London's Bad-Ass Coffee Chain is Now in Manila
When you enter Black Sheep Coffee at its new S Maison location, you will be befuddled for a moment. The usual coffee shop feel, with its light wood and polished brass, bossa nova, and clean-cut baristas, is replaced by unfinished walls, Banksy-style murals, what is presumably Euro-pop, and tattooed and pierced baristas, waiting at the counter for your order.
This is coffee counterculture, London-style; a personification of the café’s mantra of “leave the herd behind’—they are the black sheep, after all.
Black Sheep Coffee was encouraged to hire baristas who are heavily pierced and tattooed. It proved to be a hard task.
The staff are supposed to look that way, explains Anderson Hao, who brought the Black Sheep Coffee concept to Manila. “We were even encouraged by the young, hip Brit founders to find baristas who are heavily pierced and tattooed. We could not find a lot of them yet,” he grins. In fact, the only clean-cut personnel in the place are Hao and Chef Rob Pengson, who was commissioned to develop the new stylized comfort-food items for its menu.
The coffee arrives, and it is not as scalding hot as it would ordinarily be at other establishments. This was another surprise for coffee shop regulars, especially the older ones. Hao shares, “We serve our coffee at 67 degrees Celsius, which is the ideal temperature for drinking, and does not burn the milk, which will then affect the flavor of the coffee. Older customers have called our attention because ‘malamig ang kape,’" he says.
Black Sheep is third-wave by nature, but want to present itself as more commercial and customer-friendly, so that first-timers are not intimidated. “To borrow the tagline of a pharmaceutical brand, hindi ka mahihiyang magtanong,” says Hao. “We made our atmosphere very approachable to encourage more Filipinos to level up their coffee experience.”
The Black Sheep experience is third-wave but approachable. Baristas and reading materials explain its coffee philosophy to customers.
This is why there are reading materials that explain its bean blends and coffee philosophy and also why baristas ask customers if they want their drink served at the prescribed temperature or really hot. “In the U.K., they want it just right, because they have a grab-and-go culture. It makes more sense to have the coffee at a temperature that you can drink right away instead of waiting 30 minutes for it to cool down before you caffeinate,” Hao says.
The food offerings at the U.K. stores are also of a fast-paced nature, so it’s more of sandwiches that customers can enjoy within the two hours that they spend in the coffee shop. But in the Philippines, customers spend more time in coffee shops, two hours at the minimum, in fact. “We decided to have a larger menu that includes savory items aside from the pastries that are offered in other coffee shops. This way, our morning customers don’t need to step out for a meal, then come back for their coffee because everything is already here.”
London HQ tasked Chef Rob Pengson to design meals that are healthy and organic.
Black Sheep U.K. approved of the idea, but insisted that the meals are healthy and, if possible, organic. Thus,Pengson came up with a line-up of lamb, chicken, and fish dishes that come with red beans (rice or mashed potatoes are optional orders) to go with crowd favorites such as the Naughty Nutella and Bacon TLC Waffles. For the drinking crowd, they have Tofu Nachos, burger sliders, pizzas, cheese and meat boards, and wings.
They also have a popcorn machine that starts operating as the lights, which are timed with the Manila Bay sunset, dim. Then, the café takes on a different vibe—the music rocks harder to match the “forgotten” cocktails and craft beer. Hao says that the Filipino drinking crowd is only starting to reacquaint itself with classics such as Negronis and Old-Fashioned Bourbon + Whiskey, but for the more adventurous, they have the colorful Summer Paradise and the stronger stuff, one of which is humorously named See You Tomorrow.
Entertainment is another aspect that differentiates Black Sheep from other, more formal coffee establishments. It has scheduled acts such as a comedy night, acoustic music, and even street magicians at night. Hao invites people to come and see the difference: “Here, we just want everyone to feel relaxed, where anything goes, and one can have fun, and enjoy good food and order their drinks depending on what they are in the mood for.”
Black Sheep Coffee is at the ground floor S Maison, Pasay City. Call 251 1285 and 0917 5474337. Follow @blacksheepcoffee_mnl on Instagram and Black Sheep Coffee (Manila) on Facebook.