Brews Buddies: Coffee (and more) for a Song
By Walter Ang
August 2, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Brews Buddies is a small café along the busy street of Juan Luna in Chinatown. In a street where banks and tall buildings dominate, this little coffee shop bravely opened earlier this year. I would pass by on my way to other places but wouldn't have the time to actually try it out. That is, until my friend, who had already become one of the café's regulars, insisted I try their Iced Café Mocha.
We ducked into the blue and gray café, with figurines of Blues Brothers James and Elwood on the counter by the entrance welcoming us in. Since the name of the establishment is an offshoot of The Blues Brothers, the music playing in the background was especially apt. Even the sizes of the drinks are named after the brothers, short sizes are James and the tall ones are Elwood.
We ordered, we drank and we were not disappointed. I took a sip and was surprised I could still taste the coffee. When you order café mochas from other coffee places, you usually can't taste the coffee anymore because they dump so much chocolate syrup into the drink or perhaps the beans wouldn't be fresh anymore.
Spill the Beans
My friend and I had to good cause to gush and smile for the rest of the day owing to our discovery. I caught up with two of the four owners and made them spill the beans on how this café got started. Dodo Chuaunsu with brothers Charlie and Philip Yao are buddies who share a passion for good food and coffee. After a trip to the States last year to visit their friend Leslie Laddaran, they decided to put up a coffee place of their own since they were unable to find the elusive good cup of coffee here in Manila. In their quest for good coffee, "It came to a point where we would try out every single coffee shop we came across," shares Dodo.
Since their friend Leslie made them promise to include him in any new business venture they'd tackle, these four friends came up with Brews Buddies. Their initial brainstorming session was at a hotel coffee shop (where else?) with their ideas written down on paper napkins. By December of that same year, they were fortunate enough to have already found a place to set up.
Raring to go, "We were in here clearing things out even during the Christmas holidays," Charlie recounted. Sticklers for the perfect venue, they had the original flooring material torn out for a more suitable material and even transferred the location of the stairs from the back of the shop closer to the entrance.
Now the interiors include posters and a few memorabilia displayed for patrons to admire. I especially like one of their counters where the top is shaped like an electric guitar with the hole in the middle as the trash bin. There are even strings attached to the contraption and will play, albeit out of tune since it isn't a real guitar.
Brews Buddies uses Arabica beans which are less acidic than most other coffee beans. They take pride in the fact that their beans are locally sourced, "unlike other coffee shops which import their beans
(even their paper napkins), which in turn, makes it more expensive for their patrons."
They've also invested in state-of-the-line Italian espresso machines. "In other coffee shops, the machines require the baristas to time the coffee preparation, each time you order the same drink, it may not taste the same because different persons prepare and time it differently," explains Dodo, "our machines are fully calibrated and have timers, which is why each cup you get from us tastes the same."
Of course, these guys don't just leave it all to these cold, impersonal machines, they take customer feedback seriously. "We're still in the process of achieving the perfect blends for most of our drinks. We take note of what our customers tell us. It's too sweet. It's too bitter." They shared a funny anecdote where they had a friend try one of their iced coffee mixtures while it was still in the test kitchen phase, only to have him claim that it was too bitter. They all had a good laugh when they realized later on that they'd forgotten to put in the sugar that time.
Aside from Leslie, who is based in the U.S., these guys are usually in the café in late afternoons to chat with customers. Some regulars come in to share and trade information on good places to eat in the city. If you get a chance, chat these guys up; they have a plethora of recommendations on where the good places to eat are.
Yep, regulars. This café is not even one year old yet and they already have people who come in everyday to get their usual caffeine fix. Charlie recounts how one customer used to be surly and would complain about everything, but now, "He comes in regularly, smiling and trading jokes with our lady baristas. When we see him walking in the streets, he'll wave at us."
Among their regulars, they have a vendor in nearby Divisoria who will come in every morning for her breakfast coffee to go and they have one guy who comes all the way from Makati at least every two weeks to get his taste of the place. There are a lot of offerings for people to choose, and I really like the creative names they've given their concoctions.
Desert Storms for the hot coffees and Cold Fronts for the iced coffee mixes. Aside from the usual sandwiches and cookies, Brews Buddies also offers pastries and paninis. Most of the names are play on words, like Let's Do The Twist for their cinnamon rolls and Uncle Ham for their deli ham sandwich, obviously based on Uncle Sam. They're also currently testing a new dessert that will debut soon, a coffee jelly concoction called Jelly Be Good.
Before anyone assumes that this coffee shop is American in origin, the owners are quick to dispel that notion. They do take it as a compliment that people think highly enough of their café to assume it must be a franchise of some sort. The flipside of this is that, "We've actually received inquiries for franchising," confides Dodo.
For now, they're still improving what they have to offer. They've recently started delivery service for the Binondo and Escolta areas, good news for the downtown yuppies who need their caffeine for the day. They also offer the second floor for business meetings and other special functions like birthday parties and even occasional Bible study sessions. The shop closes around 8 PM on most evenings but can accommodate special requests from big groups to stay open late.
Brews Buddies Cafe, 384 Juan Luna St., Binondo, across the street from State Investment Building. Call 450-4155 or 241-7466 for reservations or deliveries.