Getting a cup of coffee in Asia is far more than just picking out what shop to patronize in order to get caffeine in your system. Especially here in the Philippines, it’s actually an important life decision! For instance, in far too many places in the country of 7,500 islands, ordering “coffee” means you’ll get a nasty concoction of something called “3-in-1,” which consists of artificial powdered sweetener, artificial powdered creamer, and an artificial powdered coffee-like substance. Other than the hot water, there is little resemblance to actual coffee.
Or, in some restaurants or hotels that are a little bit “higher end,” you can order coffee as we know it in the west, but it’s called “brewed coffee.” While they do go through some brewing process that we might be familiar with, it tastes nothing short of awful.
So when you come across a legitimate coffee shop in Asia, you’ll be ecstatic. Add to that a coffee shop that has
1) Air conditioning
3) Wi-Fi that actually works
4) Wi-Fi that actually works and the employees remember the password
5) REAL coffee
…you’ll be positively rejoicing.
What are your options for such a caffeine oasis? Starbucks has some locations in most major cities and malls in the Philippines, but you’ll also find that they are super crowded, and therefore it’s hard to get a seat, you’ll have to stand in line forever, and the wi-fi gets overloaded. The Coffee Bean is pretty good, too, as is Gloria Jeans, but they are a little harder to find and the quality and amenities less consistent.
So my favorite alternative is Bo’s Coffee. Formed by a Filipino man named Steve Benitez in the city of Cebu in 1996, Bo’s now has 91 locations throughout the country. Of course, they’re well represented in Manila, but they also have plenty of locations in smaller towns and islands.
Bo’s also uses locally sourced farmers for their coffee beans, so you’ll be drinking coffee from the soil of Sagada, Benguet, Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon, MountMatutum in Tupi, South Cotabato, and Mount Apo in the country. But we care a whole lot less about that if the coffee isn’t good, but I’m happy to report that Bo’s is pretty damn tasty.
They have just about everything Starbucks does on the menu (to use that as a standard of comparison), including iced smoothie-type drinks (frappachinos), lattes, teas, etc. No matter where I go, I find their staff to be well-trained, helpful, and diligent. If anything, they’re over staffed, which is convenient because service in the Philippines tends to be extremely poor (you’ll have ten waiters and waitresses standing around chatting and surfing the Internet on their phones but not being attentive to the patrons at all).
Bo’s also has a good bit of personality, with funny and interesting custom mug collections on display, local artwork, holiday posters and decorations, and community bulletin boards. They also have comfort food like Panini sandwiches, omelets, spaghetti, etc. that are sufficient but not amazing), and a good variety of pastries and baked goods.
I will say that Bo’s isn’t cheap, with a medium latte running around 125 Pesos, or $2.50 USD. But Starbucks has the same prices as the U.S. even here in the Philippines (about $3 or more for that same latte).
When I used to live in Cebu city, I would frequent the Bo’s Coffee in IT Park, and the quality, AC, (and wi-fi) were great, and I never had a bad experience. Now that I live in much-smaller Dumaguete where there is no Starbucks, I’m pleased to find a new local Bo’s where I work every day.
It sure beats drinking 3×1 every morning!