El Union Coffee: That Surftown Café That Served Coffee for Martha Stewart
El Union Coffee has been serving specialty coffee in La Union since 2013, before it was the tourist draw that it is today. Back then, husband-and-wife owners Kiddo and Amy Cosio were operating from a tiny shop that used to be a rice stall. Nowadays, they’re the main attraction at The Great Northwest Travel Stop, a lifestyle collective of foodie establishments that droves of yuppie and millennial weekend travellers make their way to the surftown for. For a taste – quite literally – of the beachside experience that El Union Coffee has created, the pre-dominant Manila folk and seasonal surf nomad can have a cup of Nitro Cold Brew on draft, or a signature Dirty Horchata, their recipe of the rice-milk based drink with a shot of espresso.
In that shot of espresso, though, El Union has kept the heart of third wave coffee. “From [coffee] tree to cup,” says Amy, “How do we honor the people who do this?” El Union has been sourcing local quality beans from farmers in the Cordilleras, Benguet, Mt. Apo, Cagayan De Oro, and Bukidnon. They roast the beans in their own roaster and lab, putting them in blends with the best of Panama, Brazil, and Ethiopia. “El Union is all about coffee in the service of humans. We try to tell this story in every way we can,” says Kiddo, “From the joyful and balanced work culture at our home café, to our customer service goals, to how we buy the highest quality Filipino coffees at the true cost of production (read: expensive), directly from our valued producers, without middlemen.”
This narrative runs in the background of the day-to-day business. At the forefront, at no one’s fault or detriment, is the hip open-air café atmosphere in what could be your grandmother’s old provincial home. El Union, after all, is made up of lovers, not fighters. They are every bit the Instagram-worthy and influencers’ haven that it appears to be, a brand as sexy as their #ShirtlessBaristas, and as authentic as the hard work they put in to “get there.” They are making good coffee that uses high quality local beans for an otherwise second wave coffee drinker that is used to sweet frappucinos – and that’s okay. “We believe that after you’ve had good coffee, you don’t go back,” jests Amy, and that’s their way of making tiny waves of change in the consumer mindset. On a scale that does deserve credit, however, this not-so-tiny shop in surftown did recently serve coffee to Martha Stewart, and represent the Philippines at the world’s largest trade expo this year. Thanks to the support of the Department of Tourism through Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, whom they met at the Cordillera Heritage Coffee Youth Camp during her Department of Agriculture days, El Union has gone on to showcase their expertise on a wider scale. They worked together during the first Madrid Fusion Manila, and have since regularly participated in the Philippine Harvest Market held at Central Square BGC. This year, they joined the DOT at the ITB Berlin.
“We considered it a privilege to be able to serve Filipino coffee and cocktails to a large international audience, and alongside some people who have helped blaze the trail for our younger generation – people like Gaita Fores [who catered the food], and in a pavilion designed by Kenneth Cobonpue,” says Kiddo. Alongside his partner Sly Samonte – water sommelier, back-to-back Barista Champion, and board member of the Philippine Coffee Guild – Kiddo takes pride in “serving some of the best Philippine coffee ever produced, to a lot of people a day, and being given the platform to share the story of our producers who are the real champions of the story.” The headline coffee at the ITB was from Sitio Naguey in Benguet, produced by Kalsada Coffee, which El Union roasted and also served to Martha Stewart during her visit to the Philippines. “It’s always surreal serving people you’ve only read about or seen on the news. I always find it funny serving proper, dressed up audiences in classy spaces like the Natural History Museum, which was opened exclusively for the event,” shares Kiddo, “It’s in a very high contrast to our hometown crowd up in LU, which is usually beach-going, dressed-down millennials and younger!”
When the weekends do roll in, El Union can serve over 100 cups of coffee in just a couple of hours. Many of their customers don’t ask where the beans are from, and some still opt for the sweet beverage (for which there is the Cold Brew Latte, which tastes like melted coffee ice cream in a drink!), but when business is good for the café, they are able to support the farmers and producers that help supply the 20 kilograms of coffee that they go through every week. Whether knowingly or not, El Union’s loyal patronage pays the price for the progress in the local coffee industry, while getting the value of not just an enjoyable time at the beach, but also a great cup of coffee while they’re at it.
El Union Coffee is located at The Great Northwest Travel Stop & Viewing Deck, MacArthur Highway, Brgy. Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union.
El Union Cofee is open on weekdays between 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m, and weekends from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Get in touch with El Union Coffee via Instagram @elunion.