Hanging Out with Kiddo Cosio, the Man Behind La Union’s Hipster Coffee Shop

The north swell is in. Surf’s up, and most weekends are blocked off for the waves. We’re 6 girls cramped inside a van. Eyelids half-shut, heads bobbing up and down, half-dreaming, half-awake. We pass by San Fernando, and the familiar-looking fast-food joints and banks start fading into a background blur as tree-sprawled roads and a glimpse of blue greet us after almost 6 hours on the road. We’ve finally arrived at San Juan, La Union.

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I warned Kiddo a week before our arrival. “Haha, dude you better be prepared for next weekend! We’re ordering grilled cheese sandwiches in massive amounts, plus indoor s’mores and a few cookie skillets,” I texted.

His reply arrived swiftly. “Hahaha. Damn it, Mikka! Those grilled sandwiches are gonna be the death of me!”

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I met Kiddo Cosio about 2 years ago at a shoot with Fully Booked. Back then, he was the guy behind a camera, having a conversation with us about our favorite books, and we connected through our shared obsession for Alexander Supertramp and Into the Wild. Today, he stands behind the counter of El Union Coffee, a one-man show brewing coffee while slathering maple bacon jam and butter on what will become one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches you’ll ever have.

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Kiddo and the Great Outdoors

“So, how’s Manila?” he asks me. Kiddo’s always been drawn to the water and to the outdoors. Growing up, he’d always sneak in time to head to the beach and catch some waves. “I grew up in Hong Kong. The pace is so much faster than in Manila and a whole different level of urban. Yeah, a lot of people think Hong Kong’s just for shopping and all that, but there’s a different side to it, too—a rich outdoor life, which where most of my best childhood memories revolve around. I used to head up to Benguet for missions work, and I’d always use it as an opportunity to drop by here for surf. I’d rent a kubo by the beach for the night, you know, things you learn from Into the Wild, and hit the waves first thing in the morning before heading down to Manila.

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“My wife (Amy) and I, we just wanted to give our kids something from what we had. We used to spend 25% of our time in La Union. Now, it’s the reverse. Most of our time is spent here now—25% in Manila. We do it mostly for the kids. It’s good for them,” he tells me.

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“The outdoors really shape them,” he continues. “It makes them more physical as human beings. Being around travelers and backpackers makes them really comfortable around adults.”

On Coffee Being an Enhanced Human Experience More Than Anything

“I think we’re under the risk of being self-serving if we forget that coffee is a beautiful and wonderful crop. It’s actually more than that—it’s also a vehicle for enhancing the human experience. It’s not about being more spectacular than others—it’s spectacular on its own in terms of flavor. And the process! It’s very humbling to see people labor to make it good. At the end of the day, it’s about that farmer having an enriched life. It’s about the person making the coffee having a job and enjoying his work.

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“I think that if the idea of enjoying coffee is reduced to snobbery, then that’s masturbatory. It’s self-serving and screwed up. Coffee is a personal experience. It’s subjective. You can’t tell someone that Monet is better than Van Gogh—they’re two completely different animals. With coffee, it falls under the discipline of culinary arts, it’s an art; certain things are subjective. If someone wants his coffee sweeter, you take it personally, you immediately think you’re a bad roaster when you’re really not. You can’t tell someone ‘this is how you’re going to enjoy your coffee because I kick ass’. I mean, you’re not freaking Jiro, and even then, he’s got his own path—he’s not going to appeal to everyone either, right?”

Life in the Union

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“Living in La Union has given me the same effect as coffee—an enhanced experience as a human being. I know lots of people love the urban life; growing up in the city and carrying that buzz around. But if you’re looking for a life by the ocean, near the water…a life where it’s not about the hustle and bustle, a life where you can finish work and go for a surf (and surf before work), then this is the place for you. Everything is 10 minutes away. The beach is a minute away.

“The turning point came while I was driving during Christmas season in 2011. I was stuck in traffic for 3 hours, and all I wanted to do was to spend time with my daughter Cady. And in my head, if I spent 3 hours stuck in traffic every day for a week, that’s 21 hours spent in traffic—21 hours I’m never gonna get back. I could’ve spent it with my daughter. That’s what made me move to L.U.

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“I’d like to think it’s a reimagined concept of an accomplished Filipino’s life. The definition of success nowadays is based on a new house, a new car, the figures you make in a month. There are just some things you cannot buy.”

“Living Here has Made Me Love Manila More”

“Now, I go home once a month. And when I do, it’s a treat! I appreciate being able to watch a good movie with a good sound system…a good ice cream cone. Those are some of the things you can’t get here yet. I used to grumble a lot about Manila, but now it kicks ass. I’ll enjoy it when I can. The air-conditioned places, the architecture, the new restaurants… I think the common mistake most people in Manila make is that because they’re so into it, they whine about it. But reality is, we’ve never had a more vibrant food scene in Metro Manila than we have today—it’s gotten so much better.”

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Kiddo tells me that living in La Union has made him appreciate home even more. “Manila is my hometown, and I’m always proud of it. I always brag about Manila—and I love it! Being here enriches your art. It’s like you come home refereshed.” And perhaps, this is why La Union has its share of repeat backpackers and travelers.

The point of travel is that you’re always going to need a home. And with this whole existentialist crisis of finding home, travel helps chisel our perspective and point us towards the right direction—or at least, give us a sense of it. A lot of us bitch about home, but maybe, all we need to do is to take a trip away, breathe in the fresh air of the great outdoors, and listen to the slow rustle of the wind and the crashing of the waves. This is exactly what La Union does—it enriches the soul. You always come home with fresh eyes.

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23 Responses

  1. Awesome article. I am definitely checking this place out on my next trip to san juan! Thanks for posting this! 🙂

  2. “I think that if the idea of enjoying coffee is reduced to snobbery, then that’s masturbatory.”


    1. Thanks so much, BB Babz! I’m glad it touched you in a similar way writing this pieces has touched me. 🙂 And yes!! Make that trip soon. Swell’s up so surf should be good

  3. Miss you, Mikka! Great article! Just remembered my first few conversations with, Kiddo. Looking forward to the next one! 🙂 see you both soon!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Andi! I miss you, too. 🙁 I remember when we went here for V-day. :p That seemed so long ago – which means, we should head back together soon! 😉 Cheers to more adventures!

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