I chose Yardstick first because they give classes through The Y.A.R.D. (The Yardstick Academy of Resource and Development), which according to their website “exists to raise the quality and provide standards for the Philippine coffee industry and the local coffee culture”.
You see, I never pretended to be an expert. All I know is that I’ve always preferred my coffee black, not just for the “strength” or “body” but just so I could taste the flavor. Sadly, among the usual suspects (Figaro, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Seattle’s Best, etc), I’ve only really liked two “blends”, which have both been phased out: Starbucks’s Gold Coast (phased out in the Philippines) and Figaro’s Barako Gold. Whatever else I tasted from the grocery or the office vendo machine I’ve passively hated as a necessity for work.
As a writer (read: poet, editor, blogger), I like, and should I say, I need, the early morning jolt provided by coffee, also taken mid-afternoon and at various times into the night (and, cue music, into the wee hours of the morning). As a reader, I’ve longed for a quiet place where I can curl up peacefully with my book. Yes, I can do this at home, of course. It’s just that it would also be nice to derive a certain pleasure from the coffee I drink – as I do with my books and my writing. As you can see in these pictures, taken in the last few days, Yardstick on Esteban Street offers me some hope – at least, off-hand, in terms of place.
First of all, I like the feel of walking under the shady trees on Esteban, which simulates the vibe of Makati in the 1990s (Manila advertising in its golden age?). Second, I appreciate the cleanliness and consistency of Yardstick’s architectural design. Your Local, the restaurant next door, is owned by the same owners, I think [EDIT: one of the chefs is related to a part-owner of Yardstick]. With these two aside, I enter the premises.
Well, almost. The first time I went inside Yardstick was to reserve slots for two March classes, Tasting Specialty Coffee and Brewing Coffee at Home. What confronted me before going in was this poster, which I 80% agree with (I still stubbornly maintain that one does not need to experience everything – faith, hope, love, tragedy, glory, whatever – to know). I was running before I paid (during my office break), so I didn’t have time to sit down and try their coffee before my first class.
The tasting took place just this Tuesday, after office hours, when most of the the tri-color ceramic Acme cups (sold for P4480 for a set of 6) were set aside.
My first class a bit surreal, needless to say challenging. You can only imagine the situation: me running (as usual, because I was running late) and a bit hungry, still with the bitter aftertaste of multiple cups of vending machine coffee (Nescafé aka battery acid) staining my palate.
“Specialty coffee” is strictly defined as coffee garnering at least an 80% score given by a panel of coffee experts. In this case, I presume the people behind the Specialty Coffee Association of America. The score is a summation of objective criteria (fragrance/aroma, flavor, acidity, body, uniformity, and cleanliness), leaving room for a little bit of subjectivity (read: personal taste, memory, affectation, etc).
Honestly speaking, I was expecting to drink lots of delicious coffee when I signed up for the first class – what I was missing from the run-of-the-mill brews available locally. Of course, the word “tasting” didn’t elude me. As an editor for an online edition of a foreign paper, I have subbed wine tasting columns and know that anything to do with tasting involves, first: smelling and slurping, and second: spitting.
Needless to say, the subtleties of sweet, sour, and salty/savory were lost on me and I wasn’t able to get that part of the tasting properly. But as a Filipino, in fact, we are used to the mixing of tastes (all three mentioned, plus bitterness and what we call mapakla, etc) and can judge for ourselves the levels of sweet, sour, and salty in the food that we eat. It’s just that I wasn’t ready/equipped to make the same judgements on the coffee that I tasted.
As I said, I prefer taking my coffee black, but I was also used to taking it strong and straightforward (read: robust as Robusta, which is grown in lower altitudes, has more caffeine per common unit, and is what most Asians are used to), given of course that the Starbucks Gold Coast blend I grew to love and sorely miss is multi-regional. I wasn’t used to several of the brews I tasted (Arabica has more sensitivity), which revealed their flavor at a slower pace on my tongue. They were a revelation. What can I say? The tasting class was just the beginning of my Ratatouille moment.
Before I get all giddy and profess that I will never sip a foul cup of coffee again, let me say this: what the tasting class taught me was that there is a world of flavor I’m missing (see: Counter Culture Coffee's flavor wheel), and that whatever is good and worth it takes time, not to mention patience and dedication.
As I type this blog post, I am back at Yardstick on my fourth visit and on my second (drinking) cup. At this time of the morning, 10am, I have the place all to myself.
Sadly, the music is blaring and it is not easy for me to hear my own thoughts.
On my non-class visits, I have been able to take a better look at Yardstick’s menu.
Take in the “coolness” of the place (read: cleanliness and consistency, design, etc).
I like it, and because of that first tasting class, better appreciate the thought and commitment that goes behind each and every cup. How each and every component matters.
What I haven’t said though, is that I am secretly taking down notes, hoping that someday, when I “retire” (whatever that word means), I’ll be able to open my own coffee/design/community/library/what-have-you place where people and ideas can gather.
But that’s a long way off; I still have a long way to go to train my palate. Not to mention acquire the proper equipment even just for my own personal coffee tasting experience (taking the Brewing Coffee at Home class tonight).
So back to sitting at a café as a normal person, enjoying my cup.
My first non-spitting cup was Tobing Estate, which is single origin, from Sumatra (if my memory serves me right). Still not convinced though that I like the Acme ceramic cups. But I do agree that good coffee, like food, is better in smaller servings and that heat is important in keeping flavor fresh and taken as it is meant to be taken.
I also preferred eating the Bronuts cronut together with the coffee over this morning's pecan pie (notice that the provenance of the pastries is not indicated in their glass case).
Hopefully, I'll be able to try all of their blends – the one sold in these packages are multi-regional, rather than single-source – at my own pace, when I am not rushing to work, or to finish a blog post. But hey, when has that ever happened?
As I said, I also hope to complete the necessary equipment for brewing at home. Although I already have two French presses and we have a (an electric) grinder, I am curious how different coffee will taste using their manual grinder (Hario Ceramic Slim mini mill retails for P1900) and through an air press (Aerobie Aeropress sells for P2800), which I have heard so much about. Of course, I will canvas where these are sold elsewhere (or are they?).
I guess that's it. Whatever else you need to know about Yardstick, you can research on their website, where you'll discover that they are the exclusive distributor of La Marzocco and Rocket espresso machines in Manila. I think they also offer blends other than what they sell, to support would-be café entrepreneurs.
Scatterbrained as I am, at the moment, I envy their single-mindedness and dedication. In the meantime, I'll be planning a visit to Your Local and see/taste/feel if the same applies to the food they serve.