For love of good coffee: Five Los Baños friends put up a wifi-less café — and they’re not sorry


The coffee lovers behind Siento Café (from left): Dr. Ronald Soriano, Arllet Portugal, Meggy Lou Katimbang, Vida Grace Sinohin, Manuel Marcaida, III

LET’S get this out of the way first: The coffee shop does not have wifi. It’s not because its owners couldn’t afford to install one. It’s not that they loathe the sight of customers hunched before their laptops, crowding the place, making it look like an internet cafe. No, none of those.

It’s because, according to its manager, they want to encourage customers to engage in conversation with each other. And conversations usually go well with coffee, which is what Siento Café is all about.

The genesis of Siento Café began with planning sessions that are made for fun — over coffee, of course — between friends from the University of the Philippines Los Baños during their undergraduate years in the early 2000s. More than 10  years later, the cafe that they put up a year ago is now gaining popularity among the members of the UPLB community who recognize it as a source of good coffee.

The V60 coffee, Siento Cafe’s pride. (Photo by Leobel Colona/Lifestyle Laguna)

Manuel Marcaida, III, 35,  met his four co-owners — Dr. Ronaldo Soriano, Vida Grace Sinohin, Meggy Lou Katimbang, and Arllet Portugal — while finishing his undergraduate studies in UPLB. They first met while attending the Lakas Angkan Ministry, an evangelical organization.  The group immediately bonded over a lot of things, their love for coffee being one of them.

Every time the group got together, they would joke about creating a coffee shop that will offer the menu and service that couldn’t be found in the present coffee shops in UPLB. The plan came into fruition 16 years after they graduated and had by then established their respective careers. When the group spontaneously met in 2016, they finalized the coffee shop business. Their goal was simple: to establish an artisanal coffee shop to educate people about quality coffee. They started out knowing nothing about running a business, just their passion for coffee.

The establishment of the business went smoothly. Early in January 2017, they found the perfect location: Demarses subdivision. The subdivision was the closest residential area to the main entrance of the university. By the next month, the renovation of the place was already under way. What was formerly a salon was now turned into a cozy coffee shop fit for students who are cramming or young professionals who just want to relax.

They named the café Siento, a Spanish word referring to the number 100. When asked why, manager Edzel Narvaes explained: “Because the coffee experience here will surely make you feel 100 percent good about yourself.” The group also aims to promote local beans and other local ingredients.

Coffee Halohalo, one of the experimental offers of Siento Cafe, limited during the summer season.

SAYING that those behind Siento Café love coffee is an understatement. The menu is a testament to how serious they are about coffee. Their house blend is made of mostly Sagada Arabica but they sometimes offer other beans when their friends who travel abroad would bring back coffee beans indigenous to the country they had visited.

Siento Café is proud of their V60, coffee that is made through slow brewing. The freshly ground coffee is funneled to undergo “blooming,” a process that draws out the flavor. This should be done with the right proportion of beans, water, and time. This process is pioneered by Japanese glass manufacturer Hario. What people love about the V60 is that it is smooth in the mouth and, depending on the variety of the beans used, can have pronounced flavor. “Coffee can be nutty, fruity, bitter, or even resemble the taste of chocolate. And the V60 is able to bring that out,” Marcaida told Lifestyle Laguna.

Aside from the “serious” type of coffee, there are also the coffee shop staples; the milk-based coffee recipes such as latte, cappuccino, and frappe. Siento Café also offers cakes and cheesecakes that are uniquely found in their shop: “tablea” cake, Cerveza Negra cake, and the Calamansi-Basil cake. Most of these recipes are from Hiraya Bakery, based in San Pablo City whose owner is a friend. These desserts use local ingredients as well that is why the availability of some of the cakes depends on the season of the fruits used.

Siento Cafe’s facade: The shop was conceived almost on a whim during get-togethers. (Photo by Leobel Colona/Lifestyle Laguna)