I’m one of those people who have to have their coffee in the morning or else I won’t be able to function the whole day. And like many urbanites, coffee shops are my usual habitat – I hang out there to do my work (ambient noise for the creative mind), discuss ideas or just do nothing with good friends while sipping a hot caffeinated beverage. But when I came across Magnum Opus Fine Coffees, I found myself asking “What do I really know about coffee besides it’s supposed to wake me up?”.
Magnum Opus, located at Aguirre Avenue in BF Homes
The culture of fine coffee
Jonathan Choi’s coffee journey began a year ago with a cup of Panama Geisha brewed by a Q-grader (a person who professionally tastes and grades coffee) he met in Guangzhou, China. “He basically showed (me) that there’s more to coffee than just putting it in the pot or just mixing it,” shares the IT-professional-turned-entrepreneur. “When I got back here, I was convinced I had to share it somehow.”
As one of Manila’s few third wave cafes, Magnum Opus aims to elevate coffee and coffee-drinking to an artistic level by using a little bit of science (and some manual labor). Aside from using specialty-grade beans, careful attention is given to technique, temperature and timing to bring out its flavor. Here, there’s no large or extra large – they use smaller cups to showcase the coffee’s quality and taste.
Speaking of science, they have a TARDIS restroom, which attracted a group of Whovians who subsequently held their meet-up at the café. They have done two mini events on coffee tasting and appreciation (I’m keeping an eye out for the next one). “Besides the coffee event we’re also planning of expanding into other events as well because it’s a neighborhood café and we want people to feel that it’s a little spot in their neighborhood where they get to do anything. We get requests for maybe a spoken word or arts and crafts-making sessions. We’ll explore that option as well,” says Jonathan.
The café’s whole concept is unlike your regular coffee shop, from the choice of furniture to the menu. Wooden tables and stools are found inside and out on the terrace. Customers can see how their coffee is made by sitting at the bar, a feature that was an “absolute must”. “The reason there’s a bar-keeping is you can just ask me ‘I have a French press at home, what do I do? How do I get better coffee out of it? My coffee is a bit bitter’. So we’re like bartenders - you can talk to us while we’re making your coffee and believe me, the best seat in the house is at the bar.”
The place also serves as a mini art gallery where budding artists can display their artwork.
Of brews and breakfast food
It was hard to believe that Jonathan didn’t know much about coffee before that China trip as he explained to me the complexities of the brewed beverage. The first thing he let me try was an off-the-menu special called a Duet – a cup of Latte (P150) and a single shot of Ristretto (or restricted shot, which means that the shot has less water and is therefore more potent). Having them separate allows you to experience the espresso in two ways. Even if there was no sugar in it, the latte was very pleasant while the ristretto had a similar taste to dark chocolate.
Interesting tidbit: When coffee is properly roasted, its natural sweetness comes out and adding sugar might change the flavor profile of the coffee. Milk is only added for texture.
They have other off-the-menu specials and you can ask them to make a certain drink for you. This is the second place I’ve been to (the first being Sensei Sushi) where the menu is just a guide and customers are encouraged to ask what’s good on a particular day and be more creative with their orders.
Next, I tried their Hand-Brewed Single Origin Coffee (P150) and we picked out a bean called Nicaragua Jinotega to be brewed using the pour-over method that uses a coffee dipper and paper filter. Coffee brewed using this method is usually light-bodied with a fruity, clean taste like tea.
Hand-Brewed Single Origin Coffee
The pour-over method
While waiting for the water to reach the right temperature, I got to smell the freshly ground beans.
A bit later, Sir (that’s the name of the barista!) poured the water to wet the paper on the coffee dipper and heat the flask under it. He then added the beans and continued pouring evenly on the sides and at the center.
No sugar and also no milk this time for my second full cup. The flavor is a complex one that I couldn’t quite grasp and then later on realized it was reminiscent of black tea with a sweet after-taste.
The Monte Cristo (P190) was a nice companion to the brewed coffee, which is a wheat French toast made of smoked ham and Irish cheddar topped with cherry preserves. Another fine addition to my list of favorite breakfast faves, this one.
The Wafflegato (P160) is their take on affogato, made up of a scoop of vanilla ice cream with crispy waffle pieces drizzled with a double shot of ristretto. If I didn’t know it was ristretto, I would’ve mistaken it for dark chocolate syrup. The taste is brought out even more by the plain ice cream.
Where art and science meet
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. So the unknown, the mysterious, is where art and science meet” wrote Albert Einstein.
And in the intersection of that Venn diagram, there is this thing we call coffee whose complexities we have yet to explore one cup at a time.
How to get there:
From South Superhighway, exit to Sucat. Then from Sucat Road, turn left to BF Homes entrance. Go straight along Aguirre Street. The Prime building is on the left just after the intersection at Elizalde Street. Magnum Opus is on the second floor.