The Whole Nine Yards: How Yardstick Plans to Save You from Mediocre CoffeeMarch 2, 2014
A good cup of brewed coffee is like a Sunday afternoon, comforting yet invigorating, familiar yet inviting. It’s no wonder why so many people get addicted. For the more serious caffeine junkies among us, their coffee habit has long ceased being about merely getting a quick fix. They want something more, something more personal. It’s a yearning that’s rarely remedied by a visit to any of the half-a-dozen franchised cafes standing at almost every corner.
Yardstick Coffee is located over on the cozier side of Legazpi Village, Makati.
Thankfully, the so-called Third Wave Coffee Movement has arrived in the Philippines to serve the needs of those looking for something more in their daily cups of joe. They serve coffee that’s clearly not targeted for the lowest common denominator, but to those who appreciate the story that lurks behind their caffeine-filled orders. Riding the crest of this wave is Yardstick Coffee, a café located over on the cozier side of Legazpi Village, Makati.
At first glance, Yardstick’s massive size can be overwhelming. However, even before entering the place, customers are given a full view of the many espresso and daily brew machines that will soon prepare their coffees. If you happen to look puzzled or uncertain while in line, perhaps you’re unsure of which drinks to order during your stay, you’ll quickly be personally approached either by a member of the friendly staff or by Andre Chanco himself, one of Yardstick’s co-founders. They’ll happily and expertly guide you through Yardstick’s many possible menu choices.
Yardstick aims to understand what its customers want and need, something that can sometimes be difficult. “It’s easier said than done, “ Andre admits, “but we try [our best] to read the person. Is he or she escaping the heat outside? Does he or she want a break? Does he or she know coffee and does he or she want to be engaged?”
“If the customer comes in [to the store] a third time, we talk about the coffee more.”
The company is careful not to overwhelm its customers, however, though this sometimes requires a delicate balancing act. “If a customer walks in the first time,” Andre explains, “I just serve the coffee. If a customer returns, I might ask how he finds the coffee today. If the customer comes in a third time, we talk about the coffee more.”
“Instead of a push, it’s about driving curiosity and engaging [their interest].”
It’s a slow but effective introduction into the immersive experience of coffee drinking. This approach also shows the company’s attention to detail. “[A third or second] visit means we have already passed the taste test.” The customer is then ready to explore, they’ve become more observant of the different flavor notes that happen to be in the coffee. “Instead of a push, it’s about driving curiosity and engaging [their interest],” he continues. Yardstick makes sure their customers get to that place, where a deeper appreciation for the coffee develops, at their own pace.
The café’s menu is simple. They offer a straightforward Black (PHP 120) and White (PHP 140) from the gleaming espresso machines visible from outside. If you’re after the specialty coffee experience, the trained staff manually makes a variety of coffees for the more discerning customer. Common choices include the Daily Brew (PHP 100) and Hand Brew (PHP 160), the latter made in smaller sets than the former.
If the day is especially hot, there’s the 12-Hour Cold Brew (PHP 160) and the Cold Brew with Milk (PHP 160). Aside from the presence of dairy, the main difference between the two lies in the coffee concentration. The 12-Hour Cold Brew is for those who take their coffee black but still want a refreshing taste. It’s less concentrated than the Cold Brew with Milk, but it still delivers that much needed caffeinated edge. The Cold Brew with Milk, on the other hand, is much stronger, with the coffee flavor front and center of the experience. The milk is used to balance the brew while offering a naturally sweet taste—an organic union that keeps each component identifiable with every sip, and yet also complementary.
Serving coffee in the café is but one of the three pillars that supports Yardstick.
The café business, however, is just the front of this young coffee company. It serves as the bait, the place that offers that first taste and gets people started on their coffee journey. “Yardstick is really [about] coffee supply,” Andre explains. “First, we roast our own coffee. Second, we are coffee machine distributors. We distribute two of the best machines in the world, the La Marzocco and the Rocket Espresso. Third, there’s the school, where we train both home owners and baristas.”
The three pillars that support the Yardstick partly explain the coffee house’s large space. There are more than enough tables for coffee drinkers to enjoy their drink, but they can easily view what’s going on at the back when workshops are held. At the same time, there’s enough space for potential buyers to test out the coffee machines. Both serve as effective advertisements to entice future customers.
The design plan of the shop’s interiors actually only came after they first saw the size of the space available in their spot along Esteban Street. “It was more of, the site was massive; so let’s work around it.” Given the chance, Andre admits, he prefers the intimacy of a small space. A bigger space, though, has a higher chance of attracting random people into walking in.
“We looked at all the pictures of popular roasters and cafes and purposely did the opposite. We looked at art galleries and museums [instead].”
When it came to coming up with the aesthetic, the team refused to follow the popular trends that are currently in style. “We looked at all the pictures of popular roasters and cafes and purposely did the opposite. We looked at art galleries and museums [instead].” The influence is obvious, apart from the lack of dividers in Yardstick, the interiors are illuminated with bounce up lights and there’s hardly anything on the walls, be it artwork or quirky poster. The pipes on the ceiling are left exposed and the floor layout leaves one free to roam from one area into another.
Singapore Management University alumna Andre Chanco, Kevin Tang, and Jessica Lee are the ones who came up with Yardstick, a direct result of their common passion for coffee and their dream to run their very own restaurant.
“We were just timing Manila two and a half years ago,” Andre elaborates. “And at that time, neither we nor the city were ready. We also didn’t want to be just another coffee trend. But we could feel what was happening in Manila because of the many Filipinos coming to Singapore.”
“We’re not saying we’re the best way or that we’re the right way. We’re just trying to set an example on how it can be done.
At the time, Singapore’s coffee culture happened to be greatly influenced by Australia’s own experience with the Third Wave Movement. Visiting Filipinos were not immune. Some expressed interest in opening a café similar to the coffee shops in Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta. The fear, however, was that they didn’t really know how difficult it would be to implement such an endeavor—particularly the roasting and sourcing demands of such a business. It made sense for Yardstick to step in, educate, and assist these potential coffee houses in their goal to serve good coffee.
The desire to be the benchmark, the yardstick of how coffee is roasted, served, prepared, sourced, and executed is the main reason behind their name. “We’re not saying we’re the best way or that we’re the right way. We’re just trying to set an example on how it can be done,” Andre explains.
Setting the bar begins with the way the company sources their coffee. “Our philosophy is based on quality. Although our coffee options have awards, a point system, and come from famous farms, we always taste them from the table blind.” The beans they purchase from the world’s coffee belt (the space between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn) are chosen according to three criteria. “[It has to be] something that fits into our coffee program, something that we like ourselves, and something the customers might like.” Andre admits these are very broad criteria, but fulfilling all of them assures a pass on the quality test. Traceability is equally important. “Knowing where the coffee came from and how it’s processed will affect how we roast the coffee, how we brew the coffee, and how we serve it.”
The Yardstick Academy of Resource and Development exists to make sure these exacting standards infiltrate local cafés and restaurants.
The company’s school, the Y.A.R.D. (The Yardstick Academy of Resource and Development) exists to make sure these exacting standards infiltrate local cafés and restaurants. Customers who want to achieve a similar taste at home can enroll in any of their Home Workshop courses. The usual suspects in these classes are often groups of friends looking for a new kind of hang out. Their Professional Courses, on the other hand, are suitable for current and future café owners, managers, and baristas that need to learn what it takes to run a café or specialty coffee bar.
“We like to keep the classes small; the maximum is eight for the professional. But even with a group of four, you run into the chance of one having [a good] experience while the other three don’t.” Keeping the class small enables equal opportunity in learning. The classes also encourage independent thinking. “The idea behind it is that, regardless of what coffee, what machine, where you are, what café you work for, you have the right background to make coffee better and a deep understanding of the drink regardless of what tools you have.” The Y.A.R.D is not one to spoon feed and expect everyone to follow a “sure fire formula.” The company hopes to make people think when they make coffee and how they can make the product better.
“The vision is for us to be present in different restaurants, cafes, hotels, and offices. Only then can I say we’ve done our job.”
It’s Andre’s hope that all the coffee tasted elsewhere will soon share a similar high level of quality and be made with the same intricate care Yardstick has to offer. “The vision is for us to be present in different restaurants, cafes, hotels, and offices either through our machines, our coffee, and/or our training. Only then can I say we’ve done our job,” he declares. It’s a lofty goal, but we certainly can’t wait to see them succeed.