For many people, coffee is the only way to be useful in the morning. It’s a reasonably benign way to kickstart our brains, and throughout the day, offers a great way to step away from work for a minute, collect our thoughts, and keep from drooling all over ourselves at our desks.
For Taks Arguelles though, it’s become much more than that. After developing a taste for specialty coffee, he jumped right into the deep end, becoming part owner of a small, third-wave shop, and making a cup of coffee that won him first place in the recently concluded Philippine Aeropress Championship. Now gearing up as the official Philippine representative in the World Aeropress Championship in London this November, we got a chance to speak with Taks, and take a quick look at how he got from dabbling in specialty coffee, to national champion.
Taks’ interest started in 2012, after graduating from College. At the time, EDSA Beverage Design Group was open to the general public, and anyone could head in and have a cocktail or specialty coffee. At that point, third wave coffee was just starting to gain traction in the country, and Taks had little more interest in it than the next person. A cup of coffee from Arvee, EDSA’s resident barista at the time, revealed coffee as a much more complex drink than he had given it credit for.
As a side note, Taks mentioned, that first cup was done in an Aeropress—a device that was getting a lot ofattention in the coffee world for being able to produce exceptional cups without a lot of
“It was interesting,” Taks shared. “There were so many complex flavors in that first cup—flavors that I didn’t think could be present in coffee, like hints of sweet fruit, caramel, and citrus,” he continued. At that point, he decided to try it for himself.
A purist in many things, Taks’ own foray into the world of specialty coffee started with pour-overs “because I felt that was ‘pure,’” he admitted with a hint of embarassment.
It was there he learned firsthand that making coffee could be a lot more rewarding than just running a percolator, or going instant.
“There are so many parameters to consider. There’s grind size, water temperature, pour
rates—and all of those change how your cup turns out. For me, it was rewarding to be able to change a few things, and get different flavors from same batch of beans.”
From there, he embarked on the seemingly simple quest of getting the flavors he wanted.
“It was a bit like the scientific method, but a lot less scientific,” he laughed. “I wasn’t taking notes or anything, but I knew what I was changing, and I changed one thing at a time, basically trying to get a consistent brew.”
Taks went on to explain that getting repeatable results wasn’t easy, but the quest was increasingly rewarding. “I was basically just brewing for myself, and that hunt for consistency made me keep trying, even though it wasn’t always the best. I had an idea what I was after. Sometimes, all the changes brought me back to the start, which was frustrating, yes, but also made me more
determined to get what I was after.”
“I didn’t take any classes or anything, but I did have a lot of knowledgeable friends, some of whom were actual third-wave baristas by trade, and I learned a lot from them,” he elaborated.
He first decided to join the Philippine Aeropress Championship last year, in 2018. To prepare, he looked at previous recipes, and went with the winning one from 2017; the year prior. It was reasonably simple, and despite his relative inexperience, he managed to get as far as the semis, giving him the determination to try again.
For this year’s competition, he decided not to change a winning formula, and tried the
competition beans with the parameters that won the world championship in 2018; the year he joined. “I didn’t like the result,” he laughed, “so I decided to try something I knew I did enjoy, which was again the winning recipe from 2017.” Much to his delight, it worked great, if a little too bright, so he drew on the experience that had built itself into a solid foundation. After changing some parameters, he managed to bring out a sweetness that he felt could give him a fighting chance.
He was right.
Round after round, his modified recipe saw him past more and more participants, until he found himself in the finals. When we asked him if he thought he would get that far, let alone take home the trophy, he referred us to the photo taken right at the point the winner was announced. “I had no idea I would get that far.”
Now, Taks is going to represent the country in the World Aeropress Championship in London at the end of the year, where he will be facing the best brewers from all over the world, to try and brew the perfect cup of coffee and put our country on the map in his own small way.
Until then, you can find him at the cafe he co-owns. 9/3 Cafe is located at 75B, Rosa Alvero, Loyola Heights, just off of Katipunan. One of the few remaining specialty coffee joints in the area, they offer great food, and specialty coffee, as well as special coffee blends that cater to people who might just be getting started with coffee. Anyone who wants to learn about coffee can also ask anyone behind the bar for a little extra knowledge, and if they want to consider going down the same path, the cafe also offers seminars ranging from basic brewing, to more advanced techniques, depending on the customer’s own knowledge level. Head over for a nice cup of coffee, but stay for the conversation, friends, and maybe even a boardgame or two.
As for advice to people wanting to try their own coffee journey, the champion has a few tips. “Find good coffee, and try different types from different places. You’ll find out what you like, and figure it out from there. You can get a great cup of coffee with simple tools.”
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2019 Issue
Words by Ren Alcantara | Photos by Chini Soriano