Brewing a promising career » Manila Bulletin Business

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By May Fonte

It is a beverage that is ingrained in Filipino culture, with many Pinoys asking their visitors the quintessential question of “would you like some coffee?” as a show of hospitality. Besides, it is often that first piping cup of hot brew that will help many citizens jumpstart their day.

Coffee drinking is so commonplace in the country, but not a lot know that it can also be a lucrative business or career. Allegro Beverage Company president, Leo de Leon, was recently at the Latte Art Throwdown, where several coffee art experts displayed a “latte” of their skills.

De Leon says that the potential for coffee houses in the Philippines is still quite big. “We have already gone through what is called the First Wave, with our three-in-ones and brewed coffees. We are now in the Second Wave, with the espresso and cappuccino-based drinks. Elsewhere in the world, they are into the Third Wave, with shops offering cups of specialty single origin brews and nothing else.” We have not yet reached that level of sophistication according to him. It will take about five to eight more years before it catches on here.

This growing coffee culture in the country has opened a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs and baristas. “People want to go into coffee business because it is very profitable with a very good markup. Number one chain in the world has 25,000 stores now, and every 15 hours, one of their stores opens in China. Over here, people are now choosing to go to coffee shops instead of bars and discos, and this is where they meet, study or work. Instead of having meetings at conference rooms, work teams now go out to a coffee shop,” De Leon discloses.

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He says that at Allegro, they help build businesses and train baristas. One of the ways they expose the craft is through holding competitions such as these and by inviting the first Asian World Barista Champion HidenoriIzakito showcase the skills needed to be one of the best. On the business side, they are an importer and distributor of espresso machines, coffee beans, gourmet syrups and sauces. They are also a preferred solutions provider because they replace machines that they cannot fix.  To help coffee shop owners set up, they offer training on how to operate the machines and show them how to brew 11 concoctions.    To give an idea of how profitable it can be, he shares ROI can be achieved in just as little as 30 days, especially if you have a good location.

On the barista side, excelling in the craft can set you for life. He relates, “We export a lot of baristas. Last year, I went to a barista competition in Dublin, Ireland and I met four Filipino baristas there. We have many Filipino baristas in Doha, Qatar, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Most of the baristas on cruise ships are Filipinos. We make the best baristas because we have an innate, artistic talent.”

De Leon encourages it as a career path. “It is a quick way to make a living. In Australia, they make $20 Aus an hour. In San Francisco, it is $20 an hour plus tips, with the usual tip being one dollar. The guys who win in the WBC can earn 1,000 Euros a day. Yes, you can earn 50, 80, to 100,000 a month without a college degree or a Ph.D.” To reach that level, he says that one can enroll in training courses, and then watch videos online, followed by many hours of practice. He likewise advises constant learning and exposure by attending trade events and joining competitions. “To be the best barista, you have to have a thirst both for coffee and for learning,” he concludes.

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