not only serve me but also those that crave to belong somewhere. So far this origin story saved me countless times, especially on challenging days. It is always less about how I entered the industry and more about how I stayed. Indeed, whatever is done out of love is done well,” Kim said.
Five years in, she continues to learn new things about coffee.
“The things that I need to learn about coffee tend to multiply by the day and I still do find joy in going after these new learnings and trying to grasp them in any way I can,” Kim said.
Kim grew to love coffee for its taste.
“It is a kind of sensory awareness that acts as a gateway to other sensations and pieces of knowledge. Taste also signals good farming practices, green coffee quality, roasting expertise, and barista knowledge,” Kim said.
She said a sip of coffee opens a “kaleidoscope of stories” for her.
“Sometimes my coffee can taste like an orange popsicle and it will take me back to a fond memory that sometimes could date back to early childhood. Coffee is remembering. Coffee is about the stories that we know. Coffee is about memories, old and new,” Kim said.
Meanwhile, the young entrepreneur said she enjoys doing what she does because of the “freedom” it gives her.
“I think I can credit most of this freedom to the fact that the specialty coffee industry in Davao is fairly new that one can still fully innovate. It’s kind of like playing with Lego where you can just go wild with how you ought to create your world. It allows me to fully devise ethical systems and do so creatively. It’s both small-picture thinking and big-picture thinking. It’s the philosophy at work. I love it so much,” Kim said.
For those who are exploring the coffee scene, Kim recommends that you try a pour-over.
“It beautifully completes a coffee seed’s journey. When I train baristas, I always prepare the story of the coffee seed and I love telling this story every single time. The seed journeys from the farmer’s tree to the producer’s workshop, to the roaster’s machine, to the taster’s table, to the barista’s bar, and finally to the guest’s cup,” Kim said.
She added, “A good brew always justifies the hard work of everyone in the chain. It’s an honest ending to the coffee seed’s epic story. A happy-ever-after that births another wonderful story but this time with the guest telling it.”
Rovie Jabines, Barista at Purge Coffee Roaster
For regulars at one of the city’s well-known coffee shops, Purge Coffee Roaster, you might have encountered their curly-haired barista, Rovie. I can say that she is among the well-respected baristas in the city with her skills and knowledge of coffee.
Rovie had her first encounter with coffee when she was still a student in Cebu. She was finding ways to have money to spend for non-school-related activities to avoid using the money intended for her schooling.
“There was a new shop willing to hire zero-knowledged working students. I applied and I found myself behind the bar,” Rovie said.
She was introduced to the vast world of coffee through the late John Michael “Blazing John” Hermoso.
“He gathered a couple of newbie baristas in Cebu, formed a group chat, and every day, if he read something new, learned something new, you’ll find him flooding the chat with this new information,” Rovie said, adding that she also learned the importance of weighing her beans and timing her shots.
When she finished her studies, she first worked in a 9-to-5 job but eventually realised that it is not for her.
“It’s because I love the flow. I find the work behind the bar stimulating. I love the challenge, the constant movement, and at some point, in that middle of all that chaos – I find bar work really, really therapeutic,” Rovie said.
In recent years, Rovie is a familiar face behind the coffee bar of Purge Coffee Roaster. Through the homegrown brand, she was able to break out of her shell.
She shared that she used to be “not good with people” but her mentor and boss, Jofel Manlod, owner of Purge Coffee Roaster, saw that she is very passionate about sharing with guests about what they are about to drink.
“I enjoy teaching. I love sharing the knowledge that I gathered. [My mentor and boss] said I get really enthusiastic and excited every time I get the chance to explain to guests what they are about to drink,” Rovie said.
Eventually, Rovie became more confident in facing the guests entering the shop as she is given more opportunities to interact with them. Likewise, Harmon, a former barista of Purge Coffee Roaster, has also been influential in how to connect with their guests.
“I started gaining confidence when it comes to facing guests. I stopped hiding behind the machine and started venturing out of the bar,” Rovie said.
Rovie said brewing a cup of coffee and seeing that people enjoy it are also some of the things she loves about her work as a barista.
“Seeing the surprise in the faces of people who just learned that there is science behind their cups; there are parameters I toy around with to make sure you get a good cup,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rovie encourages those going to coffee shops to explore the menu or allow the barista to guide them through the menu.
“You’ll find the one you’ll like,” she said.
But if you want to explore origins and flavor profiles, Rovie recommends that you opt for manually brewed single origins.
“It’s a world of olfactory and gustatory surprises that are waiting for you to discover,” Rovie said.
Socyn Alinea, Owner of Humble Coffee | Co-owner of Mylk
Her bright smile and bubbly personality is the first thing you would notice about Socyn.
Owner of Humble Coffee, I remember meeting her the first time and instantly felt the warmth of her friendliness.
Socyn and husband ventured into the coffee business at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Pandemic brought us here, we had to pivot from our main business. We were looking for a small business to start with, we have a tiny space and we saw an opportunity,” she said.
She described their entry to the vibrant coffee industry of Davao City as “humble but enthusiastic.”
“Humble because although we are coffee drinkers, we know so little of it. We don’t have prior experience in this industry but our love for coffee made us enthusiastic as well,” Socyn said.
She and her husband knew that they can learn and grow their knowledge and skills as they go along with it.
“We sought help, we asked as much as we can, learn and absorb as much as we can,” Socyn said.
But beyond serving coffee, Socyn enjoys being able to build relationships with the coffee-loving community.
“Being a coffee entrepreneur gave me the avenue to forge more relationships, build a community and connect through a cup of each coffee that goes out of our store,” she said.
Meanwhile, when you go visit a coffee shop, Soycn recommends that you try their espresso and signature drinks.
“Espresso gives you the key to a shop’s take on coffee, their skills, and the quality of their coffee beans whilst the signature drink gives you a peek of their creativity and their ability to think outside of the box,” Socyn said.
Girlie Mae Junsay-Malalis, Owner of Kuan Coffee, Tagum City
Girlie, together with her husband, Jan, was among the first in Tagum City to push for the growth of the local coffee industry when they started Kuan Coffee.
She and her husband had already been enjoying a good cup of coffee prior to the pandemic. They both got into coffee when they were on intermittent fasting.
“Some of us know that fasting is best paired with water, tea, or black coffee. Which i really didn’t like at the start. But eventually fell in love with it,” Girlie shared in a previous interview with Kape Diaries.
She said as days go on, she began to appreciate coffee more.
“Coffee is really an integral part of our daily routine. That sweet aroma surrounded the place. The bitter-sweet taste of it really sets our mood for the day. And of course, caffeine. We love caffeine,” Girlie said.
But when the pandemic came in, their favorite coffee shop closed down.
“It was the realization of a problem; a problem in that we don’t know where to buy a good cup anymore. So we saw it as an opportunity,” Girlie said.
Hence, they saw the opportunity to start one in their area. Hence, the birth of Kuan Coffee in 2021.
“Jan has the basic knowledge about coffee while I have the skills in marketing. We entered the industry through a small home-based coffee shop only catering to online orders and walk-ins. Progressed into a mobile coffee bar and started joining pop-up events like weddings, corporate, birthdays, etc. And eventually made our way to open up our own physical store,” Girlie said.
As a coffee entrepreneur, Girlie said she enjoys meeting people.
“Any passionate local coffee shop with its owners can really say that it’s not just a coffee shop, it’s the people, it’s the community. Strangers turned regular customers, regular customers turned to friends. The cycle just keeps going,” she said.
Meanwhile, if you ever find yourself at Kuan Coffee in Tagum City, Girlies recommends you try their Cinnamon Dulce.
“This is an original coffee blend that we’ve created in-house, with our own specially prepared syrups. It’s a popular choice among our customers and it has received a lot of positive feedback from our customers. The warm and cozy flavors of the drink give you a subtle hint of the holiday season,” Girlie said.
These women continue to shine in the local coffee industry. They are not only here to grow as movers of the industry but as individuals who are passionate to brew you a delicious cup of coffee.