TJE 38: A New Journey

The Journeying Engineer pouring Chemex coffee to a Chemex mug


Did you think of coffee right after? No surprise there, coffee is the main source of that unregulated stimulant. I was first drawn to coffee by the need to stay awake. However, I realized there’s more to it than just caffeine. And I subscribed to coffee after liking it for what it was, and stayed after seeing the endless possibilities. I’d like to look at it as a world worth exploring. And I’m embarking on a new journey into that world.

In this 3-part post, I would like to tell the story of how I started, what ignited the passion, and the first steps to the journey.

Part 1: The Introduction

Pretty late into drinking coffee, I started in 2010 with the instant, 3-in-1 packs, available for free at the office. I just transferred to a new job. And that time, I didn’t opt to get an apartment nearby, so I had a long commute to and from home. Thus, I got sleepy in most days, that I sought the help of coffee. It was fine at the beginning, but later on, I did not like how sweet the beverage was. So, still with instant coffee, I started drinking black. I could tolerate that immediately, since I was already a fan of dark chocolate. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good start.

Several months after, I left the Philippines. As some of you know, I lived in Korea for a few years. This was where, for the first time, I started ordering black coffee at coffee shops. It was an influence by the people around. A lot of Koreans would order Caffè Americano in any of the abundant coffee shops – local, foreign, big or small. Iced Americano became a favorite, and it carried on till I came back to the Philippines.

TJE 38 01
Coffee is everywhere in Seoul, Korea.  A lot of small coffee shops such as one named “Standing Coffee”, because you basically get coffee for take out, can be found

Even before I drank coffee, I already enjoyed going to coffee shops especially with friends. With different cliques, stories, rants and laughter were shared. And by the time I went to coffee shops as a real coffee drinker, I started to imagine owning a cafe. Even if it was a common business, I still liked the idea just because of the social experience and good memories I associate with it.

TJE 38 02
Friends share stories, get serious, or goof around in coffee shops.  Good memories are formed while drinking coffee.  Seoul, August 2011

Part 2: The Catalyst 

For a few years, I was that: a corporate man, frequently getting a cup of black coffee in coffee shops. When I went back to the Philippines, that habit still continued. Though sometimes, I would get free brewed coffee from the pantry.   It wasn’t good, but practical.

One trip changed it all.

TJE 38 03
Halong Bay, in northern Vietnam, March 2016

In March 2016, I went to Hanoi, Vietnam with friends from college. (That’s a travel backlog I still have to encapsulate). I went there looking forward to the nature outside of the city, forgetting that it’s a country with a big coffee culture. And so I was amazed by the abundance of coffee – good coffee. I was even guilty of enjoying civet coffee, which most likely came from caged animals, overfed with coffee cherries. Sorry world!

TJE 38 04
Coffeeee at Anan – the shop in Hanoi, where I bought a pack of coffee to be enjoyed after the trip.  They gave me a free Vietnam drip with the purchase.

I definitely bought coffee for enjoyment back home. Good thing I received a free Vietnam drip from the store where I purchased the pack. So on the first working day after the trip, I brought them to the office and prepared my own coffee. It was great!

So everyday, until the pack’s contents ran out, I prepared my own coffee. It just gave me good vibes every time. So I thought, “this is good.” And I started looking for new brewing equipment. One particularly caught my attention: Chemex. It’s beautiful, and as a chemical engineer, the fact that a chemist invented it, made me like it more.

The circumstances favored me, as my cousin was in the US for vacation, at the time I was salivating at this thing of beauty. I requested her to buy the Chemex for me, as they don’t deliver outside the US sans Canada. And she did. When it finally arrived, I was just ecstatic.

TJE 38 05
That day when I tried the Chemex for the first time – happy me. May 2016

So I started becoming nerdy about coffee, reading about it and preparing it almost every day. I would sometimes prepare more than one cup and share coffee to my colleagues.   And during the weekend at my hometown, I would share coffee to the family. The social experience just makes coffee making better.

TJE 38 08
Christmas Eve 2016, preparing coffee for the family.

Part 3: The Journey Begins 

I have a close friend who I’ve been talking to, about putting up a business together. We had a first idea, but that didn’t push through. With the enthusiasm I had over the great drink that is coffee, I started thinking about having a café more frequently. And my friend witnessed this enthusiasm, and so when we talked again about putting up a business together, it was about coffee.

In the second half of 2016, we started researching together for a business plan. We would talk from time to time after office, to develop the plan. Later on, we decided to take barista classes, so we can learn the skill, and know more. It was a good decision, because more than just skill development, we learned a lot about other things, which would probably take us longer to realize, had we only studied on our own.

TJE 38 06
The first good cappuccino I prepared in Barista 101 class.  September 2016

As a side note, the barista class introduced me to other brewing methods, and one new favorite stood out: the Aeropress. And I acquired one as soon as I can.

TJE 38 07
Aeropress – a favorite brewing equipment

So there, we had basic skills, sort of had the money, sort of had a plan, and it was up to us to realize the dream.

We both had day jobs that we weren’t ready to give up yet. Thus, our pace was quite slow. Even in days when we weren’t busy in the day job, it would be hard to come up with ideas or take action because after office hours, we felt spent. And when people asked us, “when are you going to open your business?” We would answer, “Next year, in the first quarter.” We couldn’t give a specific month even. We were making progress, nonetheless.

At the tail end of 2016, we were able to register our company, and then buy the most important equipment: the espresso machine. We initially bought coffee and other ingredients to experiment. Basically, in spite of the slow start, we were hopeful when the year ended.

Then an unexpected thing happened at the start of this year, 2017. I lost my job. The company I was working for, closed. However, instead of feeling down, I just saw it as an opportunity to give more time to the business. At least one of us could devote a whole day, and that made a difference.

We launched this March. And we were pleased to have booked four events, for starters. We are a mobile/events coffee shop: Palakape Co.

TJE 38 09
At one of the events we set up, March 2017

Now I’m living the start-up life, expecting challenging times ahead. My funds are dwindling, what with all the monthly payments I still have, apart from basic living expenses. But you know what, I am embracing this moment.

I have dove in a new world, different from where I came from. For ten years, I was in the Energy sector, the Oil & Gas industry for the most part. Now, I am in the coffee business. It is mostly regarded as a food and beverage, or service industry. I am indeed serving people. But coffee is complex. And there are many things to explore about it – at least I believe. I said in the barista class during the practical exam, “For every cup of coffee, there is a chemical and travel story.” And that basically sums up my enthusiasm for the subject. I am a chemical engineer (still!), I love traveling, and I can link the profession and the interest to coffee. Hopefully, I can integrate them. That’s the new dream. And this is the new journey.

TJE 38 11
At one event where I saw and served many former colleagues; such a happy moment it was.  March 2017
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