Specialty Coffee Makes Its Way to Iloilo City Through Fuel.phMarch 21, 2020
- Mikka WeeWords
We were down to the last few days of 2013. It was December and the air in Iloilo was surprisingly balmy for the season. We held witness to the last wisps of orange as the sun was setting, aboard a tricycle as we zoomed along the rickety road, breathing in nothing but fresh air. “Welcome to Fuel,” my friend Mikeel said as he gestured to what was then a hollowed out space with nothing but dust beneath our feet and some makeshift tables that sported a row of coffee waiting to be cupped.
Mikeel Araña works at Fuel.ph as Marketing and Creative Director, in charge of the branding, media, and graphics of Iloilo’s first-ever specialty coffee shop (he also contributed to Pepper.ph as an illustrator a while back!), which opened last September 15, 2014. While he is the leader of the shop’s visual and image, he is also very much involved in the coffee they serve.
“I think specialty coffee is a fairly new concept to Ilonggos,” he tells me. “Most people’s idea of coffee is still instant coffee or those that come from coffee shop chains. A lot of them expect their coffee to be sweet. But our baristas (or any one of our crew, really) are quite enthusiastic to share their knowledge of specialty coffee to anyone. I think our hand brew bar is the most photographed area of our shop!” he laughs, being quite the talented photographer himself. “Though specialty coffee/third wave coffee is fairly new to our city, we think the people are very receptive in trying out and learning what specialty coffee is all about. I truly believe that the third wave coffee movement is slowly (but surely) making its way in our small yet very progressive city.”
With Iloilo slowly (and unexpectedly) becoming one of the popular local culinary capitals today, it was expected that a specialty coffee shop would open soon. But Mikeel simply wanted to make a difference. “We believe Iloilo City is at the heart of the Philippines. And we see that there are a lot of passionate and creative people here. We want our coffee shop to be a place where they are inspired, encouraged, and provoked to pursue their passion.” This has stemmed from Mikeel’s belief that coffee connects people. “If you wanted to get to know someone, what do you do? You take them out for coffee. At our shop, we want to foster those connections, and usually, they start with conversations over coffee and about coffee. I think one of my favorite experiences at the shop happened at our hand brew bar because people watch as their coffee is being brewed, and the barista gets to talk about coffee, but also beyond coffee. We think Iloilo craves a place like that even though they might not know it just yet.”
“The team who started Fuel.ph was doing youth camps in Iloilo circa 2007-2010. During those times, they were able to talk to Ilonggos and built connections here. It was during that time that they fell in love with the city and its people. It made them want to do something more long term and not just summer camps. They saw the potential of the Ilonggo and they wanted to create a space that enables that.
I think what I enjoy with Fuel and it being a coffee shop is the connections we get to make at the shop. I’ve met quite a lot of interesting people. I would sometimes sit down and talk to them as we share our passions and experiences. I think one big lesson for me is really valuing those connections. A lot of our customers come back, not only because they enjoy our coffee, but also because we are like this community where they can just hang out, and we get to ‘speak life’ into them.”
Chloe, head barista at Fuel.ph shares her experience as well. “As head barista of Fuel.ph and as someone who is a part of the service industry, I learned through countless engagements and encounters with our clients and customers that consistency of quality, having a welcoming environment/culture, and possessing good and genuine customer relationships are what make up the service industry.
“The vital role I play for Fuel.ph is to make sure that we always serve good quality coffee, educate our customers on what specialty coffee is all about and enable our customers to have the ultimate coffee experience.” Mikeel chimes in agreement with Chloe. “I agree with what Chloe said. As someone who work in a third wave coffee shop, I really value excellence and craft. I think it’s really important to create a good experience for customers, too.”
Starting a venture in the food and beverage industry comes with challenges in tow, and Mikeel shares some stories on how Fuel.ph came to be, especially with the pressures that come with being the ‘first’ of the specialty coffee shops to open in Iloilo. “I think our biggest challenge was when two of Fuel’s co-founders, our CEO and PR director, Matthew and Hailey Barr died in a car accident in their vacation in the US back in 2013. We weren’t sure how we could move forward. But we’ve got a lot of support from our community, and we really believe in the vision of Fuel, and we really want to see it happen in our city. We still have a long way to go, but like Walt Disney said, we keep moving forward.
“As the first third wave coffee shop in Iloilo City, it has been quite challenging to educate people on coffee as most of them still think of instant coffee. But slowly, more and more people are catching on. And we’re excited about that.”
Fuel.ph is a huge advocate of local beans, claming to serve 100% Philippine Arabica Coffee that they source out from their partner specialty roaster, La Roasteria. It is their goal to support local products and help develop local communities. “We are currently using a medium roast for our hand brews to highlight more of the vibrant flavor and notes of the coffee, and medium-dark roast for all our espresso based drinks to bring out more of the balanced flavor and body of the espresso. Our beans are all locally sourced from Benguet. Currently, we are serving Tuba beans at our shop. We were previously serving Atok beans.”
I remember a time when Mikeel and I were chatting at the wee hours of the evening. I, banging my head on my kitchen counter trying to write, and he, suffering from an over-caffeinated state thanks to his 9pm cupping. “My personal favorite is our cappuccino,” says Mikeel Every time our baristas calibrate our espresso for the day, they would usually make a cappuccino and I would drink it. Every time they practice their latte art, I get the cappuccino. I sometimes get like three (free) cappuccinos in a day. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Hey, is anybody getting this cappuccino? Thanks!’ I just really love it. Haha!” The guy really loves his coffee now.
We go a long way back, Mikeel and I. We’ve gone camping together at Guimaras and we’ve eaten some freshly caught crabs in an abandoned beach resort with his family. In the years I have known Mikeel, he is one of the most passionate, most driven, and most down-to-earth people I know. We recently caught up with each other during one of his visits in Manila, and my view of him remains unwavered. He carries around a lightness and joy that is extremely contagious, and which I am sure is something that is shared by the Fuel.ph team. It is easy to know the owner of a product based on its output, and for Fuel.ph, this could not have been communicated clearer.
“I have been forced (in a good way) out of my introverted shell and engage more with people who I wouldn’t otherwise naturally converse with. The environment in the shop fosters that outgoingness for me. Like, I’m going to talk to this guy at this table, but wait, he doesn’t know me? Who cares, this is a coffee shop and I work here. Haha! This turned out to be really good because a lot of them turn out to be very fascinating individuals and have been quite inspiring. I think I’ve been more outgoing since. Also, I wasn’t really a coffee drinker before I joined Fuel, but I really started to enjoy and appreciate coffee more. Not just because it is an enjoyable drink, but because of the art and craft and science that goes into it, and the connections that it makes possible.
“Fuel.ph seeks to inspire, encourage, and provoke people to pursue their passion. We built Fuel on coffee, passion, and community. We would really like to see passions and communities come alive in Iloilo, and we believe that as a coffee shop, we enable that to happen.”
Have you been to Fuel.ph? What do you feel about the introduction of specialty coffee to the Ilonggo market? Tell us your thoughts with a comment below!
Address: Iloilo Jaro West Diversion Road, Mandurriao, Iloilo City, Iloilo