Manila may be a fast-paced, overwhelming city, but it sure knows how to slow down. Nestled among its hospitals, universities, and offices are cozy cafés you can lounge in–and, if you really must, sneak in an email or two.
As with most cities in the metro who have seen a recent surge of coffee shops popping in just about every corner, Manila boasts its own trendy coffee scene, with some establishments carefully crafting brews even before the pandemic. Here’s a guide to Manila cafés to take note of on your next visit to the city.
1850 M. H. Del Pilar St., Malate
Open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM to 9PM
Blocleaf Café is your friendly neighborhood coffee shop. Reymart Cerin and his blockmates opened the café back in 2017. The group dreamt of starting a plant-inspired furniture line, which eventually turned into blueprints of a coffee shop when a friend offered a vacant space for them to rent. Another set of friends from Kalsada Coffee set them on the path to coffee brewing, and the rest is history. Cerin and his friends were still able to make furniture, which now occupy their very own café.
Every inch of Blocleaf was slowly pieced together from Cerin’s and the rest of the co-owners’ belongings: from the plants peppering the space, the radio sitting by the cash register, to the collection of magazines sitting under a long table. Needless to say, Blocleaf is very much lived in. It’s easy to feel right at home surrounded by the things the owners love. Cerin says this is the exact vision they had in mind when they started bringing in their own personal trinkets. “When you design a space according to how you want people to experience it, everything just falls into place,” he says as he gestures to the knickknacks in the café they’ve collected over the years.
Even the menu was developed from their own cooking and baking creations. Try the buttery soft, single-origin chocolate cookies, which you can pair with Orosa, a cup of honeycomb latte. Or you may go for the Biscoff latte called Adriatico and you’re all set with a great pick-me-up for a busy day. Blocleaf also has a selection of noodle bowls and sandwiches if you need something more filling.
Latitude Bean + Bar
1851 Pilar Hidalgo Lim, Malate
Open on Monday, 11AM to 7PM (coffee only); and Tuesday to Sunday, 11AM to 11PM
You’d expect to hear snazzy tunes when you walk into Latitude Bean + Bar. The place exudes a modern industrial coolness, with leather-upholstered seats, deep navy walls, and vintage cameras populating its shelves. The interiors beckon you to sit down and have a drink, which could be a bad idea when you come by the café too early; it’s not a speakeasy—well, not yet. Latitude serves coffee and breakfast during the daytime, and then cocktails and beers by evening.
The concept is the brainchild of five neighbors in Malate who share a love for travel, hence the name of the establishment. The owners occasionally bring home single-origin beans they've purchased from their trips abroad. Co-owner Michelle May Ong says she and her partners hope to inspire wanderlust among their neighborhood, especially now that people are able to go out and explore again. “[Latitude] is like a hidden gem. Wala siya sa malls, so people find peace and quiet here,” she proudly says.
When you visit, ask for the Dusk till Dawn, a sweet strawberry lemonade and butterfly pea drink that settles into a beautiful gradient in the glass resembling the Manila Bay sunset. The strawberry basil soda is also a must-try with its punchy herbal flavor. For your caffeine fix, go for the delightfully creamy cinnamon oat latte. Latitude’s menu is just as diverse as its owners' travels. It features a wide selection of cakes, pastries, and snacks, making it hard to choose a favorite. But if you were to pick one, make it the truffle pizza or the kimchi tuna melt.
Escolta Coffee Company
G/F First United Building, 413 Escolta St, Binondo
Open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM to 5PM
Escolta Coffee Company is a coffee roaster that opened last August 2022. It traces its origins to Kalsada Coffee, a company that champions fair trade and organic coffee business models. “Ngayon, may makikita [tayong] collaborations between roasters and cafés,” says Maricar Ricardo, the establishment’s administrative manager on the growing local coffee scene. “We’re very open to competition, we learn from them, they learn from us, and it’s actually what’s good for the coffee industry. As long as iisa ang vision niyo for the coffee industry, magtutulungan talaga kayo,”
You can be assured that the bag of beans you plan to take home is freshly roasted. A 200-gram pack starts at P470. Don’t worry if you can’t make up your mind about which kind of beans to get, the staff of Escolta Coffee Company are on hand to help you decide which bag best suits your preferred brewing.
G/F First United Building, 413 Escolta St, Binondo
Open daily,10AM to 6PM
Inside the First United Building on Escolta, past a sleek barber shop and a store that sells thrifted clothes by the kilo, you'll find The Den sitting on the ground floor right beside Escolta Coffee Company.
If the building were a body, then the café would be its heart. The Den is a casual and relaxed space where some of Manila’s most creative minds hang out over coffee and filling meals. The Den also serves another interesting concept: It’s a hub that promotes a cultural experience. Their concrete walls and floors are backdrops for a rotating art exhibit that changes every few months. On showcase (as of this writing) is a series of art installations called Phantasmogoria by Marco Ortiga. Sculptures made of shards of mirror sit on chairs and tables, inviting café patrons to peer inside and take pictures. On one wall is a mechanical installment of moving mirrors that reflect light on the tabletops like a disco ball.
When you’re done exploring the café, sit down with a glass of The Berg’s, a coffee beverage made with muscovado sugar and coconut milk. The drink is inspired by Berg’s Department Store which was once a popular shopping haven on Escolta. If you’re craving for something savory, order the Thicc Spam & Egg Sandwich, and you’re set for the rest of the day
The Library Café
G/F Ramon Magsaysay Building, Roxas Blvd., Malate
Open from Sunday to Thursday, 7AM to 8PM and from Friday to Saturday, 7AM to 10PM
The Library Café is simple yet sophisticated. It’s a small space that sits inside the library of the Ramon Magsaysay Center along Roxas Boulevard. The cozy space can fit 10 customers at most. It’s modest, yes, but not every café needs to seat a crowd—this particular one provides a kind of solace that’s rare in the hectic city.
Leather seats line three booths facing the Ramon Magsaysay Laureates Library. Each nook is lit by a drop light, making the whole scene look like it was lifted straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. There are more seats al fresco for those who want to sip their cup of coffee and bask in the handsome building designed by famous brutalist architect Arturo J. Luz. Architect Gaston Lorenzo Pastrano worked on the chic café interiors. The design principle is simple: comfort while having coffee with friends and colleagues. The place, albeit low-profile, is very much dignified.
Gourmet Farms, one of the pioneers in organic farming in the Philippines, handles food and beverage. Try the Spanish latte or the signature cooler, which can easily become your favorite. Pair either drink with the pistachio sans rival, which is hands down the star of the show, its buttery-sweet flavor balanced by a generous helping of pistachios.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the 2022 print issue of Made in Manila, commissioned by the Department of Trade, Culture, and Arts of Manila (DTCAM) for the City of Manila. Edits were made for the GRID website.